Event Review: Rebecca Oxford ‘The Psychology of Language Learners’

By Olivia de Paeztron

On a sunny Sunday afternoon at the beginning of June, faithful ELTABB members gathered at GLS for an informative and thought-provoking workshop.

I (and I suppose many other teachers) have often asked learners to write short texts about themselves at the start of a course, in the hope of getting to know more about their language levels and their interests. Rebecca Oxford has taken this idea and run with it into the realms of psychology, and her workshop aimed to demonstrate how applying concepts from psychology to what learners say about their experiences of learning languages can tell us an awful lot about them and how to teach.

The workshop began with Rebecca’s thorough explanation and examination of psychological frameworks with plenty of space for questions and discussion about them. We then read through some sample learner histories – which undoubtedly supported Rebecca’s opening assertion that ‘learners are remarkably perceptive about their own learning and eager to share what they know about themselves’ – and identified themes present in their narratives. Had time allowed it, a final stage of the workshop would have been to explore our own narratives, but we needed the time in the first stage of the workshop to get our heads round ideas such as ‘hot cognition’, flow, peak experiences, and the PERMA concept in positive psychology.

At times there were so many different concepts to take on board that I wondered how one would ever incorporate everything into one’s own teaching. For me, however, the take-home idea was the relevance of positive psychology to learner’s experience of and approach to language learning. Rebecca took us through the PERMA framework, which comprises Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment, and asked us to look at whether evidence that these factors were present in a learner’s experience was relevant to how they approach language learning. To me (and most other members of the group), the answer was a clear yes.

At the conclusion of the workshop, I think Rebecca had convinced us that encouraging learners to share their stories with us can be the basis of useful insights about their learning, and that this can be used to make learners more aware of different learning styles and strategies that might aid them.

ELTABB workshop held June 1, 2014, 2-5pm at GLS