‘It is important to articulate your own voice in your writing.’
-Dr. Ema Ushioda
Ema Ushioda, an associate professor in the University of Warwick, Coventry, UK got her PhD from Trinity College, London. She is also a Director of Graduate Studies for PhD programme in the Center for Applied Linguistics in the same University. A prominent scholar in the field of Second Language Acquisition, Dr. Ushioda particularly explores motivational issues in language learning and intercultural engagement. Equally she works in the area of learner autonomy, and teacher education and development. Following is the interview that our one of the Forum editors of Dec-Jan issue, Mr. Sagun Shrestha had with Dr. Ushioda.
Sagun: Ema, Greetings and welcome to this Dec-Jan issue of NELTA ELT Forum, the official ezine of NELTA! We are very much pleased to have you in this issue. Could you please tell us how long have you been working in language education and how are you getting along with it?
Ema: I have been working in language education since 1982, when I graduated from university in Ireland and began teaching English in Japan. Perhaps I should explain that I am of Japanese parentage but was born and educated in Dublin. Indeed, my main claim to fame is that I am ‘probably’ the first Japanese person who was born in the Republic of Ireland. Because of my Japanese heritage combined with my upbringing in Ireland, I have always been interested in issues relating to languages, cultures, and language learning and teaching, and this interest has sustained my work throughout all my professional and academic life.
Sagun: As you are also working as a Director of Graduate Studies for the PhD courses in the University of Warwick, could you highlight the major areas of ELT/ English Education that the PhD graduates in the University of Warwick are focusing these days?
Ema: Well, the areas of ELT/English education that our PhD students focus on naturally reflect the particular areas of interest and expertise that we staff have and are happy to supervise projects in. So, for example, we have recently supervised PhD studies in the areas of English for academic purposes or specific purposes (e.g. corpus-based research; genre analysis); English language teacher education, professional development or reflective practice (e.g. action research projects); various aspects of classroom pedagogy (e.g. project-based learning, pedagogies for autonomy, code-switching in language teaching); teaching English in difficult circumstances (e.g. in large classes, poorly resourced settings, war and conflict circumstances); teaching English to young learners; or language learners’ experiences and motivations.
Sagun: How is the shift of some research issues and ELT pedagogy since you obtained your PhD in 1996? As an ELT scholar, do you see these shifts are natural and contextually appropriate?
Ema: I think this is a very big question, since a lot has changed in our field in the past twenty years! But I think you’re right, in the sense that we have seen a stronger and more sustained focus on contextually appropriate methodologies and on ecological approaches to research and practice. In relation to contextual appropriateness, of course, a major shift has been in the sheer range of educational contexts in which ELT issues are now researched, reflecting the global spread of English and its movement down the curriculum to primary education and across the curriculum in the form of CLIL (content and language integrated learning) and EMI (English as medium of instruction) pedagogies. This is something that David Graddol (in his 2006 book English Next) has characterized as a ‘new orthodoxy’ in English language education around the world, contrasting with the ‘traditional orthodoxy’ where English belonged as a ‘foreign language’ subject in the secondary school curriculum.
Sagun: You are found to have been penned many journal articles and books on motivation, learner autonomy, intercultural engagement, and teacher education and development. How did you begin this trajectory of writing in these fields and what interests you at the very beginning?
Ema: My publication career began when I finished my Masters degree in 1991 and embarked on my PhD studies, and was invited to write up my Masters dissertation (which focused on acculturation theory and linguistic fossilization) for an Occasional Paper series published by my department at Trinity College in Dublin. During my PhD research (which focused on developing a qualitative approach to researching language learning motivation), I gave a few conference presentations and then published these as papers in Teanga, a journal produced by the Irish Association for Applied Linguistics. During these early years as a graduate student, my focus (when writing) was quite ‘academic’ and research-oriented, and I didn’t really concern myself much with pedagogical perspectives or links between motivation theory and classroom practice. I guess I saw myself then as primarily a motivation ‘researcher’. However, after I completed my PhD, I was invited to write a little book (based on my PhD research) in the Learner Autonomy series published by Authentik (a former campus-based publishing-house at Trinity College, Dublin). This book series was oriented towards teachers, and through the process of writing this little book (Learner autonomy 5: The role of motivation, published in 1996), I found myself becoming much more interested in the pedagogical implications of the research I was doing, and in understanding how research connects with practice. Since then, I think this connection (between theory/research and practice) has grown to be very important to me. To put it simply, I feel that the academic research and writing I do in relation to motivation, learner autonomy, etc., has value to the extent that it can connect meaningfully with teachers’ and learners’ experiences and classroom realities. For this reason, I particularly enjoy interacting with teaching professionals (and students) from different classroom contexts (e.g. through my MA courses or teacher workshops), so that I can gauge how far my theoretical perspectives connect with their local realities. Such interactions provide valuable insights and feedback to me.
Sagun: As a writer, do you have any suggestion for the aspiring young and budding writers who want to contribute in the field of ELT?
Ema: I think one thing I have learnt is the importance of developing your own voice when writing. Sometimes, when I read graduate students’ work (Masters and PhD students), I find that even a polished piece of writing can be undermined if it isn’t always clear whose voice or perspective is being expressed (i.e. the writer’s own perspective, or the perspectives of others whose work is being summarized or cited). Less experienced writers (especially those who see themselves as ‘students’ rather than as fully-fledged researchers or professionals) can sometimes leave their own voice rather ‘buried’ in their writing. I think it is important to articulate your own voice in your writing, and to position this clearly in relation to the various other voices you cite. In this way, people will get to know and appreciate your ideas and your thinking through your writing.
Sagun: Let’s talk about the idea you have expressed in one of your articles ‘Motivation as a Socially Mediated Process’. You have said that to help the learners “step outside” the maladaptive motivational belief systems and to regulate their motivation, the following points deserve high attention: a) learners must be brought to view themselves as agents of their own motivation and learning; and b) the development of learners’ capacity to regulate their own motivation needs to be mediated through processes of social-interactive support and co-regulation. Do you think that the ESL/EFL teachers have concentrated these issues amply?
Ema: Of course, one can’t generalize about all ESL/EFL teachers, but based on my interactions over the years with various teaching professionals, I would say that good experienced teachers of English do pay attention to these things as a matter of course in their pedagogical interactions with learners. As teachers, we know that we can’t do the learning for our students and we can’t be with them forever to help and support them in the future. We understand that our students have to do the learning for themselves – both now and in the future – and consequently we look for ways of helping students to understand that they are agents of their own learning, skill development and motivation to learn.
Sagun: I am equally intrigued by the idea of ‘Teacher Motivation’ which you have dealt in your seminal book ‘Teaching and Researching Motivation’ published by Longman. You mention inhibition of autonomy, insufficient self-efficacy, lack of intrinsic motivation and some contextual factors affect teacher motivation. Could you please tell us briefly how we can address these issues?
Ema: I think this is a challenging question, since a lot will depend on the particular local circumstances that teachers are working in. The teaching profession is often associated with intrinsic motivation – in the sense that many people who become teachers do so because they are passionate about teaching, education and making a difference in young people’s lives. However, this core intrinsic motivation is vulnerable to contextual pressures, constraints and challenges, such as external policy directives (from governments or institutions) that limit teachers’ autonomy or undermine their sense of confidence or competence. Addressing these issues takes personal courage and initiative – i.e. thinking positively, creating small spaces within these constraints where teachers can exercise their freedom and autonomy, and developing strategies for self-motivation. Where possible, joining forces with other teaching colleagues and working collaboratively to support and motivate one another may also be an excellent strategy.
Sagun: In your another article, ‘Motivation, Autonomy and Metacognition’, you state: simply focusing on goals and targets may have little effect when the challenges to motivation derive from lack of metacognitive knowledge and skills. And you further maintain that teacher-guided social-interactive processes, such as relinquishing strategies and modelling self-verbalizations can mediate learners’ motivation and metacognitive abilities. Could you explain your take a little bit?
Ema: I think an important thing with developing students’ metacognitive skills is that they need to be willing (i.e. motivated) to do the strategic thinking and problem-solving for themselves. In the literature on academic self-regulation, there is a nice catchphrase to capture this connection between motivation and metacognition: ‘will and skill’. In other words, as teachers we need to motivate students to do the thinking and troubleshooting for themselves, instead of simply giving them directives or instructions. This process of motivation (or willingness to think) can be achieved through the dialogic process of joint problem-solving – i.e. the teacher and student talk together to work out how to overcome a problem that the student is facing in her learning. By nudging the student to think through the problem for herself (e.g. by judicious use of questions and prompts in the dialogue), the teacher can mediate the development of the student’s strategic thinking processes or metacognitive skills.
Sagun: Ema, thanks a lot for your time despite your busy schedule. At the end, do you have any suggestion for our valued readers or for the NELTA ELT Forum team?
Ema: I don’t think I have particular suggestions as such, but would simply like to express my thanks for having this opportunity to share my thoughts with the NELTA ELT forum team and readers. It is wonderful to see how vibrant and active this forum community is, and it has been a pleasure to contribute to your discussions.