by Samantha Ranson
[This article was first printed in the Fall 2016 issue of TEAL News.]
Metanoia and additional language learning: How do these two topics intertwine? When I was working as a teaching assistant in an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) program at a university in the interior of British Columbia, I suddenly had an epiphany in that it seemed as if students coming from different social and cultural backgrounds, while speaking English as an additional language, were not necessarily recognizing their full potential or communicating it as such. I also noticed that many EAP students did not seem to recognize their accomplishments until well after the fact. I wondered if this was related to the concept of metanoia, and this realization prompted me to complete a Master’s thesis on the topic of the relationship between metanoia and additional language acquisition within a post-secondary EAP environment. I did this in hopes that the results of the study would promote a stronger awareness of the positive relationship between metanoia and acquiring an additional language.
What is Metanoia?
To initially understand my study and the issue at hand, I needed to fully understand the concept of metanoia, especially as the connection between metanoia and additional language learning has rarely been made. When I first heard about metanoia, it inspired me to understand the why behind transformative learning and growth that occurs within additional language acquisition. Metanoia is a originally a Greek term that can be defined as an “after thought, change of mind” (Cuddon, 2013, p. 432). Senge (1990) further defined it as a “fundamental shift or change, or more literally transcendence…of mind” (p. 12). Building on these understandings of metanoia, when considering additional language acquisition, metanoia can be thought of as the conscious realization of a subconscious moment of learning. This conscious realization is important when discovering the moment in which a learner becomes aware of the evolution of new knowledge in an educational environment.
Metanoia does not have to be a huge learning achievement. It can also be small as it is about gaining awareness and empowerment within the learning process. This awareness and empowerment allows for individuals to become more knowledgeable about themselves, their limitations, and their abilities within the learning process. When metanoia occurs, an individual generally becomes more enlightened and sees the world through a different lens, learning from his or her experiences, and in turn becoming more educated. Senge (1990) clarified the relationship between metanoia and general learning with the understanding that “to grasp the meaning of ‘metanoia’ is to grasp the deeper meaning of ‘learning,’ for learning also involves a fundamental shift or movement of mind” (p. 13). Metanoia is a transformative process which changes both a person’s learning abilities and processes, assisting in growth and identity change while acting as a catalyst for additional language learning. It is a conscious realization of the changes and learning occurring subconsciously within a learner, and it can be a process of discovery and exploration that facilitates learning. When this awareness, recognition, realization, and reflection occurs; it becomes a process of identity change; and it also prompts discovery and exploration that seems to facilitate additional language acquisition.
Moments of Metanoia in English as an Additional Language Acquisition
Throughout my MA thesis project, I experienced some observations of powerful moments of metanoia for current or previous students within an EAP program. This was important twofold: First, it seemed to demonstrate that moments of metanoia were transforming the lives of participants, and secondly it seemed to demonstrate that participants felt it was important to spread the word about learning English, improving the EAP experience, and sharing their lived experiences as language learners within EAP.
Additionally, certain participants brought up experiences that caused me to experience metanoia; they taught me about aspects of culture, communication, and life that I personally take for granted every day while communicating within my first language (English) within the country and community (Canada) that I have lived in the majority of my life. This realization surprised me as I personally have lived in other cultures and settings where I was not only the minority, but English was not the dominant language. It reminded me that in many instances, but not necessarily all, an individual can so easily transition back into their own culture without hesitation nor difficulty.
As an example of the relationship between metanoia and additional language acquisition, one participant discussed how he regularly expanded his listening skills and communication abilities by turning off his music and electronics, pretending they were still on. Meanwhile he eavesdropped on conversations on the bus, allowing him to observe via listening how others communicate and learn from each other. He clearly has experienced moments of metanoia through this activity as he finds it to be an effective learning tool and continues to do this on a regular basis. He explained how he had a sudden realization that he learned language not only from the pronunciation, grammar, and verbal language of the other people on the bus; also from their body language and mannerisms.
Expressing positivity and learning within positive environments also helped many participants experience moments of metanoia during the additional language acquisition process. One participant stated experiencing negative feelings until introduced to programs and resources around campus offering support. After taking part in specific programs as a newcomer to the university and after experiencing this learning moment of metanoia (after gaining support), this person wanted to make a difference in other’s lives thus enrolling as an assistant in a program to help other language learners the following year.
Metanoia can occur through multiple processes in additional language learning. It appeared that the participants in my MA thesis research project were glad to express their personal opinions and bring awareness to the benefits, advantages, and areas that needed improvement within EAP. I believe this process of sharing might have taken place because they had such strong moments of metanoia that they want the same success, positive environment, and growth for other English language learners coming to a new cultural and educational environment.
Fostering an Environment that Supports Metanoia
It is important to foster an environment for additional language learners to obtain and experience moments of metanoia. To achieve this, the student can be taught as a “whole” learner in which the instructor or institution pays attention to the social, academic, cultural, and emotional needs of the student. How can this environment be fostered to obtain moments of metanoia? By teaching with the awareness and goal of promoting metanoia, an English language instructor can get creative and come up with some interactive activities such as journaling or cultural contact assignments.
First, students can be encouraged to recognize moments of metanoia in a journaling or diary activity in which the students create their own journals or diaries (this can include artifacts, writing expositions, and art) to represent the growth and change occurring in their language learning process. Throughout the process they can work in small groups of students and discuss casually the changes they are going through. The instructor would then have the option to assess this, or could use this as an opportunity to gain the students’ trust, observing their personal language learning patterns. This could also be perceived as a learning opportunity for instructors, allowing them to experience moments of metanoia or awareness as they learn from observation of the students’ work how to instruct and communicate more effectively with English language learners.
Secondly, a cultural contact activity could be included in the curriculum to create a rich language learning environment that fosters moments of metanoia. For example, students could be asked to enjoy a potluck meal; however, they would have to bring a popular dish from their culture. To find out what is the most popular food item from their culture in the local community, students could create a survey. Once they have created the survey, they could go to different environments such as the university campus or in the downtown part of their city. Here students could communicate with different people by asking them in a survey format what their favourite dish was from the students’ home culture. After gathering this information, the students could take this back to their class, presenting their findings and answering any questions on the type of food, it’s significance, possible reasons for its popularity, etc. The students would then apply this knowledge, creating and preparing the food, bringing it to the potluck.
These are just a couple of ways that metanoia can be fostered in the additional language learning environment. The key is to have instructors aware of this process and for students to be learning and working within a calm emotional state and welcoming environment.
Cuddon, J. (2013). Dictionary of literary terms and literary theory. Birchwood, M., Dines, M., Fiske, S., Habib, M. & Velickovic, V. (Eds.). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
Senge, P. (1990). Give me a lever long enough…and single-handed I can move the world. In Grogan, M. (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (3-16). United States of America: Jossey-Bass.
From the Fall 2016 issue of the BC TEAL newsletter: Samantha Ranson recently completed her Master of Arts in Education at UBC’s Okanagan campus focusing on metanoia and second language acquisition. She has a Bachelor of Arts (English) and a Bachelor of Education (Elementary Education and Teaching English Language Learners).
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Original reference information:
Ranson, S. (2016, Fall). Metanoia and Additional Language Learning in the EAP Classroom. TEAL News. Retrieved from https://www.bcteal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/BC-Teal-Newsletter-Fall-2016-Final-2.pdf