Achilleas Kostoulas

Applied Linguistics & Language Teacher Education

Glass of champagne

2015 in Review

It’s that time of the year again, when one takes stock of the previous 12 months. This year’s post is less introspective than the previous one, but here goes anyway…

As always, WordPress has helpfully provided an annual traffic report, according to which this blog was visited 110,000 times in the past twelve months. This is a surprising number, considering how very little I posted during the summer (because I was looking for a job), and in the last couple of months (because I found one).

A large number of visitors come to this blog for the statistics content, which I continue to find both bizarre and frustrating. Other, less popular and probably better posts, which I wrote this year include the following:

My rant about discriminatory hiring

The position taken here(…) is that the very concept of Native vs. Non-Native teachers should be irrelevant to teaching discourse, just as dichotomies between male and female teachers, or between attractive and plain-looking ones. To quote Adrian Holliday again, these labels “really have not always been there, and we really don’t need them”.

In January 2015, I came across an article where it was argued that there was nothing discriminatory about exclusively hiring native teachers of English. I immediately wrote a brief, and somewhat angry, response here. In the post, I outlined three reasons why such thinking is linguistically flawed and ethically problematic. Despite being written in some haste, the post turned out to be reasonably coherent, and to my surprise, it led to the largest number of views in a single day – a record that would last till the end of September, when I announced my new job.

Introduction to complexity

Readers of this blog will know that I have an interest in Complex Systems Theory, and I do on occasion blog about it. In spring 2015, I was involved in organising the Manchester Roundtable on Complex Systems Theory and ELT, an informal gathering of teachers and academics that aimed to exploring how Complexity can be used to bridge the perceived gap between theory and practice in language teaching. In anticipation of that event, I wrote a short primer on complexity, which you can find here. The plan to make this a series of five posts discussing different aspects of complexity and ELT didn’t quite materialise, partly because I didn’t feel confident enough in my ability to describe complexity in non-technical terms, but this introductory post is a reasonably good entry point into complexity.

Is there a talent for learning languages?

We should not assume, on the basis of our continuing research,(…) that there are individuals who are not capable of learning languages.

Many of the posts in this blog are inspired by conversations I have with friends who want to learn more about language and language learning. This post, on language learning aptitude, or the ability to learn languages effortlessly, is a good example of such a post. It was triggered by a long conversation with a good friend, over a bottle of good wine, during which we debated whether there is such a thing as a ‘talent’ for learning languages. In the post, which summarises the better parts of that conversation, I argue that there seems to be such a thing as ‘aptitude’, and I explain what it consists of; but I also point out that it is not the most important factor determining success.

Some thoughts on teaching and testing

Another example of a post inspired by an informal conversation, on Twitter this time, was the one where I discuss the relation between language learning and testing. In brief, I argue that the two are not always compatible, and look back at a critical incident from my language teaching days. In September 2015, when this post was written, I had made up my mind to leave Greece, and some of my frustration and resentment over my previous employment seems to have made its way into the post. Such imperfections aside, I think that the content of the post is useful, and can serve as one example of how we might, ever so briefly, use professional knowledge and our sense of integrity in the interest of our students.

Looking into predatory publishing

It seems unethical to make hiring and promotion decisions conditional on a publication model that creates unrealistic output expectations for honest researchers, and profit opportunities for unscrupulous publishers.

Predatory publishing, roughly defined, is the practice of separating researchers from their money, by publishing scholarly work in journals of dubious quality. Uneven levels of academic expertise, poor regulatory practices, and gullibility are important factors in explaining the rise of predatory publishing, but they may not be the only ones. In this post I discuss how academic advancement regulations in certain contexts (*cough*Greece*cough*) tend to encourage submission of mediocre papers to low-quality journals. Although this post was not very widely read, I have included it in this list because I think it is a topic that warrants reflection and discussion.

And more…

In addition to the above, I have used this blog to record events and milestones that were noteworthy to me in one way or another. One of these events was the Teaching English to Young Learners panel, which I co-organised, in IATEFL 2015. You can read more about the panel members in this post, and about our talks in this one. Another one was the workshop on practitioner-led research, which I co-presented in ELT Connect 2015. You can find our slides and a handy how-to guide for planning research projects here. Last but not least, in this post you can find a copy of a chapter that I co-authored with Juup Stelma, which was recently published in New Directions in Language Learning Psychology (Gkonou et al., 2016).

I guess that’s all for this year… As always, thanks for reading, and have a great New Year!

Featured Image: Andrea Parrish – Geyer @ Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0



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