Blog entry by Astrid Dinneen
Sarah Coles shares the start of her PhD journey with the first two instalments of a journal-style account of her reading for the literature review and methodology chapters of her thesis. She is planning to research the language learning journeys of UK-born EAL learners as they enter Year R but before entering the field, there are books and articles to be read and planning to be done.
Week 2 of Term 1 (2018-19) and the summer has faded in more ways than one, which coincides with an interesting bit of a book I have been reading for my PhD. The book is about Second Language Acquisition and makes the point that most research into this has a focus on learning the new language. While this is of course interesting with many, often competing, views vying for attention in the literature, the authors suggest that language attrition – or ‘forgetting’ – is equally interesting. They say that all our languages form part of a complex, dynamic system in our brains that changes continuously and they put forward a simple rule which states that information we do not regularly retrieve becomes less accessible over time and ultimately sinks beyond our reach. In relation to our languages, these are in a constant state of flux, they argue, depending on the degree of exposure we have to each. Talking to colleagues about this in the EMTAS office, they said they had noticed changes in their own languages over time. Kamaljit talked about how her ability to write in Hindi has decreased due to lack of use, whilst Ulrike and I had both experienced difficulties with word retrieval and with one language affecting the other in different ways. For instance sometimes, because of immersion in Turkish all those years ago, I would respond in Turkish to members of my immediate family who don’t speak the language when I went home for a holiday. They were grateful that this passed fairly rapidly, though I observe my languages have been shuffling around in my mental filing cabinet ever since. Mostly, English sits at the front and comes out first, Turkish is a bit further back but in front of French, pushing French out of the way when I am in France much to the bemusement of the French – the majority of whom don’t speak Turkish either.
Week 3 of term 1
Alongside the day job, I have carried on reading for my PhD studies and my focus this week has been on qualitative research methods. One thing I need to consider carefully is my own impact on the situations I will be researching because even if I am only there to observe, this in itself will influence not only what happens but also how I interpret what I see. Clearly in a classroom situation you cannot see absolutely everything that happens, never mind be able to record it all in handwriting that you can read back afterwards. There will be much that you don’t see at all, and also much that you do see but that you don’t record – which isn’t to say it’s not useful or relevant to the area of research, just that there will be inevitable casualties due to the pragmatic aspects of what you’re able to do as the researcher. Anyway, the long and short of it is that researcher bias is something I will need to be aware of as according to several different authors, you can’t remove it from the equation. Rather, you need to be aware of your point of view, your previous experiences and prior knowledge and how these things colour the way you see and hear and interpret events in order to manage the impact of your own bias on your research. It is interesting to me to consider too how language and cultural differences might impinge on methods like interview, and there is a lot to think about when you are planning to use this as a tool to elicit data from people. You could, for instance, have a set of predetermined questions and you could just ask people those. Or you might find this too interrogative a way of doing an interview which just doesn’t fit with what you are trying to achieve – which in my case is a full, rich picture of people’s lived experiences and views. So I am thinking about a more flexible approach, possibly around doing some mapping of languages, people, communities and the like while people talk, which won’t look much like the sort of interview I mentioned first but will hopefully give me the sorts of data I am looking for. I have yet to read the chapter on coding, so there is a chance I may change my mind about this. Keep tabs on the journey as it unfolds using the tags below.