Time in Language Learning and Teaching

Time has always been a part of language learning and teaching research: Learning and teaching are about change, and change means being in different states at different times. (…) Perhaps because the role of time is so fundamental to acquisition and learning, it tends to be relatively unmarked and is often not commented upon explicitly. Key terms such as ‘process’ and ‘development’ imply the passage of time, yet time itself is frequently backgrounded through the use of substantives.

Feryok & Mercer 2017: 203

The quotation above comes from the introduction of a special issue on Time in language education, which was published in Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching in September 2017 (Volume 11, Issue 3). The issue, which was guest-edited by Anne Feryok (University of Otago, NZ) and Sarah Mercer (University of Graz, Austria), includes seven articles that look into various aspects of time in language learning and teaching.


The articles that make up the special issue are:

Time in the experience of agency and emotion in English language learning in rural Vietnam (Cynthia White & Chuong Pham)

In this article, White and Pham present narrative accounts by three English language learners in Vietnam, with a special focus on the way they dialogically construct their agency and emotions. Key to their analysis is the construct of a ‘chronotope’, which they borrow from Bakhtin. A chronotope is a type of frame which is used to anchor time, settings, agency and emotion, and the authors argue that it is useful in helping us understand how language learners construct meanings in their lives.

Shifting timescales in peer group interactions: A multilingual classroom perspective (Işıl Erduyan)

By looking into a multilingual ninth-grade German classroom and the micro-level discourse produced in it, Erduyan’s paper puts forward the unsurprising suggestion identity is dynamic and that that linguistic practices are involved in its social construction.

Studying English in Yemen: Situated unwillingness to communicate in sociohistorical time (Mutahar Al-Murtadha & Anne Feryok)

This is a highly original paper which uses a temporal perspective to shed light on Unwillingness To Communicate. Unwillingness to Communicate can be viewed as a psychological trait, which has a certain temporal permenance, but it is insantiated as a decision to not engage in moment-to-moment interaction. Using data from 12 Yemeni learners of English and ‘heterochronic mediation’, a term derived from Vygotskian Theory, the authors discuss the relation between the two timescales on which Unwillingness to Communicate operates.

Temporal patterns of long-term engagement with learning an additional language (Isabel Tasker)

This article reports on an ecologically-informed five-year study of learners of Chinese, which tracks the trajectories of learning outcomes over time, and the development of long-term patterns. Unlike in other articles that make up the collection, the concept of ‘time’ is used just as a methodological aspect of the study, and theoretical discussion of time is limited to a call for more longitudinal research.

Language planning and policy in a school site: A diachronic analysis ()

Similar to the above, the article by Kemp reports on a longitudinal study that examined the introduction and delivery of Chinese lessons in a school over a period of ten years. The article describes language learning policy as a product of interaction that involves three levels of time: microgenetic time (moment-to-moment interaction), ontogenetic time (policy decisions that take place in a life-span) and cultural-historic time (the timescales involved in producing the sociocultural context).

Looking back, looking forward, living in the moment: Understanding the individual temporal perspectives of secondary school EFL learners (Ines Begić & Sarah Mercer)

This article is premised on the ideas that: (a) learners have different perspectives of time, which might foreground the present moment, past, or future; (b) these perspectives are stable over time and measurable; and (c) differences in these perspectives have a ‘profound’ effect on motivation and hence language learning. Building on this idea, the paper uses statistical methods to identify whether any differences exist in the perspectives of students in Austria (N=33) and Croatia (N=235). The variables of gender, nationality, ‘temporal orientation’ and ‘temporal attitudes’ were combined in different ways, and uncovered some statistically significant differences.

Disclaimer: I was asked to provide two rounds of feedback for this article (June 2016 and March 2017), which the authors have been gracious enough to acknowledge in personal communications. Despite having provided extensive statistical consultation and copyediting, I cannot take credit for the ideas presented in the paper.

Looking back, looking forward, living in the moment: Understanding the individual temporal perspectives of secondary school EFL learners (Rebecca L. Oxford)

Written by one of my favourite scholars, this article puts forward a conceptual frame, or ‘time-prism’ for interpreting the temporal aspects of language teaching and learning. The prism consists of six facets. The first one comprises aspects of the language learners’ psychology, such as hope, agency, autonomy, and mindsets. The second facet looks into the connections of time and socioculturally mediated learning. The third facet refers to time as empodied in aspects of language learning, like self-regulated task phases, complexity theory, and learning strategies. The next facet brings together temporal perspectives (i.e., past, present, and future). The fifth aspect refers to time, imagination, and motivation, and the final one pertains to affective time aspects.

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Not included

In the interest of full disclosure, a colleague and I had also submitted a proposal for an article that would describe temporal aspects of the construction of meaning in language education. Activity in higher-order timescales, we argued tends to be slower or even appear static, whereas lower-order timescales are more volatile. Our article would use empirical data to describe how the activity in lower-order timescales was is shaped within the confines of the higher-order structures, but also how drove change that (re)shaped such structures.

The proposal was rejected by the editors, who cited lack of relevance as a reason and explained that they ‘had to focus very tightly’ (Anne Feryok, personal communication, 14th December 2015). To the best of my ability, my reading of the articles has not been influenced by this outcome, although I struggle to see evidence of such tight focus in the articles that were included in the issue.

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(What follows is a copy of the call for papers that was published in this blog on 7th June 2015. Although the content is no longer current, it is retained here for archival reasons.
For timely information on calls for papers, you may want to bookmark this page)

Call for papers

Anne Feryok (University of Otago, NZ) and Sarah Mercer (University of Graz, Austria) are to co-edit a special issue of Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching which will, intriguingly, focus on the concept of Time. Here are some of their thoughts on this unusual topic:

Time has always been a part of second language acquisition and language learning and teaching research. Acquisition and learning and teaching are essentially about change, and change is about being in different states at different times. In this special issue, we take a critical stance on the nature of ‘time’ as a construct and reflect on how our perspectives on time inform our understandings of research and language learning and teaching processes. We are open to any suggestions for articles that engage fundamentally with the concept of time in language learning and teaching.

A non-exhaustive list of possible topics includes the following:

  • Chronological or linear versus experiential or nonlinear time
  • Prediction and experimentation versus retrodiction and explanation
  • Individual, cultural, and subjective notions of time
  • Remembered past time, ongoing experienced time, future anticipated time
  • Longitudinal research (on multiple timescales)
  • Individual and cultural orientations to time
  • Language learning and teaching as historically situated in time
  • Linguistic notions of time

The timeline for publication is as follows:

Abstract submission deadline30 October 2015
Notification of acceptance15 December 2015
Article submission deadline30 April 2016
Article revisions due15 December 2016
Publicationearly 2017

Update (June 2016): Editors’ contact information redacted

Note: Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching is published by Taylor and Francis. It currently operates a ‘hybrid open access’ policy, meaning that authors may have their work published for free, on the understanding that it will be placed behind a paywall; or they may pay Article Processing Charges to have it published as a Green or Gold Open Access article.

Featured image: ‘Hourglass’ by Nick Olejniczak @ Flickr, CC-BY-NC 

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