Language Learning in the Wild

Designing for Language Learning in the Wild: creating social infrastructures for second language learning.

Second Language (L2) classrooms are hidden behind closed doors, although outside of the classroom the local language is all around the students. Ways to make use of the students’ living environment for language learning have been explored sporadically over the last 30 years, but have not inspired lasting changes of teaching practices. This is especially regrettable since learning a language in today’s multilingual, highly mobile and tolerant society with need for fluid and flexible interaction competence needs a pathway to sustainable local and cultural integration.

The rich research of L2 learners’ activities outside of the classroom over the last 20 years has shown that language learners appropriate linguistic constructions in and through reflected use, and that L2 learning happens as social processes, e.g., where participants help each other to solve trouble in the talk, or experts scaffold novices after displays of trouble. The consequences for L2 teaching are radical; practices that involve a decontextualized focus on linguistic form will have to be reduced in favor of creating opportunities for participation in interaction.

The project’s task is to develop a locally adaptable method to bring language students into the community where use of the target language is a natural and everyday activity. In addition, the project will implement a variety of scaffold-building technologies, e.g., apps to locate conversation partners, possibilities to share audio and video recordings, tangible objects to plan language encounters and to reflect on it, and tracking devices for self- and community-defined language challenges in local contexts. Moving beyond the L2 classroom setting and class-room based structures of teaching and learning tasks opens language learning to a wide variety of contexts, potential materials and technologies, people and organizations that can potentially support the endeavor. Introducing new forms of organizing the teacher-mediated L2 classroom setting and supporting the L2 learner’s engagement in everyday activities requires active exploration of multi-modal practices, tangible tools, digitial devices and software, and reflective language practices for teachers, learners, and people in new potential support roles. As the students record their L2 activities and bring their recordings back to the classroom for reflection and understanding, the move towards an experiential L2 pedagogy is materializing. Ultimately, then, we propose a way to turn a usage based approach to L2 learning into an experientially based approach to L2 teaching. We will achieve this by bringing together researchers from sociology, language teaching and learning, and experience design whose common denominator is a usage- or user-based approach to research and practice. In combining the sociological perspective, represented by ethnomethodology and conversation analysis, and a usage-based approach to language learning – related to construction grammar – with experience design, we can form a powerful methodology for gathering further empirical evidence for the experientially based L2 learning.

The Background: Språkskap and The Icelandic Village


Språkskap was a design-led project that explored both stakeholder level and interactional level. It was made up of a series of design research experiments with Swedish learners, pedagogues, designers, and researchers for supporting Swedish language learning outside of the classroom setting. For instance, through contextual design explorations with learners, the project developed a simple structure for learners to engage in learning through their encounters with service providers. Sit, Talk, Sit is a simple sequence for Swedish learners to engage Swedish speakers during practical activities such as shopping. A physical booklet provides support for the learner to take notes and refer to during an interaction. These experimental structures and materials become the input into design workshops focusing on developing new teaching and learning methods for such pilot projects as the Icelandic Village described below.
The Icelandic Village is a pilot project in the development of new methods in learning and teaching a L2. The Icelandic Village creates opportunities for low-level learners of Icelandic to use the new language in everyday life interactions outside the classroom. A number of companies in downtown Reykjavik and on the campus of the University of Iceland (e.g. a bakery, a Café, a bank, a book-store) participate in the project. These have agreed to offer service in Icelandic to low level speakers of Icelandic instead of switching to English in serving the customers who thus are able to conduct their daily life business in Icelandic in a place where the staff is trained to serve them: a guided participation in real-life interaction in Icelandic. L2 learners of Icelandic at the University of Iceland attend lessons before going out to business partners in the Icelandic Village. Learning material specific to the Icelandic Village has been developed and used in those lessons.
Similar teaching initiatives are currently established in Denmark (Sønderborg) and Finland (Jyväskylä) for the teaching of Danish and Finnish respectively.
Collaboration partners
The University of Southern Denmark (Johannes Wagner, Søren W. Eskildsen, Teresa Cadierno, Dennis Day).
The Interactive Institute in Stockholm (Brendon Clark, Mats Liljedahl, Kajsa Davidsson).
The University of Iceland (Gudrun Theodórsdóttir, Gudlaug Stella Brynjólfsdóttir).
The University of Jyväskylä (Arja Piirainen-Marsh, Nina Lilja).

Added value of the research initiative to the scientific community and society at large

The network will spearhead current trends in SLA towards an increasing focus on the role of usage in learning. Usage-based models of language have recently emerged as powerful research frameworks for investigating cognitive issues such as emergent schematicity and constructional representation in SLA, but the models’ claim that these cognitive processes are fundamentally usage-driven remains uncharted territory. Ethnomethodological CA-based SLA research, on the other hand, has had a huge impact on the field, showing how L2 learning is typically socially mediated and goes beyond sounds and structures of verbal language. It is in the foundational conjunction of these two approaches that we are moving towards creating infrastructures for social L2 learning by joining forces with interactional designers.
It is the clear ambition of the applicants not only to move the theoretical discussion on language acquisition but to create robust models for new ways for language learning. The systematic movement of language learning practices not merely from the classroom into wild, but constantly back and forth between the classroom and the world outside will be of great benefit to those learning the language because their way into the L2 community will be more easily navigated, but also to the L2 community at large because the resources of the emergent bilinguals will be made more readily visible and available.