Sunday, July 10, 2016


I'm in my office on a Sunday (!) working on the paper.  One of my foreign co-workers / office-mates is also here (!!).  Anyhow, tomorrow we're meeting with foreign co-worker no. 3 to start talking methodology for our research paper on using effective questions to build confidence in beginner level English students.  Incredibly sexy, no?

So for the past two weeks we've been working on our literature review, and I was given the task of going over 1) foreign language anxiety ("F.L.A.") and 2) differences between Western and Asian teaching styles.

F.L.A. is a surprisingly contentious issue, academically speaking.  It's a concept that began in the 1980's but during the 90's people criticized it for focusing solely on the classroom environment and being far too teacher-oriented.  F.L.A. definitely exists, but defining it merely as a classroom phenomenon ignores the larger context of people using foreign languages in social and work situations as well.  (Technically speaking, the E.S.L. context, where students are living in countries where the "target language" is already being spoken.)

Even more interesting is the literature on Western and Asian (if you prefer, Confucian) teaching and learning styles.  There are lots of papers and even some books out there on this issue (believe me!) and, unsurprisingly, lots of debate.  The general sense is that while stereotypes about "passive," "submissive" Asian students and "active," "student oriented" Western teachers remain quite strong to this day, lots of good research has shown that this divide tends to be overblown.  There may be strong cultural divisions in the classroom, but effective teachers can break these down by empowering their students to participate and learn actively, and by modeling the behavior of how to engage with a teacher as an equal.  In the worst case scenario, an English teacher might excuse her own deficiencies with the cultural stereotype that her Korean students are just too damn passive to learn anything.

I could go on.  I won't.  As far as academic writing goes this is all pretty niche stuff, so it's nice to be turning to the more practical side of things.  (Most of our data will come from taped interviews with selected students starting in September.)  But this whole project has kind of tickled a part of my brain that I haven't really stretched since graduate school.  Changes of pace are usually a good thing.

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