17th International Conference on Turkish Linguistics

la maison de luniversiteIn the beginning of September, I attended the 17th International Conference on Turkish Linguistics that took place in Rouen – a beautiful small city in France – this year. I had joyful experiences of presenting my ongoing research, listening to the eminent linguists’ talks, seeing my previous lecturers again and meeting the linguists that I had not known before. There were many interesting talks and presentations on syntax, semantics, psycholinguistics, language contact, etc. I was so captivated by the two keynote lectures on language development and literacy that I have been reading about literacy in my free time. In this post, I would like to touch upon language development and literacy in Turkey with a special focus on socioeconomic status (SES).

In the keynote lecture entitled ‘Integrating cognitive and sociocultural aspects of reading in Turkish’, Prof. Durgunoğlu introduced ‘literacy’ as one of the most basic cognitive skills and foundation for all other academic endeavours. She noted that literacy is an ongoing process, and it has ever-changing nature due to the recent developments in the digital world. Literacy development, and more specifically reading comprehension, mainly depends on the oral language skills and decoding processes. Oral language skills include the ability of meaning-making of receptive and expressive vocabulary, the ability to activate the meaning of larger segments of speech, generate inferences and understand properties of discourse. On the other hand, decoding skills entail the ability to relate the symbols of the written language to the sounds in the oral language. She stated that even in decoding which is a fairly rapid process in Turkish that has transparent orthography, low-SES students are far behind their peers. For Turkish, decoding-related factors play a less important role in reading comprehension than oral language skills. In her study, she demonstrated that oral language skills were also strongly associated with SES.

In the other keynote lecture entitled ‘Socioeconomic status and language development’, Prof. Aksu-Koç stated that the quantity and quality of the input that children need for language development are influenced by SES. The far-reaching effects of SES can be seen in a lot of domains, including lexis, syntax, narrative production, the pace of acquisition, the use of language skills in general. In her talk, she showed the significant differences in language development between children with low SES-backgrounds and those with middle-SES backgrounds. She also emphasized that the SES effects are long-lasting, and the gaps do not close fully even at later stages in children’s language development. What also struck me is that the SES effects were not openly discussed or talked in Turkey in the past.

world bank data on literacy rates

Even in its most basic sense, literacy is a problem to be tackled in Turkey. The World Bank defines the literates who ‘can, with understanding, read and write a short, simple statement on their everyday life’. Undeniably, literacy is a more complex issue fraught with challenges of regional differences and gender disparity in Turkey. The overall literacy rate has increased in recent years, and the gap in youth literacy rates is closing between females and males, but there is still a lot to do for the adult illiteracy. As can be seen in the table above, the adult literacy rate is problematic with the remaining gender gap. There have been education reforms, improvements in access to education, and effective adult literacy programs in recent years, but it seems that more action is needed to eradicate adult illiteracy.

Highlights and Faultlines of My First Year as a PhD Student

reading

I was reading the book ‘Twenty Years of Learner Corpus Research’ outside on a sunny day.

My first year as a PhD student at the University of Manchester is over, and the end of this year has brought about mixed feelings. I am very pleased to finish my first year successfully and develop myself as a researcher in many ways. On the other hand, the clock is ticking, and my workload will mount up in the next year as I have plans to write for publication and I need to start to draft my thesis chapters soon. Actually, being a PhD student often entails mixed feelings. Luckily, the fleetingness of time usually goes hand in hand with increase in ambition. Here are some of the highlights of my pleasant experiences as a first year PhD student:

  • A sense of community: Before coming to the UK, I was worried about loneliness that PhD students could experience. However, after a short time, I realised that my worries were in vain. At The University of Manchester, PhD students have quite a few communities in which we exchange ideas and support each other. The Postgraduate Research Support Network Sessions and the Doctoral Community@LTE helped me a great deal to get accustomed to a new academic environment and receive very useful guidance and tips from my peers and more senior students. In addition to getting various insights into others’ PhD experiences, these networks enabled us to build bonds of friendship with our peers.
  • Development of intercultural competence: If you are studying abroad, you are more likely to get out of your comfort zone and communicate with other people from diverse backgrounds that you wouldn’t meet otherwise. The University of Manchester is an ideal place to improve my intercultural competence since it welcomes more international students every year than any other university in the UK. I am making every effort to maximise my intercultural understanding in a unique community of different cultures. I have realised that developing interculturality has influenced my cultural self-awareness in that I interpret my own cultural background from several perspectives in a more conscious way. Given that intercultural competence is a key skill in the 21st century, my suggestion for all the new students, especially undergraduate home students  would be to mix with people from different backgrounds as much as possible.
  • Research diary: I kept an informal research diary for myself in order to keep track of my development as a researcher. I have realised that it is a great way of doing an honest self-assessment of where you are. I have just read what I noted down at the beginning of the first semester. In the first few supervision meetings, the questions that I asked my supervisor were so basic that I cannot believe now that I did ask them. My research diary is an excellent representation of my research journey, and realising my own personal development considerably increases my motivation and self-confidence.
  • Teaching: I had the opportunity to deliver tutorials to the first year undergraduate students and gain experience in small group teaching. The dynamics of small group teaching are much more different in the UK Higher Education context from those of large lectures at Turkish universities. Before every tutorial, I made a point-by-point lesson plan in which I wrote which questions I would ask them, what I would say, what I would focus on, etc. I even prepared some jokes and wrote them in my lesson plan! All the courses that I took during my BA and MA in relation to teaching methodology and approaches to teaching as well as my previous lesson plans came in handy this time. This experience as a graduate teaching assistant helped me to encode the academic culture which is again rather different from our academic culture in Turkey.

I am glad that I have managed to focus on these aspects in my first year. Apart from these positive experiences, there are some aspects that create tension for me. In my PhD journey, I refer to these tensions as ‘faultlines’:

  • Routine: Following a routine is generally recommended by lecturers and more senior students. On the Thesis Whisperer’s Blog, it is one of the five things to do in our first year, indeed. It is suggested that treating PhD like a job and getting into a routine will help us later on. I haven’t even tried to follow a routine, and I feel a little guilty about it! In fact, my PhD is more than a job to me, so I do not find a 9-5 schedule feasible for me to achieve my goals. Although I will try to get into a kind of routine to see how it works for me, I enjoy my own ‘routineless routine’ at the moment.
John_Rylands

Taken at the John Rylands Library

  • Internal and external pressures: People I know (family, friends, PhD colleagues, etc.) generally consider me as a good student. You could think that it is brilliant! Even though I appreciate that they have faith in me, this sometimes puts extra pressure on me. I also have confidence in me, but external pressure seems to affect my internal pressure in a negative way. Therefore, the thought of disappointing people is the other ‘faultline’ for me. Next year, I will be regularly doing Tai Chi to ease these pressures.

Apart from these two ‘faultlines’ that my inner self created, I greatly enjoy being a PhD student at The University of Manchester. I hope that I will remain persistent and optimistic enough to have a pleasant PhD journey in the next year, too!

Englishisation of Higher Education

Last month, the British Council published an interim report entitled “English as a medium of instruction – a growing global phenomenon.” In cooperation with the British Council, Oxford University Department of Education is conducting research on the English-medium instruction (EMI) across the word. Needless to say, EMI is on the increase mainly driven by the economic reasons to compete with the Anglophone institutions. In relation to that report, the Times Higher Education regarded EMI as the “most significant internationalisation trend for higher education.”

englishonlyzone

I am very disappointed with the claim that English is the most important trend in the internationalization of HE. Internationalisation of HE may also mean multilingualism, multiculturalism, global social responsibility, intercultural communication and understanding, but English is found to steer the internationalization of HE. In her latest book, Jennifer Jenkins, professor of the Global Englishes, also found that English is equated with the internationalization of HE. In her study, Turkish universities that offer English-medium instruction also provide evidence for that.

For seven years, I had English-medium instruction at Turkish public universities that had ties to the North American higher education system. I cannot deny the various benefits of EMI (please see Selvi (2014) for the extensive review of the EMI debate in Turkey). However, there can be a lot to lose at the expense of EMI which is a highly complex issue that can directly affect the quality of education, critical inquiry, (in)equality, language, culture and identity, but I will focus on just the language use in this post. I believe that EMI negatively influenced my first language skills. For instance, when I attended the 27th National Linguistics Conference at which all the talks were in Turkish last year, I felt as if the speakers had given their presentations in another language! I learned all the linguistic terms in English, and many of them are still unknown to me in Turkish. 

Stamp-higher-education

Another important consideration is the way that English is promoted at the universities. English language policy mostly sticks to native-English norms instead of English as a Lingua Franca or Global English. In terms of the expectations about students’ English, one of the Turkish academics, who works at an English-medium institution, says:

I expect their English to fully conform to native academic English. I expect [them] to have mastered the language and be able to perform at the level of a native speaker.” (Jenkins, 2013, p.133)

Though this response cannot reflect other Turkish academics that work at English-medium universities, it was very striking for me in that a non-native English speaking academic could expect his/her students to “perform at the level of a native speaker.” Apparently, there is no tolerance for other varieties of English, let alone questioning the role of English as the medium of instruction at the university. In this sense, English is more likely to be associated with Anglicisation of higher education rather than internationalisation. Actually, non-Anglophone institutions might have an advantage over Anglophone institutions by offering Global English or English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) in this globalised world where approximately only 20% of all the English speakers are native. Non-Anglophone institutions seem to lose this opportunity and try to replicate Anglo-American norms in non-English speaking countries.

The increase in English-medium instruction appears to be inevitable across the world. It is important that this policy also includes promoting different varieties of English. This should occur not just because universities aim to attract more students, but also they value and accept diversity. I hope that English language policies in non-Anglophone institutions will also embrace multilingualism and cultural diversity, together with ELF in order to become truly international…

Reference

Jenkins, J. (2013). English as a lingua franca in the international university: The politics of academic English language policy. London: Routledge.

 

CorpusMOOC: The most brilliant MOOC I have completed!

© Giulia Forsythe, 2012 reused under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

© Giulia Forsythe, 2012 reused under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Corpus linguistics: method, analysis, interpretation’ was my third Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that I completed, but it was my first MOOC on the FutureLearn platform. While some educators may give up on MOOCs due to the low completion rates and little interaction among the participants, there is evidence that they are becoming much more internationalised and multilingual! I am always very optimistic about MOOCs, and I completely agree with Anant Agarwal on his view that MOOCs are making education “borderless, gender-blind, race-blind, class-blind, and bank account–blind.”

I enjoyed every minute of the CorpusMOOC because of its three most distinctive favourable features:

  • Continuous individualised guidance and feedback from the course team: I was amazed at how quickly the course team responded to our comments during the course. I remember that I got a response to my comment within just one hour!
  • High quality and rich content of the course: The course includes impressive wide range of videos, tasks, reading materials, discussions, in-conversation videos, quizzes and presentations in each week. I think it would not be possible to cover all these materials in the mainstream classes in just 8 weeks.
  • Comments from the course participants and course team: Comment sections were hidden treasures of new sources and inspirations! I learned many things from the participants who not only consumed, but also generated the content in the course. They shared quite a few articles, links, books and programmes that I bookmarked.

Although there was a lot of interaction between the course team and participants, it could have been more interaction among the course participants. This might be attributed to the features of the FutureLearn as we could not get any notifications when other participants or mentors liked our comments or replied to them. Also, we could not even see who liked our posts. One of the principles of the FutureLearn is to ‘create connections’ as it is stated on its website. I liked the easy-to-use and modern design of FutureLearn, but more interactive features are needed to enable us to ‘create connections’. For instance, a direct message function for the participants, rating system for the comments and social media sharing are the three features that would have improved my learning experience for this course to a great extent. Looking at its FAQ’s page, I realise that these will be added soon. Nevertheless, the principle of ‘create connections’ might be difficult to apply in the current courses at least in the beta version of FutureLearn.

I was not a complete beginner in corpus linguistics, so I cherished the flexibility of the course. Here are the three most useful gains of the corpusMOOC for me:

  • I definitely feel more confident to work with a POS-tagged corpus now. In the course, we used Corpus Query Process (CQPweb) and BNCweb, both of which have quite user-friendly interfaces. We also used AntConc to search in a corpus that had been tagged. Even though UCREL’s CLAWS POS Tagger is available to tag up to 100,000 words of English online, we need to buy a licence to tag large numbers of files. The good news is that Laurence Anthony is developing a free POS-tagger, and it will be available on his website soon!
  • I have become familiar with the semantic tagging which could be useful to group the words, conduct a research on metaphorical language and identify semantic preferences of the lexical items.
  • In-conversation videos, which were my favourite part of the course, gave me a wider perspective on the applications of corpus linguistics. I would not have imagined that corpus linguistics could be used for accounting and finance!

    I created this word cloud from my notes that I took during the course!

The CorpusMOOC, which has inspired me to pursue new research ideas, is the most brilliant MOOC that I have completed so far. For those who are interested in corpus linguistics, the course will be running again in September. Finally, I would like to thank Tony McEnery, educators and mentors of the course to offer us such a great MOOC!

Using a Frequency Dictionary to Learn a Foreign Language

deutsch

It has been three and a half years since I completed my minor degree in German language. When I occasionally read Deutsche Welle in German, I feel that my vocabulary has deteriorated to a great extent. Therefore, I took up the challenge of brushing up on my German, which was also one of my new term’s resolutions. While I was looking for a resource in the University of Manchester Library, I came across the book called ‘A Frequency Dictionary of German: A Core Vocabulary for Learners’ in the high demand collection. I assume that the book is popular among the students even though it may not be used in German classes. I am also surprised that there are frequency dictionaries of many languages, including Polish, Spanish, Russian, French and Japanese. It is a pity that Turkish still does not have one, but it must be on the way as the compilation of Turkish National Corpus is fairly recent in comparison to other languages.

I studied the frequency dictionary for a week, and I can say that I have a very positive learning experience. It was a quick way for me to revise the most frequent 4034 words (not 4000!) in German language. The writers claim that the word count was not arbitrary, and it represents approximately 80 percent of the words in Leipzig/BYU Corpus of Contemporary German. Perhaps the best element of the book is formulaic language that is listed under the entries. For instance, the entry for the noun Sinn (meaning) also offers im Sinne (according to) and in diesem Sinne (in this spirit). Frequency dictionaries can also be beneficial for adult learners to prepare for the exams. I passed my German proficiency test four years ago by studying a frequency list that I created out of the past exam papers. Creating your own frequency list or downloading one from the internet is always a perfectly viable option for the corpus lovers!

learn

There are also some shortcomings of using frequency dictionaries to master a foreign language. Learning through the book proved to be very efficient for me as I am an advanced learner of German. However, I am not convinced that the frequency dictionaries appeal to beginner or low-intermediate learners as they tend to need more input to contextualise the words. Frequency dictionaries usually provide learners with one example which might be ambiguous for polysemous words. Taking all these points into consideration, I recommend using a frequency dictionary as a supplementary tool to brush up on a foreign language. Even if one has not encountered a word that is included in the frequency dictionary, this may form the basis for a discovery experience.

I believe that a frequency dictionary has been of great utility for me to remember the words. Nevertheless, there is a strong possibility that I can quickly forget them again. The key issue to maintain foreign language skills is to make the language an important part of our lives by constantly using it. Listening to German podcasts and reading news in German are the most straightforward steps that I will take as of today. Finally, I would love to gain insights into the experiences of other foreign language learners in using a frequency dictionary.

Post-MA Reflections

Bogazici University South Campus

Bogazici University South Campus

The inspiration for this post may well come from my longing for Bogazici University and Istanbul. I will always cherish the memories of the time I studied towards an MA degree at Bogazici University, Istanbul. The Department of Foreign Language Education provided me with an academically stimulating and challenging environment, which enabled me to gain a wider perspective into second language learning, applied linguistics and sociolinguistics. For instance, we had the opportunity to take a course on World Englishes, which was not offered in the similar programmes at other Turkish universities at that time. Almost each course required a final research paper in addition to reflection papers and presentations. I greatly benefited from writing research papers since they substantially improved my research and academic writing skills. More importantly, after having received feedback, I expanded on some of the research papers that I wrote for assessment and presented them at the conferences. For my MA thesis, I enjoyed the privilege of having two co-supervisors. I had the chance to obtain more feedback and moral support during the writing process in comparison with my peers. Best of all was the 5th International Conference of English as a Lingua Franca at Bogazici University. It was an inspiring learning experience for me to attend the plenaries and talks delivered by notable scholars including Prof. Jennifer Jenkins, Prof. Tim McNamara and Prof. Anna Mauranen. Finally, when I look back on those years, there are few things that I would have done differently:

1. Many distinguished scholars come to deliver talks and seminars at our department from all around the world. Unfortunately, I could not go to some of them. If any new MA students are reading this post, I strongly recommend you to attend them even if they are not directly related to your research interests. These talks and seminars are vitally important to broaden our knowledge and widen our horizons.

2. I didn’t study abroad as an exchange/erasmus student during my MA studies. The department has an agreement with many prestigious universities, including University of London and Georgia State University. It would be a wonderful opportunity to collect your data or even write your thesis at the host university since you may have an access to different student/teacher groups and a wide range of resources.