Interview with Chris Hall

Principal researcher of Modelling plurilithic orientations to English with trainee teachers: A comparative international study

AUTHOR : Interview by Jane Ra
BOOK DETAILS : Modelling plurilithic orientations to English with trainee teachers: A comparative international study

Project: Modelling plurilithic orientations to English with trainee teachers: A comparative international study

Principal researcher: Christopher J Hall (York St John University, UK)

Co-researchers: Alice Gruber (Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences, Germany), Yuan Qian (Suzhou University of Science and Technology, China)

 

 

1.Can you explain what your project is about?

 

Raising teachers’ awareness of Global Englishes is a difficult task, given the entrenched nature of public belief in the monolithic nature of English. The challenge is compounded in the case of teachers by the top-down pressures they are under to commit to the sole legitimacy of native-speaker norms and—for many non-native speaker teachers—by the feeling that the undeniable investment they’ve made in developing these norms is being undermined or undervalued by Global Englishes scholarship.

 

Together with my co-researchers Alice Gruber and Yuan Qian, I’m interested in finding out which methods might prove effective in helping to change teachers’ monolithic beliefs. In our project we’re attempting to assess the extent to which delivering the ‘plurilithic’ (non-monolithic) message in a more ‘bottom-up’ fashion in teacher education courses might make significant contributions to belief change. Adopting Murphy and Arao’s (2001) concept of near-peer role modelling, and building on ideas developed in the Changing Englishes online course for teachers that I developed with my colleague Rachel Wicaksono, we will investigate the potential impact of video presentations featuring teacher role models on trainee teachers’ beliefs about Global Englishes.

 

In the project, short videos featuring successful young teachers of English from Germany and China will be played as part of regular online learning activities to three groups of MA TESOL students: (a) German native speakers in German universities; (b) Mandarin native speakers and speakers of other L1s in UK universities; and (c) Mandarin native speakers in UK university campuses in China. In the videos, the role models talk about their beliefs about Global Englishes and how they address the global status of English in their teaching, stressing its plurilithic nature. Through pre- and post-exposure questionnaires, records of immediate reactions, and delayed in-depth interviews, we will measure the extent to which exposure to the videos is followed by immediate and longer-lasting changes in belief.

 

2. Why did you focus on this research context?

 

I’ve been interested in beliefs about the nature of English (its ‘ontological status’) for a long time. I used to do research on vocabulary development in learners of second and third languages, and the theoretical model I developed highlighted the hybrid nature of the lexical resources learners developed, based mostly on evidence about the influence that their L1 had on the L2 English they came to know. One of the studies compared the role of L1 Spanish and L2 English on L3 German or L3 Spanish lexical development. It required participants to make grammaticality judgements on pairs of L3 sentences employing verbs which adopted the grammatical features of L1 or L2 equivalents, with neither sentence necessarily matching L3 native-speaker norms. I remember being struck that several peer reviewers insisted that we report and discuss the degree to which learners converged on the ‘correct’ native-speaker behaviour of the verbs, even though this was immaterial to the object of the research. I think this was the first time I questioned the narrow assumption that a ‘native-speaker’ final state was the only realistic or legitimate target for acquisition.

 

I conducted that research during almost twenty years that I spent at a Mexican university, working mostly on second language acquisition within a psycholinguistic framework. I’d become aware of World Englishes research while I was in Mexico, and was an avid reader of postcolonial literature; but it wasn’t until I returned to the UK in 2007 and was asked to take over an undergraduate module on the subject that I realised the extent to which the pervasive assumption of Inner Circle norms was distorting academic conceptualisations of the nature of English (and other languages). For the first time I understood that this distortion was underpinning misguided pedagogical practices in TESOL, which presented language learning from a deficit perspective and which were unsuited to the actual needs of English users in a world where English as a Lingua Franca was the the dominant context of use.

 

My research now is focused on exploring the nature of English for its global users, focusing on its plurilithic nature and the social injustices that result from the native-speaker ‘Standard English’ ideology. We hope that the results of the study we’re embarking on will contribute to efforts to raise teachers’ awareness of Global Englishes, by providing evidence-based training materials which respond to local conditions. We are convinced that changing teacher beliefs is the key to real, enduring, and more pervasive societal change, hence the focus on trainee teachers in this project.

 

3. What results are you expecting?

 

The previous research on near-peer role models has been conducted with learners, rather than teachers, and has demonstrated that behaviours and beliefs are more likely to be changed through models who the learners can identify with most closely. This ‘near-peer’ effect has been observed in many other areas of learning, as documented in a considerable body of literature from the broader areas of social and educational psychology. So we expect to see something similar for student teachers in MA programmes in the international contexts we’re looking at.

 

We’re not at all sure whether there will be differences between the responses of German-speaking, Mandarin-speaking, and ‘other L1’-speaking participants, although the different educational philosophies and dominant language ideologies of the different groups are likely to influence responses.  And the results won’t be straightforward in any case. Among potential problems in interpreting the results will be at least the following factors: (a) participants’ exposure to other input on Global Englishes (which we’ll measure with separate questionnaire responses); (b) differences in the videos between the German and Chinese versions (which is precisely why the local bottom-up approach is needed, and will be fully explored in our analysis); and (c) the usual problems of response bias (which we hope to mitigate with sensitive interviewing).

 

Whatever results we get, they’re sure to be helpful in informing future attempts to raise awareness of Global Englishes among trainee teachers.

 

4. What might your research say about GE and future ELT practices?

 

Previous research has consistently reported that teachers demonstrate a reluctance to abandon native-speaker norms as the sole model and target for teaching. We’re hoping that our research will reveal more about the degree to which teacher sensitivity to Global Englishes is tractable through more bottom-up, teacher-led, locally-based training materials. Hearing about Global Englishes through ‘experts’, often far away in higher education institutions, is one thing; but hearing about it from one’s peers, especially those of a similar age and background, may be especially influential. If our findings are encouraging, then the potential for changes to teacher education practice, which might lead to greater awareness of Global Englishes, is real.

 

5. What kind of research have you worked on previously?

 

As I mentioned earlier, I used to conduct psycholinguistic research on the role of other languages a learner knows (especially the L1) on L2 and L3 vocabulary development. The resulting theory (called the ‘Parasitic Model’: see, for example, Hall and Ecke, 2003; Ecke and Hall, 2014) has recently had renewed uptake in the literature on cross-linguistic influence (e.g. Rothman et al., 2019; Booth and Clenton, 2020). But my more recent projects have all explored non-native English learning and use from a broader perspective, more sociolinguistic than psycholinguistic, yet still insisting on the fundamentally cognitive nature of the linguistic resources learners develop and bring to communicative events.

 

Aside from several theoretical and conceptual papers (e.g. Hall, 2013, 2020), I’ve worked over the past few years on a couple of corpus-based projects and a series of more qualitative projects. The first corpus project (Hall et al., 2013a) looked at the specific phenomenon of non-native use of ‘noncount’ nouns in native-speaker English (like advice, furniture), using the VOICE ELF corpus and the World Wide Web as sources. We concluded that although the countable use of these nouns (advices, furnitures) was widespread among non-native speaker communities, it was actually quite infrequent, and its prominence as a marker of ‘nativeness’ in TESOL was unhelpful. In another corpus study (Hall et al., 2017a), we examined thousands of emails sent and received by an expert L2 user of English in an ELF context to try to understand the usage-based nature of non-native grammar, concluding that the traditional views of grammar assumed in TESOL are untenable.

 

Two other projects have used questionnaire and/or interview data to investigate teachers’ language ontologies and ideologies. In one project, we asked English teachers in China to tell us about their conceptualisations of English (Hall et el., 2017b). These data were augmented by online focus group data from English teachers in Gaza, reported in Hall et al. (2013b). The results suggested that teachers were open to the idea of Global Englishes, but in their classrooms still struggled with a plurilithic approach to grammar, as opposed to vocabulary or pronunciation. In my most recent project, I collaborated with a colleague who had interviewed EAL educators in primary schools in the north of England, to examine the interplay between ideological and ontological beliefs suggested by their discourse (Hall and Cunningham, 2020). We found a major influence of the ‘Standard English’ and ‘One nation, one language’ ideologies in the teachers’ discourse, and proposed that this might stem from ontological commitments in which ‘English the language’ was conflated with ‘English the people’ (cf. Hall, 2020).

 

6. What kind of research topics should be dealt with in future GE projects?

 

I’ve argued in a forthcoming book chapter (Hall, forthcoming) that future GE projects need to address the real concern that English teachers have with grammar. Most research on the pedagogical implications of GE rightly aims to raise teachers’ awareness of global English diversity, but does so almost uniquely from the ontological perspective of ‘language as social practice’. This positioning of the issue often involves explicitly disavowing or marginalising the cognitive nature of the grammatical resources that learners need in order to do the kind of ‘languaging’ that new globalised multilingual contexts of use demand. But what seems to be missing is a common ground in which the need for grammar, and teachers’ need to facilitate its development in learners, is seen as entirely consistent with a focus on meaning-making in real, diverse contexts. I suggest that the answer lies in usage-based approaches to grammar, which are unashamedly cognitive in orientation, but whose raison d’être are social and cultural. Yet there is very little research on GE which makes this connection. I believe that more collaborative research with linguists who have a cognitive orientation, especially those working in usage-based frameworks, has great potential to lead to increased understanding of Global Englishes in linguistics both general and applied, as well as to more significant belief change among TESOL professionals, learners, policy-makers, and the broader public.

 

References

Booth, P. and Clenton, J. (2020). First language influences on multilingual lexicons. London: Routledge.

Ecke, P. and Hall, C. J. (2014). The Parasitic Model of L2 and L3 vocabulary acquisition: evidence from naturalistic and experimental studies. Fórum Linguístico, 11, 3, 360-372.

Hall, C. J. (forthcoming). Incorporating ontological reflection into teacher education about English for global learners. In Bayyurt, Y. (ed.), World Englishes: Pedagogy. London: Bloomsbury.

Hall, C. J. (2013). Cognitive contributions to plurilithic views of English and other languages. Applied Linguistics, 34, 211-231.

Hall, C. J. (2020). An ontological framework for English. In Hall, C. J. and Wicaksono, R. (eds), Ontologies of English. Conceptualising the language for learning, teaching, and assessment (pp. 13-36). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hall, C. J. and Cunningham, C. (2020). Educators’ beliefs about English and languages beyond English: from ideology to ontology and back again. Linguistics and Education. doi.org/10.1016/j.linged.2020.100817.

Hall, C. J., Joyce, J. and Robson, C. (2017a). Investigating the lexico-grammatical resources of a non-native user of English: the case of can and could in email requests. Applied Linguistics Review, 8, 1, 35-59.

Hall, C. J., Schmidtke, D. and Vickers, J. (2013a). Countability in world Englishes. World Englishes, 32, 1, 1-22.

Hall, C. J., Wicaksono, R., Liu, S., Qian, Y. and Xu, X. (2017b). Exploring teachers’ ontologies of English. Monolithic conceptions of grammar in a group of Chinese teachers. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 27, 1, 87-109.

Hall, C. J., Wicaksono, R., Liu, S., Qian, Y. and Xu, X. (2013b). English reconceived: Raising teachers’ awareness of English as a ‘plurilithic’ resource through an online course. British Council ELT Research Papers, 13–05.

Murphy, T. and Arao, H. (2001). Reported belief changes through near peer role modelling. TESL-EJ, 5, 3, 1-15.

Rothman, J., Alonso, J. G. and Puig-Mayenco, E. (2019). Third language acquisition and linguistic transfer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

 

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