Keeping language learning going when school is out!

Girl Learning Language Outside

This week schools in Alberta have closed to minimize community spread of the COVID 19 virus. These are not the first worldwide to close, nor likely the last. However, since Alberta is home to very vibrant school language programs , it occurred to me that some parents and older students may be wondering how to keep their language skills up when their French Immersion, Bilingual Programs, or other second language program has closed down. Teachers will be providing support online for core subjects, but the minimum number of hours they program for may still leave some people searching for tips to keep up listening, speaking, reading and writing in German, Spanish, Mandarin, Ukrainian, Arabic, Punjabi, Italian, or another second language programs they are studying in. The key is to follow your interests and practice authentic language in context. The tips below are written to the person wanting to practice, but for parents, consider each instruction to have the phrase “or your child” tacked on.

Language Apps

Language apps do not replace a teacher, but they are always advancing. I use them to learn the basics of a new language or strengthen the ones I already know. If you already know the language, you can start with a placement test. If not, start from the beginning. If you get bored, move up a level; if you are struggling, repeat a level. I have experience with Duolingo and Memrise, but there are others you can find by searching online and most have a free version. Duolingo has recently added stories, which are a real hit, but if you are studying more than one language, you will recognize the story! Memrise has a rapid practice function where you work against the clock. Some days I like it, but other times it is too stressful. Most of these apps have Leaderboards (for the competitive) and Friend lists (so you can compare with and encourage others). The important take-away is to set yourself a regular, if not daily goal, and tailor the experience to your needs.

Video streaming

With the many affordable online streaming apps, often feeding directly to our TVs, films and TV shows in other languages are at our fingertips. More and more allow you to search by language or “international”. Once you have found something to watch, got to the settings to see if you can change the language or the subtitles. You may also be able to do this with streaming services from TV stations from other countries. I recommend subtitles in the same language as is on screen. That way your listening is reinforced by reading the words in the second language, rather than blocked out because you are busy reading English. This especially helps when the speech is in dialect, too fast for your ear, or you have hearing challenges. These shows can be a great way to add to your knowledge of the language and culture in context. I learned how to say “not until after the autopsy” from my favourite German police procedural show. Perhaps you weren’t looking for that phrase, but you get my point: follow your interests!

YouTube channels

Speaking of following your interest, do you have a favourite hobby or want to learn about the country where the language you are learning is spoken? YouTube is an excellent source of such videos. My son lives in Japan so my husband and I frequently watch videos about different places we may visit the next time we are able to go. I learned about the specialty foods in Hokkaido before a work trip there and was able to know what the “must try” foods were. Ever hear of Ghengis Khan – the food, not the warrior? Search YouTube and you will see one of the meals I had a chance to try.

E-books and audio books

Whether from the library, an author’s website, or Storybooks Canada related sites (Global Storybooks Portal etc.), there are many e-books and audio books in other languages available online. Some even read to you!

Music

While you are checking online for music videos for sing-a-longs or movement breaks (to get the wiggles out), check out Lisa Anderson’s blog Speech Thru Song. Lisa is a musician, composer, and singer as well as a French and Spanish as a Second Language Teacher. She has compiled an amazing list of resources and information about how music can help you learn a second language.

Connect with a Speaker of the Target Language

Do you know someone who speaks the language you are learning? Maybe it is a relative or elderly acquaintance who is feeling isolated and lonely. Write them a letter in their language and send it by email or snail mail. Alternatively, you could use the phone or Skype/Facetime to talk to them. If, however, the timing isn’t right, record an audio message and send it to them. They would be thrilled!

This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully you are now inspired to keep up your or your children’s languages while schools are closed. Even once our schools reopen from the COVID 19 precautions, there is always summer break to overcome!

Responsive Interviewing: Allowing Interviewer Voice

In my graduate training, I read studies that used interviews and conducted some in my masters and doctoral research but received no explicit training in how to conduct them. In my experience, this is not unusual. We often assume that we know how interviews work and therefore it often would not occur to us that we need to learn how. Recently I read about a technique called “responsive interviewing” (Rubin & Rubin, 2012). My main take-away was that the traditional interview where the interviewer attempts to stay neutral or refrain from commenting or correcting is just one way to conduct an interview. This traditional interviewing comes from a particular mindset – that the interviewer should not influence the interviewee and therefore needs to stay out of the interview. Alternatively, responsive interviewing comes from the view that an interview is a conversation. The interviewer may agree or disagree, pose unscripted questions or provide their own opinion. The inherent view is that the interviewer is both researcher and participant and can promote insight and reflection by contributing to the conversation.

Intrigued, I switched up my interviewing style in my most recent research interviews. My internal reaction was interesting. I felt guilty, thinking that I was interfering with the process. In particular, one interview stands out. The participant did not agree with my use of a certain term. She argued her point well, so I considered dropping my use or discussion of the term in order to move on. Instead, I pushed back, pointing out what the research says about the concept and how it may strengthen our understanding of pedagogy for particular students. She agreed to disagree, and the interview went on. However, the next morning, I awoke to an email from the interviewee. Apparently, our discussion during the interview prompted her to do her own research. She discovered the term being used by researchers in a field she respected, which resulted in her warming up to the concept. In reflecting up on her email, I was confirmed in my decision to change my interview style as I feel it brought about learning both of us. Had I limited myself to a more traditional interview style, our exchange would not have happened.

Moving forward, I am motivated to explore another aspect of interviewing methodology: identity memos (Maxwell, 2013; McGregor & Fernandez, 2019). These memos require the interviewer to take notes after the interview, noting how the researcher herself was affected by the content and process of interviewing. I have not yet employed it, so stay tuned.

Maxwell, J. A. (2013). Qualitative research design. An interactive approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

McGregor, J., & Fernandez, J. (2019). Theorizing qualitative interviews: Two autoethnographic reconstructions. Modern Language Journal, 103(1), 227–247. https://doi.org/10.1111/modl.12541

Rubin, H. J., & Rubin, I. S. (2012). The responsive interview as an extended conversation. In Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data (2nd ed., pp. 108–128). https://doi.org/10.4135/9781452226651

Ethics Applications – Here and Abroad

Ethics applications involve negotiating expectations of the researcher and the IREB.

Academics sometimes use the term “ethics” to refer to the application process with a given institutional research ethics board (IREB). So, one may overheard the comment “Country X doesn’t have ethics” and wonder what the state of research ethics is in said country. Ethics meaning “the fair dealing with participants during the research process” exist, whether or not a given country or institution has an IREB, as ultimately fair dealing is the responsibility of the researcher. However, in my recent research in Germany, I experienced what IREB approval entails there in comparison to how I experience it generally in Canada, which draws attention to the many aspects of research that are not always apparent at first glance.

In 2016, I embarked on a research project exploring responses to linguistic diversity, primarily the influx of refugees to the school system in Hamburg. I envisioned a very full month of data collection: document analysis and interviews at various institutions. For this, I applied for, and received, IREB approval from my home institution. This is a familiar process that involves answers a large number of questions in a specific institutional portal, creating the accompanying forms, translating those into German, running my translations by a native speaking friend, and hitting submit. After a 57 day review with some questions to answer mid-way, I received approval.

From previous casual conversations with German academics, I was under the impression that school-based research was not yet requiring IREB approval. However, to be sure, I asked my host to share corresponding ethics information for both the university and the school board that I was interested in doing research with. While there was no application procedure at the university at that time, my host was able to share with me a website link regarding research in Hamburg schools. Although my German is relatively advanced, I found the website she pointed me too was a challenging read. Once through it, I concluded that classroom research required IREB approval equally complicated and time-consuming as what existed in my institution and that I did not have adequate time to prepare for such data collection during my first visit. For the initial stay then, I opted to focus on publicly available documents so I could learn more about the IREB processes before endeavouring to branch out to interviewing.

While planning to return to Germany this year with an expanded project, I decided it was time to pursue approval to interview instructors who work directly with pre-service teachers in order to find out how their university teaching education prepared them to teach refugee children. I learned that the university did not require an IREB process as I was familiar with, but because of new regulations, my consent documents did require a vetting with regards to data security.

Data security means giving consideration to where research data is stored and how private or safe it is. While my university’s IREB process requires me to stipulate how my data will be stored securely, the degree to which the German process focused on that was much more. Data security falls under the General Data Protection Regulation of the EU, which came into effect May 25, 2018.  Coming from Canada was a privilege, as it was considered a secure third country with adequate levels of protection. This meant that I could securely transfer research data back to Canada. Still, I was required to create parallel German documents to the ones I had from Canada, vetted by the university’s data security office, which handled my queries in a speedy manner. I am grateful for the patience of the data security officer as I endeavoured to make sense of the legalese German on the website, tip sheets, and template. In the end, two weeks into my one month stay (having begun before leaving Canada), I had approval.

I was excited for the opportunity to interview university instructors and, after a whirlwind recruitment cycle, eight agreed to participate. Erring on the side of caution, I had participants sign both sets of forms. Looking forward, I would still like to interview teachers in the school system, but that is for a future visit. Based on my experience this round, I am cognizant that I will need to start early on getting IREB approval.

Difficult conversations – Working in a second language

It can be difficult to get you point across in your second language.

I have mused before about working in three languages, but I was reminded last week about the less glamorous side of speaking more than one language well: not speaking the language of a particular conversation as well as one would like. I was having a conversation in German describing my research, which I do primarily in English. I had the distinct impression that my conversation partner wasn’t being won over by my argument, but what frustrated me most was feeling like I didn’t express myself well enough. There are so many subtleties that I know, just know, I am not expressing because I often pick verbs that are too general. Then, when I do use a precise verb, I can tell by someone’s reaction that I picked the wrong one. Now I am being too precise and have inadvertently focused the conversation on another matter than I had intended. Ladled on that are the differences in research or classroom culture where you want to say “So macht man das nicht!” (We don’t do it that way/That would never work).

Ultimately, deciding to continue to work in another language means a combination of giving up some pride in one’s ability to express a specific point and determining anew to learn more of that language, especially as it pertains to the particular domain you want to talk about, in this case, classroom research. I am also reminded that I have some of the same problems in conversation interactions where I am doing something new like going to the gym to workout (I asked for a locker instead of a lock!). I tell myself we all need to have some self-compassion in these difficult interactions, which in turn should lead to compassion for others in similar situations.

 

Visiting Scholar – Take 2

I am back at the University of Hamburg for a month – this time as a visiting scholar under the German Academic Agency’s (DAAD) Short-term Research Stay program. I will be continuing my research into how the University of Hamburg is preparing pre-service teachers for working with refugee children. This research has expanded to a comparative study of the US and Canada with two international colleagues: Drorit Lengyel and Barri Tinkler.

I have three main goals while I am here:

  1. continue the document analysis I started two years ago and getting it ready for publication
  2. (tied with that) pilot a document analysis workshop with graduate students here and if successful, offer at home and at a US institution
  3. interview university instructors regarding their work with pre-service teachers in this area.

I am still waiting for clearance to do #3, but the ball is rolling for that.

I have a few personal goals to expand my German repertoire:

  1. take in some movies at the Abaton Kino which offers lesser known titles in German (as opposed to Hollywood blockbusters)
  2. make use of the university fitness studio where I just bought a guest membership for the month
  3. try out a few new restaurants to add to my list of favourites (and pictures on Instagram)

So far, other than jetlag, I have also had to deal:

  1. with temporarily losing the ability to do bank transfers with my German account (long story – even longer to settle)
  2. accidentally walking into the mens’ change room (can’t I read German?)
  3. converting my personal training program from mph to km/h (didn’t I learn to convert in school?)

Stay posted for progress reports.

Bilingual identity revisited

During my candidacy exam, I was asked about my conceptualization of my bilingual identity. I wrote a very brief blog post about it then, but I would like to revisit the topic in light of a book I recently finished, Becoming multicultural: Immigration and the politics of membership in Canada and Germany by Triadafilos Triadofilopoulos. This well-written, well-researched book looks at the evolution of immigration policy in the two countries in which I am a citizen: Canada and Germany. The main argument for looking at these two case studies is that both country’s policymakers have changed the respective country’s immigration policies dramatically over the course of the last 100 years due to pressures to align their policies with their collective image of the countries as liberal democracies. Reading this book has provided a strong background for the work I am currently doing in understanding how universities prepare teachers for refugee education, starting with research I did as a visiting scholar at the University of Hamburg in June 2016.

The book also confirmed many observations I had growing up. As a child of immigrants, I always had a sense of Canada’s immigration history. My dad was sponsored by distant relatives who had come decades before, so I was familiar with Canada’s recruitment of strong labourers and land sales in an effort to cultivate the land prior to WWI. My dad came in 1950 and my mother came in 1961. Both represented a different wave of immigrants who were leaving war torn Europe, but who encountered strong negative feelings against Germans post-WWII. Later in my work I met newer immigrants from a variety of different countries, so over the decades I got a sense of how Canadian immigration law had changed.

My encounters with German immigration laws were more sporadic and timed with my personal trips to Germany. As a child, I met a young “Turkish” girl, who was actually born of Turkish parents in Germany at a time when her citizenship was not recognized by either country, rendering her stateless. This was my introduction to the German policy of jus sanguinis – citizenship based on descent. What I didn’t realize at the time was the my father’s German citizenship, despite having been born in Poland, was also a result of this policy. He had always explained that Catherine the Great had wanted workers for Poland and promised the Germans she recruited that they could keep their language and their religion, but I didn’t realize that they also kept their citizenship as Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans). Years later, I discovered a document among his old papers that indicated his family still had to be naturalized upon resettlement in Germany after World War II, but I have not investigated how rigorous that process was.

Unbeknownst to us, but consistent with jus sanguinis, I inherited German citizenship at birth. My parents became Canadian citizens in 1967, Canada’s 100th birthday, like many others. For them, that meant they automatically gave up their German citizenship, but as a baby, already born with Canadian citizenship, my German citizenship remained. Had I known, I could have avoided getting a visitor’s visa when I lived in Germany after high school. However, it wasn’t until one of my children was going on study abroad that someone asked me the right questions to discover my claim on German citizenship.

Interestingly, I inherited only from my father. Sometime in between my residence abroad in the 80’s and my children’s in the 2010’s, the law that allowed German citizenship to be passed on only through the paternal line was changed. Not only did my children inherit citizenship, European at that, I was offered the opportunity to purchase birth certificates for them. Imagine, they weren’t even born there, but they hold a birth certificate AND a passport from a country they have only visited.

This experience of dual citizenship, unearned and very beneficial, has provided me with empathy toward those without a home, citizenship, and a place to feel secure. I see my own research as a small part of learning what it takes to create a new home, new citizenship, and a new place to feel secure for those who seek refuge among us.

 

The Neurolinguistic Approach – oral modelling steps for the second language classroom

The neurolinguistic approach to second language teaching has gained popularity with the successes achieved by the Intensive French program in Canada. First introduced by Canadian researchers Claude Germain and Joan Netton, it has taken off as teachers and parents have noticed that their children learn to speak the second language as a result of an emphasis on oral communication in the classroom. A colleague, Katherine Mueller, and I are beginning research in a German Bilingual School where the teachers want to develop their emphasis on oral language. For the purpose of this research, my colleague developed the following German examples:

 

My thanks go to the native speakers who helped us refine our examples. Here is one article we have published from our research thus far:

Dressler, R. & Mueller, K. (2020). Strategies for purposeful oral language use in the second language classroom. Réflexions, 39(2), 15-17. http://hdl.handle.net/1880/113053

Developing a Sense of Style – Thanks Steven Pinker

When I entered graduate school I knew I had to learn to do research, I didn’t realize I would have to learn to write, really write, a lot! I thought of research articles as research reports, rather than the persuasive writing pieces they actually are. As I started to get articles reviewed, I noticed similar comments each time. Without going into detail, those comments taught me that I needed to invest in the craft of writing. One way I do that is by reading and trying to apply the suggestions in books on writing.

Recently I have been working on “The Sense of Style” by Steven Pinker. My favorite factor chapter is #2 on the classic style of writing. I appreciate his criticism of writing that is wordy and lofty, since academia is full of unclear prose that I have always struggled to understand. Pinker uses three very different writing excerpts to discuss what makes a piece of writing exceptional. My motivation to write more clearly was strengthened by the examples.

Rather than geek out on the many aspects I liked, suffice it to say that all of us who write for a living, and I consider academics to be professional writers, can benefit from greater clarity in our writing.

 

Research Update: Reflective Writing for Sojourn Debriefing

How do we know if international teaching sojourns are more than a great travel experience? That is the question we have asked ourselves for the past three years as five of us have researched sojourn preparation, reflection and debriefing. The term “sojourn” refers to a period of time spend abroad. In the case of this research, the sojourn is the time the BEd students in our Teaching Across Borders program spend volunteer teaching and living abroad. While our larger project examines reflective writing in the preparation and time away, this research update focuses on reflection upon return home.

Sojourn debriefing – usually we like to begin at the beginning, but in the first phase of our research we started where most research, and programs, do not even venture – the end. We designed a reflective writing model that we used during a reflective writing workshop the participants attended after they had been back home for two months. We wanted the participants to reflect deeply on one significant event from their time away. The model provided quite effective as students were able to use it to think and write about this event, starting with descriptive writing, but moving on to descriptive reflection, dialogic reflection, and in some cases, critical refection (These are four types of reflective writing described in other research as levels of depth of reflection).

What did we learn?

First, we learned about ourselves as researchers who have also each spent time abroad. In designing the model, we tested out three widely known models on ourselves: Gibbs’ (1988) Reflective CycleRolfe, Freshwater, and Jasper’s (2001) Reflective Model; and Johns’ (2010) Model for Structured Reflection. We met, tried writing based on each model, and then discussed which aspects of each we felt should go into a hybrid model we would use for our program participants. Through sharing our writing and developing this process, we became more aware of the strengths each of us brought to the project. We found this method effective for helping us design a model we could envision using, because we had lived the experience of assembling it. The new model was more than a sum of its parts because we added to it from our own insights. We have written about our design of the model in this scholarly publication:

Dressler, R., Becker, S. Kawalilak, C., Arthur, N. (2018). The cross-cultural reflective model for post-sojourn debriefing. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 19(4), 490–504. doi:10.1080/14623943.2018.1530207

Second, we learned about reflective writing and our participants. Reflective writing forces writers to think about their experiences and consider what they might learn from them. Some of the experiences were difficult ones: experiencing homesickness, encountering systemic racism, questioning one’s career choice (in this case, teaching). Others were poignant: reaching out to a misunderstood student; seeing the historical, political significance of the place one was living, surprising oneself with language and intercultural competence that was previously unnoticed. While not all students reflected to the degree of dialogic or critical reflection, each had the opportunity to reflect, grow, and make sense of their experience.

We have recently submitted an article about these post-sojourn reflections and anticipate writing more about them when we look at the cases of individual participants over time.

Looking back at our work summarized so succinctly does not do it justice. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming year.

5 years after graduation: A PhD journey retrospective

As I drove into campus today and witnessed students in convocation garb being photographed by family, I was reminded that on or near this day, five years ago, I was awarded my PhD.  Here is a numerical retrospective of my PhD journey:

10 teacher workshops

9 professional association memberships

8 different graduate courses taught

7 single-authored conference presentations

6 refereed journal articles

5 years since convocation

4 grants as Principal Investigator (PI)

3 grants as co-investigator

2 office moves

1 academic appointment

These numbers represent some picking and choosing to match up with the countdown and the list is by no means exhaustive. What they represent for me is dynamic interesting work that has also been emotionally and intellectually challenging. I look forward to celebrating more milestones in the coming five years. I will keep you posted.