Achilleas Kostoulas

Applied Linguistics & Language Teacher Education


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)

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 that identity is dynamic and that that linguistic practices are involved in its social construction. The theoretical contribution made in this article comes in the form of demonstrating the relevance of interactions happening in a short time-scale (micro-level discourse), as opposed to longer term identity development. Problematically, the relation between micro- and macro-levels is not addressed, leaving readers with little more than an suggestion for a shift in analytic perspective.

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 instantiated 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 a five-year study of learners of Chinese, which tracks the trajectories of learning outcomes over time, and the development of long-term patterns. The study is said to be informed by ecological thinking, although the engagement with the theory is, at best, superficial. There is not much new or interesting in the outcomes, other than the trite observation that development of learning outcomes is not linear. Somehow, this finding is translated into a call for call research with an emphasis on temporality (a sophisticated way to describe longitudinal research, which is not really absent from the literature). However, it is never stated with much clarity what time is, other than a variable in an otherwise unremarkable study.

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

The theoretically robust 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. In doing so it makes a significant contribution to the study of language planning and policy, from a truly longitudinal perspective. Interestingly, 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), and it highlights the intricate interconnections of the above.

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

Drawing on popular psyschology, this article is premised on three interesting, but poorly developed ideas, namely 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 outcomes. Building on the above, 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 eventually uncovered some statistically significant differences. Whether such variables can be considered unitary, monolithic and static is a question of how one views the social world (but note the incongruity with the editors’ statement that “change means being in different states at different times“); whether there is scholarly value in analysing data until a statistical artefact eventually emerges is a question that does not lend itself to easy answers.

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 content of 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.

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





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