C’est compliqué: TESOL France 2016, Fractals and things

TESOL France Colloquium 2016 starts this Friday 19 November and no doubt the star attraction is linguist Diane Larsen-Freeman who will be doing a plenary and a Q&A session on the Saturday.

Her talk is titled “Patterns in Language: Why are they the way that they are?”

From her abstract:

Drawing on my contention that language is a complex, dynamic system, I will demonstrate that the shape of patterns in language are fractal.

Larsen-Freeman, 2016:15

The claim that language is a “complex, dynamic system” has been critiqued by Kevin Gregg (2010) and supported, albeit with important caveats, by William A Kretschmar (2011) when both reviewed the book Complex systems and applied linguistics by Diane Larsen-Freeman and Lynne Cameron.

Gregg thinks it is false that language, when seen from a narrow viewpoint, as linguistic competence, is dynamical. Everyone learning their first language reaches a steady state and for second language learners there is also the state of fossilisation. He also argues that seeing language in more general terms as an entity in a complex dynamic system is incoherent as language is not a thing but rather an abstraction.

Possible question to Larsen-Freeman 1 – How are you demarcating language when applying dynamic systems theory (DST)?

Kretzschmar who has his own, more plausible, account of DST for speech or language in use, takes issue with Larson-Freeman-Cameron (LFC) for conflating complex systems  and chaotic systems. Chaotic systems cycle through a very large number of states whereas complex systems are on the edge between fixed states and chaos. This can be seen in the difference between Mandelbrot Koch Island fractals and Mandelbrot San Marco Dragon fractals. The former are well-ordered and are a simple collection of basic patterns which form self-similarly at different scales, whereas the latter goes through a series of many states, tracing a “long orbit of successive positions” (Kretzschmar, 2010).

Possible question to Larsen-Freeman 2 – What kind of fractals are you talking about?

Kretzschmar points out that Larson-Freeman’s study of individuals using DST breaks an assumption that complex systems needs numerous interacting elements. Apart from one example given by LFC which does seem to use a DST term appropriately Kretzschmar is highly critical of the general uses of terms from the DST field made by LFC.

I said earlier that in my (very) shallow reading of Kretzschmar I found his account of applying DST to speech much more plausible. One of the reasons is that he keeps with the linguistic tradition of Saussure’s notion of langue and parole, or Chomsky’s concept of competence and performance. He comments on the Five Graces Group which promotes DST in second language acquisition, of which prominent members include Larson-Freeman and Nick Ellis:

…the Five Graces Group is right to insist on usage as what builds a speaker’s cognitive sense of a language, but are not credible in their assertion of a direct connection between speech and grammar as a network of categories…Grammar…when it is defined as a network or hierarchy of categories or rules is something essentially different from the output of the complex system of speech, something only indirectly related to language in use.

Kretzschmar, 2015:91

Possible question to Larsen-Freeman 3 – How does your application of DST to language compare to Kretzschmar?

I hope attendees to the colloquium will find these three suggested questions of use. All errors and omissions mine. Do pop further questions in the comments.

For more info on the critical side have a read of https://criticalelt.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/larsen-freeman-lost-in-complexity-bullshit-baffles-brains/.

Edit: Thanks to Geoff Jordan for reminding me of another one of his essential posts a review of Larsen-Freeman’s talk at IATEFL 2016 https://criticalelt.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/larsen-freemans-iatefl-2016-plenary-shifting-metaphors-from-computer-input-to-ecological-affordances/

Enjoy the conference and thanks for reading.

References:

Gregg, K. R. (2010). Review article: Shallow draughts: Larsen-Freeman and Cameron on complexity. Second Language Research, 26(4), 549-560. DOI: 10.1177/0267658310366582

Kretzschmar, W. A. (2010). Language variation and complex systems. American speech, 85(3), 263-286. DOI: 10.1215/00031283-2010-016

Kretzschmar, W. A. (2011). Book Review: Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics. By Diane Larsen-Freeman & Lynne Cameron. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008. xi+ 287. ISBN 978-0-19-442244-4. Journal of English Linguistics, 39(1), 89-95. DOI: 10.1177/0075424210366194

Kretzschmar Jr, W. A. (2015). Language and complex systems. Cambridge University Press. https://books.google.fr/books?id=r5fwCAAAQBAJ&lpg=PR9&ots=jtFmWnsRQB&dq=Language%20and%20Complex%20Systems%20By%20William%20A.%20Kretzschmar%2C%20Jr&lr&pg=PA91#v=snippet&q=graces%20group%20is%20right&f=false

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2016). Patterns in Language: Why are they the way that they are? Paper presented at TESOL France Colloquium, Paris, France. Retrieved from http://www.tesol-france.org/uploaded_files/files/Full%20TF%20Colloquium%20Programme.pdf

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TESOL France 2014 – thoughts, poster, handout and links

TESOL France 2014 flew by again over the weekend (14-16 November). This year I presented a poster on using PirateBox in class. I felt there was quite a strong interest in this and pleased that some may take up the challenge of using it. I know of one teacher in Germany,  paulw @josipa74, who has set up the open-wrt version on a portable router. Hoping to read about more take-ups in the future. The poster handouts went quickly and I had more which I had forgotten to replace!

I had an interesting question about the security of PirateBox for Android from one conference attendee, he was concerned with technically able students being able to look at other folders on his phone. It was a good question that I had not thought of it before. I guess any system is open to security holes, I should pose this question on the PirateBox forums. Oh and I won the poster prize competition (many thanks to Kevin Stein ‏@kevchanwow for great feedback on poster and Ela Wassel ‏@elawassell for letting me know via twitter as I could not make the closing sessions).

Stephen Krashen and Carole Read were plenary speakers. I caught Krashen’s non-plenary talk (see presentation 1 notes below) on the Friday where he amongst other things repeated his click-bait assertion that EAP teaching was a dead duck. What I found surprising is that he did not really angle his talk for a hall full of teachers who I assume wanted to know about pedagogy. There seemed to be a lot of headnodding and ELT amens and hallelujahs after certain assertions amongst the crowd. There were certain notable dissenters such as Hugh Dellar, for example.

By contrast Carole Read’s plenary on Saturday (see blog post below) was oriented to teaching concerns, in particular on teacher  development, and was harmless enough though there was some language that skirted on and even at one point referenced NuLP, Neurolinguistic Programming.

On the Friday I went to a talk on spoken discourse analysis by Carole Ann Robinson where she described using out of context language and asking her high level students to put back the context they thought was appropriate. Inevitably a lot of context will be culturally loaded and as a colleague pointed out with French students such tasks would have to be set up very carefully and would necessarily be limited by the French context. Nevertheless there were some good activities to consider using limited language as prompts.

On Saturday before lunch I attended a talk on the TOEIC exam by Miles Craven, which was good though I wished the presenter had spent more time on the examples he used in the book he was selling. Some of them I had not really considered and would have liked to have seen more details on it.

The talk I attended after lunch on Saturday on team teaching by Paul Wheal was very interesting from what I managed to gather as I had missed the first thirty minutes (blame the lunch). It was on how he taught and corrected English in parallel with a content expert who was delivering the subject matter. There was a nice video interview with the subject-matter expert exploring the benefits and challenges of team teaching.

The final talk I attended on the Sunday was a panel discussion and presentation of a national survey of working conditions of English teachers/trainers in France. The numbers seemed to back up what the audience already perceived as the grim present and future prospects for the industry here. I may do a separate post on this.

As ever I am very grateful to all the hardworking volunteers who make this conference possible, thank you!

For more reading on TESOL France 2014 check out some of the posts below by Fab Englishteacher ‏@fabenglishteach:

Review- Carol Read’s Plenary: Reflections on how to become a highly efficient teacher

Workshop Review -Esra Girgin Gümüstekin – Teach Empowered

Workshop Review : Sophie Handy – Top Tips For Teens

My TESOL FRANCE workshop –: L1 – How to avoid it and ways of using it in the language classroom.

Stephen Krashen has put up notes of his three talks:

Presentation 1: TESOL France – Compelling Comprehensible Input

Presentation 2: TESOL France – Animal language

Presentation 3: TESOL France – controversies

Judith Dubois @judyldubois has written about:

My Encounter with Stephen Krashen

Mark Hancock  @HancockMcDonald  ponders why some teachers like to hear about the demise of teaching:

Stephen Krashen at TESOL France

and reports on:

Carol Read at TESOL France

TESOL Times Magazine interview with Stephen Krashen

TESOL France 2013 – slides, handout, notes

Hmm going to be a dull week to face after attending the 32nd annual international TESOL France shindig. Loads of great talks (e.g. see reports on materials writing in ELT by Jonathan Sayers, @jo_sayers; experimental practice in ELT by Lexical Leo,@leoselivan; Tailoring ESP courses by Kirstin Lahaye, ‏ @kirstinlahaye ), amiable company and Celtic dancing.

Seems to be a tradition to post up slides of the talks so I will duly comply. A huge thanks to the folks who came to spend some time with me, and who asked some great questions. A huge thanks to the TESOL committee, volunteers and all attendees, everything seemed to run like clockwork.

Using concordance software to inform classroom practice:

Slidestesolfr2013-classrmconc

Handouttesolfr2013-classrmconc-handout

NB1: for a video walkthrough of the getting your own texts part of the talk please have a look at this:

NB2: my reference to a diy corpus as a Frankencorpus, building your own body, comes from a Rob Troyer IALLT 2013 presentation. The Frankenstein icon was made by http://www.visualpharm.com/.

And as Scott Thornbury said in his plenary – the body (corpus) remembers! So why not make use of such memories in your classroom.