Welcome back BILDers! This year, I’m excited to join the BILD community as an Affiliate Member and kick off the new school year with a post about how I spent (some of) my summer.
A large part of my work as a critical language researcher and educator results from the accumulation of my personal experiences abroad that have called me to question taken-for-granted assumptions about particular ways of being in the world. So, when my former supervisor sent me a link to the Doctoral Summer School in Malta, I did not hesitate to take part in this adventure. I booked a (one-way!) ticket to this Southern European island country–located South of Italy and East of Tunisia–in the Mediterranean Sea, with a population of 450,000.
The adventure began right away, on the first day, in fact, when I realized I had mistakenly booked my hostel on the wrong side of the island. Coming from the land-locked province of Saskatchewan, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered my route to school required I cross a body of water!
From June 11-14th, I took part in The International Doctoral Summer School that offered “doctoral students in TESOL and Applied Linguistics the chance to further develop their research skills, fine-tune their own projects and learn about a range of contemporary key issues in the field.” This program was hosted by the University of Malta’s Centre for English Language Proficiency (CELP) and consisted of workshops and seminars facilitated by international academics.
Throughout the four days, attendees had an opportunity to listen to keynote presentations, participate in small group conversations, present our current research, discuss our dissertation topic in 30-minute one-on-one sessions with tutors, and present the lessons learned from the Summer School in an informal poster-style conference. What impressed me the most about this program was the generosity of the tutors who during every coffee break engaged in conversations with us, sharing personal insights and stories from their own lives and experiences: “Imposter syndrome does not go away. The more you learn, the more you realize there’s so much more you do not know,” Dr. Sue Garton reminds us, and on the first day, Dr. Odette Vassallo shares these encouraging words, “Do not give up on your journey. It is hard, but keep persevering and you will make it”.
It was the informal yet professional nature of this small gathering of emerging scholars with similar research interests and trajectories that made this experience incredibly rich. The experience was truly international in that the attendees came from around the world, which made it possible to better understand how particular concepts like multilingualism have been taken up in different contexts, beyond the Canadian horizon.
Since one of the Summer School attendees did an excellent job of summarizing key take-home messages for English language teachers and Applied Linguistics researchers from his experience (worth the read here), I will use the remainder of this post to highlight some key content from Professor Lourdes Ortega’s talks, share some information on the Maltese language and discuss translanguaging as it relates to my own research area.
Reconciling Ethics and Politics with Methodological Rigor: Tips for (Quantitative) Researchers
The highlight of the Summer School was the talk by Professor Lourdes Ortega. She began her presentation by asking 2 fundamental questions and then sharing 4 tips, as follows:
Question 1: Who counts as bilingual in our studies, and how should language learning “success” be defined?
Question 2: Should research address ethics and/or politics?
Tip 1: Think long and hard about your comparisons (if any)
Tip 2: Train yourself in statistics that allow you to bypass fixed ideas of native/nonnative etc
Tip 3: Use research discourse for affirmation, not for deficit
Tip 4: It is ethical not to reinvent the wheel, to listen to your research community, and to be clear to your audiences (Ortega, 2019).
Beyond the content in Dr. Ortega’s presentation, I paid particular attention to the ways in which she engaged with the audience. She met her listeners where they were at in their thought processes and still remained true to her social justice message of promoting more equitable ways to conceptualize English language learners–Dr. Ortega is both an exceptional scholar and an effective communicator.
The Language of Malta
The language spoken in Malta today is no doubt the result of thousands of years of cultural, social, and political events. While Maltese is the national and dominant language of the archipelago, it shares co-official status with English (Vella, 2013). It is the unique blend of elements from three distinct language families–the Semitic, the Romance, and the Germanic–that makes Maltese truly unique (Brincat, 2011). The grammar and syntax of Maltese is Arabic, with about ⅓ of the vocabulary being Arabic, ½ Italian or Sicilian, while the remaining 20% is from English and French. This 8-minute YouTube video briefly describes how the Maltese language descended from an Arabic dialect with a large importing of foreign vocabulary.
One of the highlights in traveling to new places for me is to listen to locals dialogue with one another. Every morning during breakfast before school on the streets of Valletta, I would listen to the conversations between locals as they effortlessly ebbed and flowed in and between Maltese and English.
This fluidity of Maltese speakers’ language practices is what has been described in the academic literature as translanguaging (García & Li Wei, 2013). Translanguaging calls for a theoretical reconceptualization of language. Rather than understanding languages as discrete, separate, named systems, translanguaging sees learners as drawing upon their multiple and dynamic language features from their one linguistic repertoire in order to communicate and make meaning. Some of my PhD work examines instructors’ attitudes toward translanguaging in the English language context in higher education in Canada.
At the Summer School I presented a research paper in which Dr. Shakina Rajendram and I draw upon Ruiz’s (1984) orientations toward language planning and policy to propose a Translanguaging-as-Resource orientation toward language teaching and learning–complementing what García, Johnson, and Seltzer (2017) call a “translanguaging stance”. The goal of this work is to reconsider ways to account for speakers’ discursive linguistic practices in typically monolingual spaces such as the ESL classroom.
After three weeks on the archipelago of Malta, I returned home with a sun-kissed face, more freckles than there are stars in a clear night sky, and a renewed ambition to buckle down on my dissertation. Dear Malta, thank-you for your warmth, literally and metaphorically!
I’m wishing you all the best in your upcoming academic year, fellow BILDers!
Brincat, J. M. (2011). Maltese and other languages: A linguistic history of Malta. Midsea Books.
García, O., Johnson, S., & Seltzer, K. (2017). The translanguaging classroom. Leveraging student bilingualism for learning. Philadelphia: Caslon.
García, O., & Wei, L. (2013). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. Springer.
Ortega, L. (2019). Reconciling ethics and politics with methodological rigor: Tips for (quantitative) researchers. International Doctoral Summer School, University of Malta, June 11-14, 2019.
Ruíz, R. (1984). Orientations in language planning. NABE: The Journal for the National Association for Bilingual Education, 8(2), 15–34. https://doi.org/10.1080/08855072.1984.10668464
Vella, A. (2013) Languages and language varieties in Malta, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 16:5, 532-552, DOI: 10.1080/13670050.2012.716812
Follow me on Twitter @Burton_OISE or contact me through email email@example.com
For those emerging scholars who would be interested in attending the Doctoral Summer School in Malta 2020, contact Dr. Odette Vassallo (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dr. Daniel Xerri (email@example.com)
Photos are my own unless indicated by an asterisk (*) in which case photo credit belongs to Centre for English Language Proficiency (CELP)