Dr Kosmas Vlachos discusses some of the ELT pillars related to Research, Young Learners, CLIL, Intercultural Understanding, and Technology

Dr Kosmas Vlachos is an Associate Lecturer at the Department of English Language and Literature of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. He holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics and Educational Technology from the University of the Aegean, a MEd in TESOL from the Hellenic Open University (HOU), and a B.A. in English Language and Literature from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Dr Vlachos worked as a teacher of English in public schools for 24 consecutive years, serving the last 8 years of that time as a school principal, and, also, was for a considerable period Chair and Vice Chair of the Pan-Hellenic Association of State School Teachers of English (PEKADE).

From 2010 he has served as a member of the editorial board of the Research Papers in Language Teaching and Learning (RPLTL), the peer-reviewed electronic journal, dedicated to research in TESOL and Applied Linguistics. In 2014 he was a guest co-editor of Volume 5 of the RPLTL on the evolution of CALL and research in new media. He has been the author and co-author of chapters included in books and has published papers on Applied Linguistics, Computer Assisted Language Learning, Media Pedagogy and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) in international refereed journals, encyclopedias and conference proceedings. In addition to educational technology, his research interests include teaching second/foreign languages to young learners, intercultural education and pedagogy, differentiated instruction, English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and teacher education.

 

  1. As a member of the editorial board of Research Papers in Language Teaching and Learning (RPLTL), you have contributed to the advancement of TESOL and Applied Linguistics. How do you see the role of academic journals in shaping the field, and what advice would you give to researchers looking to publish their work 

Academic journals have a significant impact on the direction of future linguistic study and instruction. They offer a forum for academics, researchers, and language specialists to exchange their research findings, methodology, and ideas while also keeping up with the most recent theories, trends, and best practices. To provide a balance between academic discourse and practical applications, journals publish both theoretical and empirical findings. This harmony is crucial in assisting language teachers in creating evidence-based teaching practices. Furthermore, they promote discussion and debate within the academic community. Researchers comment on one another's work, refute presumptions, and suggest alternate viewpoints. This exchange of ideas leads to a deeper understanding of the subject and helps refine research approaches. What is more, academic journal research can directly influence educational policy and practice. When deciding on language education policies, decision-makers frequently consult academic research.

An important requirement for professional progress and academic recognition is publication in respected academic journals. Research and education professionals in the field of second/foreign language research and education are encouraged to perform high-quality studies and contribute to the scholarly conversation by the incentive to publish. I advise researchers to submit their work to journals that adhere to a strict peer-review procedure, where subject-matter experts assess submitted articles for their quality, validity, and originality. As a result, readers are more likely to believe and rely on the research that is published in these publications for additional research or instructional purposes. In other words, researchers should carefully choose a reputable and relevant journal for their research. They must consider the journal's scope, target audience, impact factor, and publication frequency. They should aim for journals that have a strong track record of publishing high-quality research in second/foreign language education. Finally, they must be receptive to reviewer feedback, address their comments thoughtfully, and make necessary improvements to strengthen their paper.

 

  1. Your interests include teaching second/foreign languages to young learners. What are some effective strategies or approaches that you have found particularly beneficial in engaging and supporting young language learners?

Young language learners need to be engaged and supported, which calls for careful and original techniques that consider their interests, needs, and learning preferences. It is expected of teachers to create a friendly and encouraging learning atmosphere. Young language learners must feel comfortable expressing themselves in the target language, thus educators must foster open communication, recognize accomplishments, and provide a safe environment. To make learning more dynamic, interactive, and pleasurable, they should incorporate a variety of teaching methods that appeal to different learning styles, and use visuals, storytelling, songs, games, hands-on activities, games, puzzles, videos, language learning apps and role-playing.

As regards lesson planning, teachers must work across topics appropriate for the specific target group and break learning into manageable and achievable goals so that scaffolding is possible and confidence along with motivation are boosted. The design of educational scenarios should also address differentiated instruction. Teachers need to recognize that every learner is unique and must adjust methods to accommodate individual learning preferences and needs.

Finally, teachers must offer constructive feedback and praise for effort and progress, assess, and monitor young learners’ language development and exploit alternative and flexible ways of assessment, like games, portfolios, short quizzes etc. In brief, educators must establish a supportive and engaging atmosphere for language acquisition that gives young learners the confidence and excitement to develop their language skills.

 

  1. Could you elaborate on the importance of incorporating intercultural elements in language teaching, and how teachers can effectively promote intercultural understanding in their classrooms? 

I started incorporating cultural elements into my teaching at an early stage in my career. In the beginning, I used elements from Anglo-Saxon cultures but as I progressed, I found that I was teaching English as an international language, which my students would eventually be using as they contacted other speakers from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. I thus placed the language in contexts that promoted intercultural communicative competence and would enable students to be open to diversity, blend and co-exist with individuals of different national and gender identities. My ultimate ambition was not only verbal communication but also successful interpersonal understanding between groups of different origins with different habits, perceptions, beliefs, affiliations, and lifestyle aspirations. Intercultural aspects assist in the growth of intercultural skills in learners, enabling them to navigate cultural encounters in the real world with sensitivity, tolerance, and respect.

To successfully foster intercultural understanding in the classroom, one must be thorough and systematic. It is advised that teachers use a variety of real-world resources, including news, music, movies, books, and other media from various cultures. They ought to additionally acquire learners talking about stereotypes, cultural differences, and idiomatic expressions from other cultures. I advocate project-based learning which calls for learners to research different cultures as a way to create a greater understanding and appreciation of those cultures and to challenge them to think about different perspectives and points of view. 

I also believe in cultural immersion, which encourages learners to interact with speakers or learners from different cultural backgrounds. My studies and personal experiences demonstrate that taking part in intercultural communication initiatives where students engage in collaboration with peers from overseas not only fosters and reinforces intercultural communicative competence and the corresponding individual skills, but also raises the levels of incentive which inspire students to pursue further knowledge and education.  To accomplish this, teachers must foster a secure and accepting environment where learners feel free to express their ideas and personal experiences.   

 

  1. Throughout your career as a teacher and principal, you coordinated three European transnational, interdisciplinary projects. Could you tell us about one project that had a significant impact on language teaching and learning, and what were the key outcomes?

My experience has shown that European transnational, interdisciplinary projects offer numerous benefits. As a teacher and school principal I always sought opportunities for expanding my learners and colleagues’ experiences in linguistic and intercultural development. One of the projects I worked on in a primary school was an ERASMUS KA2 project with six European partners, whose title was  “ARTS@CREATIVITY.EU” .  

The key element and main concept in this project were that learners themselves created ICT material to teach other learners Art and be taught by them. Through this process learners simultaneously explored their cultural identity, built-up a European artistic culture, expressed their creativity through different forms of Arts, wrote in English in a variety of styles (biographies, descriptions), exploited different media to interact and learned basic vocabulary in other languages.

The children were specifically inspired to concentrate on accuracy so that the meanings they conveyed would be understandable by being involved in the creation of digital media that used two languages (mother tongue and English) to teach various art forms, such as a traditional dance or a technique of painting.  Through self-study and the use of digital resources, the kids were also learning new vocabulary in English so that they could use it to express a variety of ideas. This helped develop their 21st century skills, lifelong learning, and intercultural understanding, which go hand in hand with learning new languages.

 

  1. You have published papers on Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and media pedagogy. In your view, how has technology transformed language learning, and what are the key challenges and opportunities that arise with the integration of technology in language classrooms?

Language learning has seen a substantial transformation thanks to the development of new tools, resources, and approaches to instruction. Language learning is now more accessible than ever thanks to the growth of online platforms and mobile apps that provide interactive courses, tests, and assignments that learners may access whenever and wherever they are. Moreover, through video conferencing technologies, learners can now communicate with other learners and language teachers from around the world, which is offering interactive practice, intercultural context, and individualized education. Online courses, podcasts, streaming services, and language learning websites are just a few of the interactive materials that are widely accessible.  Learners have access to authentic reading materials including e-books, CDs, and online articles in the English language. This exposes them to language usage in everyday situations and aids in vocabulary growth. Via the use of augmented and virtual reality, they can interact with virtual worlds while participating in simulated dialogues that provide immersive language learning experiences. Last, we must not disregard the contribution of gamification, that energizes learners of all ages and strengthens language development.

My students in the English Language and Literature Department of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and those in the Hellenic Open University find the courses of the educational technology extremely intriguing, useful and relevant to their needs. From the feedback I receive, the vast majority regard the embedded integration of new media in language instruction as a crucial and integral part, that saves teaching time, renders learning more engaging and productive, and   contributes to the holistic growth of learners.   However, what I always emphasize in my classes is that while technology can improve learning opportunities, it also needs careful thought and planning.  The lack of necessary tools, technical difficulties, software incompatibilities, and connectivity concerns can interfere with learning. Moreover, privacy and security concerns particularly when personal data is gathered, kept, or shared online, are another issue that must be addressed.

 

  1. Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is another area of your expertise. What are the main advantages and potential drawbacks of implementing CLIL in educational settings, and how can teachers ensure a balanced integration of content and language instruction?

The mission of CLIL is to support learners improve their language skills as they study other academic disciplines like science, history, or math. By involving them in the subject matter in a meaningful context and having them use the language more naturally and authentically, CLIL can greatly improve language proficiency. The teaching methodology mainly focuses on demonstrating the use of language and the connections between concepts in various topic areas before learners start completing activities that promote analytical reasoning, problem-solving, and critical thinking. The most significant benefit is that as our world becomes more connected, CLIL provides learners with language and cultural competencies that are extremely relevant in global settings.

The challenge for teachers when using this educational approach is the mastery of the academic discipline they have selected to teach. It should be kept in mind that due to their technical or abstract nature, some disciplines are more difficult to teach through CLIL. The choice of discipline is, therefore, a decisive factor as the teacher should be able to cater to the content and create activities that will promote learners' creative use of language while studying concepts related to the selected discipline. 

Yet, what is important for teachers to know is that there are several ways for CLIL to be implemented. In the Greek context, education policymakers, school owners, and teachers usually select the Language-Driven CLIL, which incorporates content study but puts a higher emphasis on language development. Priority is given to language learning objectives, and content is employed to help learners practise and perfect their language skills. As for the selection of discipline, working across the curriculum seems to be prevalent. For instance, CLIL is used in Greek kindergartens with a focus on language skill development while introducing young learners to diverse subject areas. Together with the kindergarten teachers, English teachers select certain themes or units that cover both language development and content understanding. These topics might be connected to the environment, the seasons, animals, families, communities, etc. Teachers combine language with subject-matter instruction and content is taught using language-learning activities like rhymes, songs, stories, and group discussions. The activities are made to keep the children interested while also, developing their linguistic abilities in a natural and contextual way.  Learning through play is at the core of instruction. The topic is integral to all activities. Games and collaborative tasks, word searches, memory exercises, and teamwork, allow for fun and assist to reinforce vocabulary and grammatical structures.

I believe that CLIL has the potential to be a highly effective strategy for teaching language and subject matter, but careful planning, teacher training, and continual assessment are necessary to guarantee that both language proficiency and subject matter mastery are effectively attained. It is vital to remember that the success of each type of CLIL might change depending on the learners' proficiency levels, the availability of qualified teachers, and the instructional materials.

 

  1. As a tutor and supervisor in the M.Ed in TESOL programme, what advice do you give to future teachers to effectively address the needs of diverse learners in the classroom, particularly in the context of differentiated instruction?

I trust that all teachers recognize and embrace the point that different learners prefer different learning modalities, such as visual, aural, kinesthetic, or other types of learning. Every learner has a range of past knowledge, and everyone's individual experiences are unique and different.  Differentiated instruction provides a range of techniques to suit preferences; enables teachers to inspire more advanced learners while supporting those who require it; guarantees that all have access to beneficial learning opportunities; caters to the needs of those with learning difficulties and other diverse populations and promotes educational equity.  Learning becomes more customized thanks to differentiation, which enables learners to follow their interests and advance at their own speed within the curriculum.

The process of differentiated instruction is dynamic, necessitating continuous modifications based on the needs and responses of one’s learners. Teachers are advised to use a variety of techniques to accommodate different learning styles, including lectures, discussions, hands-on activities, group work, technology, and more. They should take the necessary steps to understand the diverse learning styles, strengths, challenges, and interests of their learners. They must also foster an inclusive and respectful classroom environment where everyone feels valued and safe to express themselves. To accommodate the range of learning preferences, they must present content using various modalities, including visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and interactive methods, and provide a variety of materials, including texts, videos, online resources, and hands-on materials, to engage different types of learners.

Teachers are also advised to provide options for assignments as this will encourage learners to take charge of their learning. Some learners perform best on written tests, while others prefer presentations, projects, or hands-on demonstrations. Complex concepts should be broken down into comprehensible steps, and one-on-one support and tutoring should be available when this is feasible. When it comes to assessment, it is advisable that teachers continually evaluate learners’ progress using informal techniques like conversations, quizzes, and observations and reschedule instruction as necessary. Let me conclude by reminding instructors that regular communication with learners' families can result in more effective assistance and that sharing ideas, thoughts, and techniques with colleagues is always helpful.

 

  1. Teacher education is one of your research interests. From your experience, what are the essential components of effective teacher education programs that can adequately prepare teachers for the diverse demands of language teaching in today's educational landscape?

Teachers must be knowledgeable in language structure, linguistics, and theories of language acquisition. They must be experienced in language teaching methods, such as those that help learners improve their speaking, reading, and writing skills. This includes techniques for teaching grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. They must also be aware of the learners' diverse backgrounds and identities and sensitive to cultural differences. This knowledge supports creating a welcoming and respectful climate in the classroom. The effective use of digital media, individualized instruction, teaching different age groups, and a variety of methods for assessing language proficiency should all be included in programs for teacher education.

However, careful, and extensive planning with great attention to detail is required when establishing training programs for teachers who have professional and personal commitments. The assimilation of concepts that the trainees need to comprehend, and implement should be accomplished with a variety of adult-friendly teaching strategies.  Teachers appear to favor distant learning that offers both explanation- and information-rich study materials as well as activities that promote in-depth understanding through reflection.

To better explain what I mean, allow me to provide an illustration. Together with three of my colleagues, I have spent the last six months organizing a nine-month training programme for language teachers on digital media and language instruction. The programme uses a course management system where trainees can find the material they will study and the activities they will complete each week to satisfy the requirement of distance learning while also allowing trainees the flexibility to study the material at a time that suits them. The instructional materials include brief video courses supplemented by discussion-provoking activities. All assignments connect theory to practice so that the trainees' professional experience is exploited, and the new knowledge has instant application in the real world. In addition to the asynchronous training design, the program also consists of four synchronous online group meetings, allowing for immediate communication, a feeling of intimacy, and the sharing of ideas, opinions, and emotions.   Lastly, online quizzes for the trainees’ control of the assimilation of new knowledge are available as a tool that promotes self-monitoring and self-regulated learning. I will end by saying that "reflection" is, in my opinion, the core component of teacher preparation programs. Teachers must be inspired to evaluate their pedagogical strategies and accept constructive feedback from colleagues and mentors.  

 

  1. Throughout your career, you have presented your work at international conferences and offered seminars to teachers in various contexts. What have been some of the most valuable insights or experiences you have gained from these interactions, and how have they influenced your teaching and research?

I will respond to your question by restating the final statement of my response to your earlier question. I firmly believe that interaction with other educators and researchers, the reflection that results from that interaction, and the reevaluation of the goals, as well as the research practices he or she employs, are the most significant factors in the growth and improvement of an educator/researcher. Giving an academic presentation at a conference offers a forum for obtaining comments, recommendations, and criticism from other scholars and educators. In other words, when I present my work at a seminar or conference, I am having a conversation both with the audience and with myself. The thinking I do to respond to questions causes me to reflect on and reevaluate my research goals, questions, and methods, and ultimately leads to the development of new ideas.  

Participating in international conferences has many advantages. They bring together professionals, academics, and practitioners from all over the world and display the most recent research trends, findings, and breakthroughs. Exposure to research from a variety of countries and societies gives you new insights and motivates you to think about employing novel methods in your work. You make connections with colleagues, potential partners, mentors, and other professionals who have similar interests, and you might be given the chance to submit papers for publication in conference proceedings or related journals. My involvement in conferences so far has allowed me to connect with colleagues, learn about cutting-edge teaching methodologies, technologies, and best practices from various educational systems, participate in international projects, engage in discussions, debates, and panel sessions, receive invitations to participate in further education-related activities and find new resources, materials, and tools that improved my students’ engagement and my teaching effectiveness. Overall, it fostered my personal development, boosted my self-esteem, and gave me a sense of accomplishment in the intellectual and educational community.

 

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