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Review of The Affective Dimension in Second Language Acquisition
SUMMARY Danuta Gabryś-Barker and Joanna Bielska's collection of essays treats the role of affect, in its broadest sense, in second language acquisition and learning. The volume is divided into four parts, or facets of affectivity in language: Affective variables in language learning, Motivation, attitudes and learning experiences, Affectivity in language production, and Affective dimension in education contexts.
Part 1: Affective Variables on Language Learning Aneta Pavlenko's lengthy essay 'The affective turn in SLA' opens the book with a reflection on the increasing attention to affect in SLA and language learning that characterised the last decade. In her opinion, this trend has led to a paradigm shift, the affective turn. She argues against the restricted value given to the notion of 'affective factors' as defined by major SLA textbooks. In her opinion, these relate to “a single research question (the influence of affect on L2 learning)”, while the complexity of affect needs “a range of diverse questions regarding linguistic, psychological and social aspects of L2 learning and a replacement of a single paradigm (affective factors) with a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches” (p. 9). Pavlenko reviews the state of the art in the three highlighted dimensions: the linguistic one examines the relationship between affect and prosody, lexicon and morphosyntax. The psychological dimension deals with how affectivity affects language learning motivation, language choice and decision making. The social dimension inquires about how affective processes are influenced by social contexts that ultimately shape emotions, behaviours and choices. In the end, the author states that affect is a phenomenon that can be understood only with true interdisciplinary studies, and wishes for a better future integration of findings in psychology, psycholinguistics and applied linguistics.
David Singleton's brief paper 'Affective dimensions of second language ultimate attainment' reviews several studies that point to the inadequacy of the critical period hypothesis as the single factor that influences ultimate language attainment. He calls for a wider-ranging approach than a mere focus on age, as, in his view, “the affective dimension in respect of L2 attainment … is at least as significant as the age factor” (p. 30).
In her chapter 'Anxiety and perceived communication competence as predictors of willingness to communicate in the ESL/FL classroom', Dagmara Gałajda designs a study attempting to analyse “to what extent is willingness to communicate (WTC) conditioned by the reported communication apprehension (CA) and self-perceived communication competence (SPCC) of … students in L1 and FL university contexts” (p. 37). Her results show that in formal contexts, WTC is conditioned by SPCC in L1 and the level of CA in the FL; in informal contexts WTC is conditioned by SPCC in both L1 and FL, and the level of CA varies as a function of the degree of acquaintance to the interlocutor.
'Self-efficacy beliefs and FL achievement in the Polish school context' by Ewa Piechurska-Kuciel shares the results of a study testing the following working hypothesis: “Higher self-efficacy students gain higher FL achievement” (p. 51). Indeed, the author gets statistically significant support for this. Low self-efficacy students had a lower FL (and general) achievement, both in terms of competence and grades, while their high self-efficacy counterparts had a better experience overall. She eventually gives recommendations to teachers to boost pupils' self-confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy -- which may lead to a better language learning experience in school.
In her essay 'Affectivity in learning L2 phonology/phonetics -- the role of self-concept in successful acquisition of English pronunciation', Małgorzata Jedynak states that “pronunciation is the aspect of foreign language learning most sensitive to the impact of human emotions” (p. 60). She sets up an experimental group of Polish students to find out whether a correlation between the learners' self-concept and the attainment of English pronunciation exists. Such a correlation, however, is not supported by her results, as even students with a more positive self-concept did not perform as well as expected in the measured pronunciation tasks.
Part 2: Motivation, Attitudes and Learning Experiences Teresa Maria Włosowicz's 'The role of motivation in third or additional language acquisition and in multilingualism research' focuses on the complexity of describing the role of motivation in learning additional languages after the L2 -- especially when the L2 is English, the world's lingua franca. Her extensive literature review results in the proposal of several motivational strategies for L3, L4, L5 ... learning from a range of different points of view: the (multilingual) ideal self, choice motivation, etc. Additionally, she points out how multilingualism research studies may be influenced by the subjects' motivation (or lack thereof).
In her paper 'Language learning vibes', Tammy Gregersen analyses language learning motivation with the instruments of positive psychology -- especially Csikszentimihályi's notion of flow. According to her, 'vibes' are the sensations that one feels before cognition, the 'gut feeling' that may generate a positive or negative attitude towards learning a specific language. She emphasises the need for language pedagogy to consider approaches that create positive vibes (like flow states) and thus avoid negative states like the rise of anxiety: “language teacher[s] should keep in mind the powerful negative force that foreign language anxiety can have on language learners and create opportunities and activities that challenge their learners yet do not overwhelm them in order to facilitate the creation of flow, thus generating the vibes that will undergird future attempts at language learning” (p. 95).
Danuta Gabryś-Barker essay 'The affective dimension in multilingual's language learning experiences' “comments on the role of affectivity in foreign language instruction in multilingual contexts, in which the first foreign language (L2) is learnt during the early stages of education, whereas … any subsequent foreign language [is] acquired later in life, that is, in (young) adulthood” (p. 99). Her findings indicate that affectivity plays a primary role in language learning, and that L2 and L3 contexts are different in terms of the perceived positivity or negativity of the experience. L3 learning, in general, is viewed by her respondents as more traumatic than L2 learning: the causes may be the different perceptions of both the learning situation and the FL itself; the language learning history and the experience; the rising importance of affective factors in adult learning (like the preservation of the self-concept).
The chapter 'Goals pursuit in a foreign language classroom' (Anna Klimas) “explores the nature of setting and pursuing language learning goals” (p. 112) and the factors that may influence the students' goal setting in a positive or negative way. She highlights the role of three different kinds of inhibiting factors (external distractions, personal distractions and knowledge/learning limitations) and of several facilitative factors concerning the learners' personal sphere, as well as planning, resources, task, and the human factors (teacher, peers, significant others). She also states that identifying these factors in the classroom has been a way to raise the students' awareness of them, and thus a crucial step in overcoming obstacles and exploiting the positive 'vibe'.
In their large-scale attitudinal study 'Affective dimensions in SL pronunciation', Ewa Waniek-Klimczak, Andrzej Porzuczek and Arkadiusz Rojczyk enquire whether pronunciation is perceived by Polish learners of English as an important goal to strive for, and what motivates them to spend time and energy to achieve a native-like accent. Results show that their students -- English majors -- value pronunciation very highly and wish to attain native-like pronunciation (though with differences between BA students, MA students and students at a private university). Their motivating factors seem to be related to the improvement of the self-concept, better job opportunities in the future, and personal perfectionism.
Beata Webb analyses the 'Attitudes and perceptions of international students toward their life in Australia'. She surveys students from different countries about their issues in getting accustomed with the Australian life and university system. Her results show a very different picture for students from Europe and students from the Middle East and East Asia. The first group exhibits the most positive attitudes towards living in Australia. Both the other groups report difficulties with the language, in bonding with locals, but have a better attitude than Europeans towards the university workload. Chinese students in particular struggle the most, though they still value the experience of living, studying (and often working) in Australia positively.
Part 3: Affectivity in Language Production In the opening of the third section, Liliana Piasecka ('Identification and verbal expression of emotions by users of English as a foreign language') discusses L2 learners' feelings while put in emotionally loaded situations, and how they express their feeling linguistically. She designs an empirical investigation whose results show that her students (who have been studying English for an average of 13 years) are able to name and express in English the emotion they feel when facing a highly emotional situation. They also seem to use emotional language in English appropriately. Moreover, the author points to a different management of emotion vocabulary by males and females.
In the next chapter ('Student paper presentations -- an analysis of face-related issues') Ewa Bogdanowska-Jakubowska acknowledges that “paper presentation is a face-threatening situation for every presenter [and] especially for students, for whom such a situation is quite new” (p. 167). She is interested in observing the students' presentation strategies and face-saving behaviours when confronted to a mixed audience: the peers and the teacher. She concludes that this kind of presentation poses a problem for students, who are forced to rely on three kinds of 'self-presentational strategies': those directed to the audience as a whole; different ones when addressing the fellow students; and a third additional kind when addressing the teacher.
Joanna Nijakowska begins her essay 'Politeness in written academic discourse' by introducing the metadiscourse framework and the politeness framework, which she uses to analyse the writer-reader interaction in EFL methodology textbooks. In the corpus studied, she is able to show the politeness strategies applied by authors to create a bond with the readers and engage them in the activity of reading. As a results, she states that authors of EFL textbooks use more on-records solidarity expressions than language choices aimed at taking distance. Moreover, authors tend to use different politeness strategies to soften possible face-threatening formulations (which may occur often in textbooks, given the supposedly asymmetrical relationship between the writer and the reader).
Andrzej Łida is interested in the 'Emotive lexis in research articles'. He challenges the view of academic discourse as neutral, and looks for emotive expressions in two (English) corpora in language sciences and biology. His results show that emotion terms are indeed used in research papers, twice as frequently in language sciences as in biology. These are often adjectives, and they represent mostly interest (60% of all emotions) and surprise (17%). He thus concludes that academic discourse is not de-emotionalised, as commonly thought, though the emotions conveyed mostly are mild or mitigated.
Part 4: Affective Dimension in Educational Contexts Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is the focus of the next three chapters. In the first ('CLIL lessons in the upper-primary: the interplay of affective factors and CALP'), Agnieszka Otwinowska shares the results of two surveys concerning the attitude of young (10-11 years old) Polish students towards CLIL (mathematics and science) lessons in English. She finds visible age-related differences in the emotional response to CLIL. Fourth graders, in fact, rated the lessons as too difficult, probably because their Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) is not yet developed. Fifth graders, on the other hand, are less reluctant about CLIL, though they highlight several difficulties as well. In the author's opinion, those may be correlated to a lack of proper use of CLIL methodology by untrained teachers.
Zbigniew Możejko discusses 'The role of affective factors in CLIL provision in the secondary school'. He investigates the perception of CLIL classes by Polish young adolescents, their parents and teachers. His results highlight that the parents are most enthusiastic about CLIL provision, whereas teachers are realistic and students somewhat critical. The last group, however, declares that they feel motivated by CLIL instruction, though teachers do not always agree. Moreover, in his opinion there seem to be several issues in CLIL implementation, and thus its success is highly dependent on the teacher rather than on proper implementation. In the end, the author claims that his results hint at an important role of attitude, motivation and beliefs in the success of CLIL provision.
The focus of Katarzyna Papaja and Arkadiusz Rojczyk's essay is 'Motivation from the perspective of a CLIL teenage learner'. The results of their investigation seem quite different from those of the preceding studies: their learners enjoy learning English, and especially through CLIL. Moreover, their motivation does not ebb and flow much, though learners say they value CLIL lessons the most in their second year, given an initial difficulty in the first year and the concern with having CLIL instruction in English and the final exam in Polish in the third year. In their sample, females had a more positive view of CLIL than males. The researchers found no statistically significant correlation between CLIL instruction and a broadening in the students' interests, nor CLIL seems to have been a way to raise their interest in British/American culture.
Anna Turula examines the role of 'Affect in VLEs' in the context of EFL teacher training. She argues that virtual learning environments are “first and foremost learning environments and, as such, they share the characteristics of traditional in-class learning milieus” (p. 254). When discussing the results of her two studies, in fact, she shows that e-learning environments like Moodle are not that different from traditional environments when the focus is on affective factors like social anxiety and motivation. Demotivating or anxiety-generating factors are not 'e-specific' or related to digital literacy -- they actually follow ordinary classroom dynamics.
The chapter by Maria Stec ('The affective aspects in early language learning and syllabuses') gives an overview of six syllabi and a collection of teachers' opinions on the topics of children's emotional development and the affective aspects of language teaching. She finds that affective factors are not stated explicitly in the syllabi (only one states that teachers should be aware of their role in their pupils' emotional development) but they all include some vocabulary to describe emotions. In their answer to questionnaires, the teachers state that they actively try to stimulate positive emotions in their pupils, and teach them how to control emotions. Only a few, however, teach them to name or describe emotions in the foreign language. The author argues that this practice may change with a training in emotional intelligence development for teachers.
Marcin Gliński discusses 'The problem of inhibition among children during culture-based classes', that causes young learners' classroom participation to diminish. He reviews the role of several techniques meant to enhance the learners' positive emotions when applied with highly inhibited students in the English culture class. These techniques helped to build a positive atmosphere, though some not as much as expected (e.g. storytelling and puppet presentations); the most successful techniques were the ones that encouraged the inhibited students to participate actively in the classroom interaction -- though the same students often need to be further encouraged by the teachers. While these results are general, the author acknowledges that every learner is different, and therefore what motivates one pupil may not be effective at all with another.
The last chapter ('Affective factor considerations in a transcultural approach to language teaching', Karen Jacob, Maria Juan-Garau and José Igor Prieto-Arranz) presents an approach to English as an international language. The researchers set up an experimentation that connected three secondary schools in Spain and Poland through a blog. The aim was to promote interaction in English as a means to achieve “transcultural and translingual competence” (p. 292). The virtual space seems to have effectively helped in that sense: by using English to interact with peers (and fellow learners of English), the students were able to make friends, communicate authentically, develop an international identity, discuss global issues and also develop an interest for the other while challenging stereotypes.
EVALUATION Researchers interested in the role of affect in language learning will surely value this collection of essays for its variety of topics, solid literature reviews and theoretical overwiews, as well as the numerous empirical results and statistical data. Though the editors mention a wide range of possible readers (language teachers, pre-service teachers, teacher trainers, post-graduate students), this book is probably better suited for academics interested in affect and its relationship to language.
All in all, affectivity is at the core of every essay, as it is “at the core of everything we do in and with our lives” (p. xvii). The essays are well balanced across the four sections, and feature the works of mostly Polish authors, with contributions from international distinguished authors. In most of the essays the educational context is central, and the role of language learning and SLA is examined in relation to affectivity. A few essays, however, while interesting and certainly high-quality, seem not to fall strictly into the domain of SLA, but rather into the broader domain of applied linguistics. Thus, the reader might find them out of place in a collection edited in a Second Language Acquisition series and whose title explicitly addresses SLA as the domain of reference.
This book met my expectations, and I was able to find new valuable contents and data that advance our field. I appreciated above all the convenient literature reviews that introduce the empirical aspects of almost every essay, guiding the researcher through cornerstone references, but also through less known but interesting essays and books.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Ivan Lombardi is a Ph.D. candidate in Language education at the Università Cattolica, Milan, where he teaches a course called 'Foreign language workshop'. He also teaches 'Game-based language learning' at an online MA promoted by the University of Nottingham. His current research topic is the motivational power of game elements for foreign language learning.