SUT_Grad_Seminar_Keynote_APL_2012

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Powerpoint presentation of keynote address by Andrew Lian to Suranaree University of Technology Graduate Seminar in English Language Studies 2012, March 2, 2012.

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Language Learning (and teaching) A mimimalist perspective:

Language Learning (and teaching) A mimimalist perspective Andrew Lian School of Foreign Languages Suranaree University of Technology We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are. ( Anaïs Nin) The universe is made up of stories, not atoms (Muriel Rukeyser) When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change (Max Planck) 2 March 2012

For some time now…:

For some time now… I have been thinking about ways of simplifying my thinking about language learning/teaching in order to be able to think and work more efficiently – Larsen… This is partly because I have an interest in how we can recognise things with the least amount of information (e.g. recognise a colleague from a silhouette). What is the minimal amount of information necessary for me to recognise X where X can be a person, an object or an idea? Obviously that information will be different for different objects but the principle remains the same. I like to work with simple principles which provide guidance and a solid reference point when the details become confusing, complex and difficult to manage (as they inevitably do when you conduct research).

So… I invite you to share…:

So… I invite you to share… My intellectual journey Where I hope we can agree on some basic principles that I find valuable

About these principles…:

About these principles… They are simple and They are few That makes them manageable Being manageable means that they are always available and therefore can easily be applied to any (or many) situation(s) as an aid to thinking and to reduce confusion

So here are…:

So here are… Five axioms …. Well… not really five axioms (self-evident truths) because self-evident truths like self-speaking data do not exist Let’s say five principle about which we may all agree on - clear to me of course  We will talk about them in the context of learning And they are all based on the human condition

Principle #1:

Principle #1 Learners are physiological beings – we are made of flesh and blood The body is systematic – all parts connect. Act on one part you act on others. Language is part of that systematicity

Principle #1, consequences 1:

Principle #1, consequences 1 This implies a historical constraint: How we have developed as creatures (explains certain limits e.g. breath groups) How we have acquired the world or how the world has acquired us ( Chai Neng ). It tells us how to think and how to act. Our belief systems rule us – and these belief systems are often imposed. We are less free than we think. We are pushed to conform.

Principle #1, consequences 2:

Principle #1, consequences 2 The world is not sensed directly but ONLY through our bodies, through physiological systems. We have no choice. These systems are, as a matter of principle , fragile and input can be distorted or changed. What they report may or may not be the truth: drugs, injury We are not able to ascertain directly how any particular person is sensing the world, or themselves or their place in the world e.g. explaining pain to a doctor, paranoia

Principle #1, consequences 3:

Principle #1, consequences 3 All action, thinking and learning, is necessarily physiological and can involve the body as a whole, not just the mind (also said to be physical) We can act on one part to impact another: low frequencies for pronunciation, dance, posture Also right-brain left-brain connections: study intonation (low-frequency training), you also study grammar AND you provide sensitivity to chunking. It seems that by studying intonation, you automatically learn grammar AND comprehension These studies are not mainstream SLA and the field is poorer for it: Guberina , Bourdieu , Latour , Derrida , Foucault , Thierry , Calhoun , Bloom

Principle #1, consequences 4:

Principle #1, consequences 4 It is said metaphorically that culture writes itself on us (through practices that we are obliged to adopt so as to conform and live successfully) but did you know that it can literally do so? Culture is physical too – Condon, unborn Interactional synchrony and self-synchrony We are constantly interfering with each other’s activities and rhythms – Barthes: interference on one’s idiorhythms is the most intimate form of tyranny (i.e. violence)

So…:

So… It’s like the Borg in Star Trek who assimilate everything. As they say: “ Resistance is futile ”.In our case it really is futile. We have no choice (even if we rebel).

This is a fertile research field:

This is a fertile research field While we may say that we are victims of our body, we can exploit the body to our advantage (brain is not entirely hard-wired but plastic) – victims of our categorisations E.g. we can work on one part of the body to influence another e.g. posture to influence pronunciation; intonation to influence grammar; L1/L2 relationships (G. Thierry) Who knows where we can go by focusing on the body: BILE project Let our imagination drive us forward

The important thing is that:

The important thing is that While the consequences of Principle #1 can be very complicated, the idea is extremely simple: the body exists and establishes constraints and connections that we must live with and can exploit We need to keep this “in front of our eyes” in research and learning system design The area has huge, untapped, potential

Principle #2:

Principle #2 Principle #2 is simple, commonsensical, uncontroversial – at least I think it is. However, it has far-reaching consequences Principle #2 states that almost all we do is based on acts of meaning-making If we do not make some kind of sense of the world, then we cannot do anything I am not talking here about identifying the “correct” meaning, just meaning even if wrong e.g. “open a window” or paranoia

Principle #2:

Principle #2 Now just for fun, consider the following about “right” and “wrong” meanings

Principle #2 What does this say?:

Principle #2 What does this say? Inter alia, it says the following: Meaning-making is a culture-bound and context-bound creation of the comprehender . It is not found in dictionaries (otherwise the “non-British” person would have been right) It is a function of the comprehender’s meaning-making mechanisms which need to go beyond the linguistic into areas like culture and cultural fluency/flexibility

And…:

And… As all is mediated through our meaning-making mechanisms then What we call Knowledge is constructed on meaning-making And what we call Learning is constructed on meaning-making too And we see the world as we construct it, not as it really is – learners build it in their heads from what they recognise from the signals around them and this accounts for many misunderstandings and subsequent poor linguistic or cultural performances

This raises questions like…:

This raises questions like… How can we act on people’s making-meaning systems? How can we change people’s knowledge? Of course, this has implications on how people learn (and how we teach)

Principle #3:

Principle #3 The internal meanings that we create AND LIVE BY are wholly individual and unknowable by others (even ourselves??) They are influenced by environment: society, parents, activities (nurture) and nature: genes, disabilities etc. Meaning-making mechanisms, must include at very least, our personal logical and representational systems Thus, once again, everything is perception

Principle #4:

Principle #4 Because of Principle #3, Communication in a precise sense does not work Why? Because we are imprisoned in our bodies and our logical and representational systems cannot engage in any form of direct thought transfer like the Vulcan Mindmeld ( yet ) 

Principle #4:

Principle #4 And maybe one day… 

Principle #4:

Principle #4 So … Principle #4 is: all communication is necessarily mediated by semiotic systems. We can only produce sentences, gestures, other semiotic acts and try to understand those of others (on the basis of our meaning-making mechanisms) – e.g. pain in hospital So how can we function/communicate?

Principle #4, consequences 1:

Principle #4, consequences 1 The answer appears to be in what we call in SLA “negotiation of meaning”. I find this term unclear. A better way to describe it is to say that we seem to be caught in a perpetual interpretive interplay This is not so much a negotiation of meanings but an internal verification, rejection or refinement of the approximate meanings we provisionally make, on the basis of our analysis of a multiplicity of texts (whether purely linguistic or otherwise semiotic) about the same “thing”. That way we can triangulate meanings in our heads, be less approximate and get to “yes” from all parties

Principle #4, consequences 2:

Principle #4, consequences 2 Another way to put it is that we try to understand the same thing in a multiplicity of ways (reinforces Minsky’s notion) and At best, then, we work by approximations where near enough IS good enough This brings us to Principle #5

Principle #5:

Principle #5 Logical and representational systems (a) are constructed through interaction (by our attempts to understand in multiple ways) and (b) consequently, contain our operational history (world knowledge, strategies and much more) Sadly, our attempts to understand are limited by our current logical and representational systems Paradoxically, these systems help us understand (without them we would understand nothing) but resist change. As adults, we are efficient “ understanders ” of the things we understand: economy of effort has formed us to reject the unknown/unfamiliar. We know what we know.

The puzzle is…:

The puzzle is… How do we change this?

Here again are the 5 principles :

Here again are the 5 principles Learners are physiological beings (the basis for all the other principles) All we do is based on acts of meaning-making The meanings that we create AND LIVE BY are internal , individual and unknowable by others All attempts at communication are mediated by semiotic systems constructed on the basis of our internal logical and representational systems Logical and representational systems are constructed through interaction by our attempts to understand in multiple ways and contain our operational history (world knowledge, strategies and much more)

Together, these principles tell us that:

Together, these principles tell us that Meaning / understanding is individual. Learning / teaching must respect this Personal knowledge is both constructed and meaning-based and relies on making the meaning less meaning ful – how to defeat our efficiency? Awareness-raising through tailored multiple discursive interactions? It is sometimes possible to work on several systems at once

There seem to be:

There seem to be 3 quasi-universal practical learning necessities judging from a convergence of practice from every thesis on L2 learning I have seen: Exposure to text Awareness-raising of some kind, involving interaction (external or internal), whether it is strategy-training, or focus on form or engaging in a simulation or….. Exposure alone can sometimes be sufficient (rarely) Time on task/practice – I worry about this

So…:

So… for L2 learning we now have… 5 theoretical principles and 3 valued pedagogic necessities (which are actually consistent with the 5 principles) Just 8 simple things to remember

And…:

And… What is nice about it is that it does not attach itself to any specific theory of current SLA fashion It will make use of anything that works: behaviorist, cognitivist or whatever… Of course, it does attach itself to a postmodern view of the world and Draws on any field: e.g. sociocultural theory, culture studies, philosophy, theory of knowledge – it is much richer than SLA (interdisciplinary, like life)

Taking those 8 simple points …:

Taking those 8 simple points … It is possible to construct a great deal e.g. large and complex rhizomatic systems such as the one I am researching which consists of: An over-riding theoretical framework (the 8 points mentioned + studies building on them) A learner-driven operational space A complex IT support infrastructure containing many systems, including “just-in-time” IT-based or human-based support and social networks Low-level techniques not unlike focus on form but broader in scope There is convergent support from studies in 21 st century skills (e.g. personal problem-solving) and also other literature (e.g. brain work)

PowerPoint Presentation:

IT Infrastructure Only

Feedback for listening exercise – FonF + Minsky:

Feedback for listening exercise – FonF + Minsky Student hears “ Vous savez qu’il y a trois France” STUDENT WILL TYPE HERE

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Student hears “ Vous savez qu’il y a trois France” Vous avez la trois Frances

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Student hears “ Vous savez qu’il y a trois France” Vous avez la trois Frances If it was “ vous avez ” you would have heard a [z] sound between the two words: [vu zave ]

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Student hears “ Vous savez qu’il y a trois France” Vous avez la trois Frances The conventions is not to write “France” in the plural in these contexts

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Student hears “ Vous savez qu’il y a trois France” Vous avez la trois Frances The word(s) in RED do not exist in the expected answer Try to make sense of the chunk in its context

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Student hears “ Vous savez qu’il y a trois France” Student tries again STUDENT WILL TYPE HERE

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Student hears “ Vous savez qu’il y a trois France” Student tries again Vous savez il y a trois France Not bad… but a French person is unlikely to say it this way. Listen to the original <click here> and <listen to your version> Actually you are missing a word

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Student hears “ Vous savez qu’il y a trois France” Student tries again STUDENT WILL TYPE HERE

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Student hears “ Vous savez qu’il y a trois France” Student tries again Vous savez que il y a trois France

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Student hears “ Vous savez qu’il y a trois France” Student tries again Vous savez que il y a trois France Aïe … pas mal mais … que + il = ???????

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Student hears “ Vous savez qu’il y a trois France” Student tries again STUDENT WILL TYPE HERE

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Student hears “ Vous savez qu’il y a trois France” Student tries again Vous savez qu’ il y a trois France Bravo! Continuons !

I hope that…:

I hope that… This little contribution to the graduate seminar has helped reduce the notion that language learning research is essentially technical (it is intellectual), impenetrably complicated and difficult to handle. Given the hugely varied output in the field one might be forgiven for thinking that it is. I hope that the identification of some coherent , uniting and easily-agreed-to principles may provide comfort and the foundations for an intellectual space for L2 researchers and teachers to explore and, why not, dream .

These principles are also embodied:

These principles are also embodied In the following quotes that I inflict on my students and colleagues at every opportunity. I would prefer to remember these: they seem to say it all. We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are. ( Anaïs Nin) The universe is made up of stories, not atoms (Muriel Rukeyser) When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change (Max Planck)

PowerPoint Presentation:

Thank you!

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