Applied linguistics research in a post-COVID world: Examining five areas of focus and how the new world order will affect them


The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed many aspects of our lives and work, as individuals and as applied linguists. This colloquium examines five major topics in applied linguistics that have been affected in various ways by the pandemic: assessment, language policy, digital language learning, multilingualism, and raciolinguistics. These areas represent both ongoing areas of focus and new critical approaches to applied linguistics research. Taking a simultaneously reflective and re-imaginative stance, participants examine how these areas of research might be taken up in a post-COVID-19 world and how the new world order will affect them. Each talk will examine the ways in which COVID-19 has raised or exposed new or different kinds of questions and challenges for research in that area; and finally predict how research on the topic might be affected and reimagined in a post-COVID-19 era. The symposium will include a discussant and time for audience input and reflection.

Testing in the age of Covid: Promoting flexibility and equity

Margaret Malone, Georgetown University

In March 2020, language testing organizations had to pivot quickly to provide standardized tests to students and other stakeholders. The first principle of  ILTA Code of Ethics (2018) specifies that Language testers shall have respect for the humanity and dignity of each of their test takers. They shall provide them with the best possible professional consideration and shall respect all persons’ needs, values and cultures in the provision of their language testing service.” During the Covid-19 crisis, test developers and administrators had to consider the immediate needs of their audiences within the context of a dangerous, global pandemic. At the same time, testing organizations had to amend test administration procedures in light of  he criticality of some tests for high-stakes decisions. All changes were made within rapidly changing contexts and procedures had to be adapted for use outside of traditional brick-and-mortar school and test administration settings that have traditionally circumscribed the specifications for test delivery.

In this presentation, I examine some responses to unplanned, online language assessment, including high-stakes standardized tests to meet high-stakes purposes such as university admission and receipt of the Seal of Biliteracy. I review several approaches to “at home” testing and the advantages and challenges of such approaches. In addition, I discuss the equally important but lower-stakes approaches to online testing for classrooms and that reflect the original language construct and maintain a high level of reliability. I also address issues of equity for stakeholders and the impact on the validity argument. Finally, I examine how online assessment and standardized testing can continue to evolve in the future.


Ideological and implementational spaces in COVID-era language policy and planning 

Nancy H. Hornberger, University of Pennsylvania

Our ongoing global pandemic exacerbates longstanding language policy and planning (LPP) concerns around the ways language education policies and practices sustain inequalities across linguistic and social identities. I have argued there is an urgent need for language users, educators, and researchers to counter those inequalities, filling up and wedging open ideological and implementational spaces for multiple languages, literacies, identities, and practices to flourish in classroom, community, and society (Hornberger 2002, 2006). Here, using the lens of layered, scaled and interacting implementational and ideological spaces and focusing on cases of Indigenous education in the Andes and Mexico, I explore how ethnographic studies uncover intertwining LPP dynamics that might be leveraged to promote social change in the COVID-heightened context of inequality (Hornberger et al., 2018). For example, potential equality / actual inequality of languages intertwine in Mexican education policy and practice to interrupt spaces for Maya language in a Yucatec Mayan Indigenous preschool (Anzures 2020). Intertwining monoglossic / heteroglossic language ideologies in the discourse of Indigenous leaders of Ecuador's bilingual intercultural education reveal tensions negotiated in the politics of Kichwa identity and language across spaces like ministry offices, bilingual classrooms, or official translation workshops (Limerick 2015). Meanwhile, top-down / bottom-up LPP activities intertwining in Peruvian bilingual education are leveraged locally to create transformational spaces for Quechua youth to acquire and use their heritage language in multimodal ways (Kvietok Dueñas 2019). Critical / transformative LPP research paradigms intertwine in an ethnographic project examining how higher education administrators, teachers and students collaborate to create new spaces for Indigenous language learning in Diidxazá/ Isthmus Zapotec classes in Oaxaca, Mexico (DeKorne 2015,). How might these dynamic LPP ideological and implementational spaces be leveraged to confront the ever-greater inequities wrought by COVID in Indigenous educational access and ways of speaking and being?

Digital Language Learning for the Post-COVID Era: Evidence from a Longitudinal Synthesis

Lourdes Ortega, Georgetown University

Digital language learning has become the new normal in our post-COVID reality, but as we move from a crisis-response mode to long-term planning, enormous strains are being placed on students, teachers, and families. We are left wondering how a future for high-quality and equitable education might look like, if all education must be delivered online for the long haul. Several challenges have been thrown into sharp relief by the global crisis. One is that prepandemic inequities have been greatly exacerbated; for education, the spotlight is now on digital inequities that have always existed—not just in the divide between Global South and Global North but, shockingly, inside the United States too. A compounded challenge is that staples of good language pedagogy seem difficult to uphold in a digital-only environment, particularly fostering community and togetherness, engagement, and collaboration. How are these ideals compromised or transformed when physical presence becomes impossible? It is also difficult for teachers to negotiate their ideologies of technology as they strive to transport their language curricula online: Technology as educational “enhancement,” neoliberal and neoconservative endorsements of technology, and technological determinism all loom large. Moreover, how can we separate the wheat from the chaff, when discerning what purported benefits of technology are more robust and sustainable, and which are more banal and ephemeral? I seek to glean some answers to these questions through a systematic synthesis of longitudinal studies of digital learning published over the last decade. My review will comprise studies of language learning and technology published in applied linguistics outlets as well as investigations of technological innovations in other educational fields that offer critical longitudinal insights. I will evaluate the knowledge base that we can turn to, in and outside applied linguistics, to unearth evidence about long-term benefits and pitfalls of online education and digital learning.

Multilingualism in the Post-COVID Era

Li Wei, University College, London

Evidence from different countries’ responses to the COVID-19 outbreaks confirms once again the significance of multilingualism. But views seem to differ as to whether multilingualism facilitated communication or added unnecessary complications to emergency and crisis management. This presentation discusses these views with examples from Britain, China and Hong Kong, and explores the future of multilingualism in the post-COVID era. In Britain, there has been a distinct lack of information in languages other than English and Welsh in Wales. Communities languages were ignored. Whether this is linked to the higher death rates amongst the ethnic minority communities in Britain is a controversial issue. In China, where the virus first occurred, public communication and emergency services relied heavily on regional dialects which are mutually unintelligible rather than the official national language. However, difficulties occurred when health professionals were needed from other provinces of China to help with local crisis. The authorities have become very aware of the complexities and are putting into place new practical measures and policies to facilitate multilingual communication for future emergencies. In Hong Kong, information available in Cantonese and English is not always of the same quality or quantity. The South Asian minority communities in the city who speak fluent Cantonese but by and large struggle with Chinese literacy had to resort to sources of information from other countries. I will also look at some of the grassroots reactions towards the crisis and their connections with and impact on multilingualism. Implications for language policy and planning, with particular regard to public health communication and crisis management, in the post-COVID era will be explored.

A Raciolinguistic Perspective on the Post-COVID Era

Nelson Flores, University of Pennsylvania

Raciolinguistic ideologies that co-construct language and race in ways that dehumanize racialized communities have a long history that can be traced to the origins of European colonialism. While the discourse has shifted across time in ways that have adapted to the changing sociopolitical context, these raciolinguistic ideologies have been used to justify the oppression of these communities and to maintain white supremacy. For example, in the post-Civil Rights era where explicitly white supremacist language has fallen out of favor, purported language deficiencies remain a key mechanism that mainstream discourses have used to justified continued racial inequities. While the discourse may seem less racist, the racist outcomes remain the same. In this way, the “post” in post-Civil Rights era doesn’t make a movement away from white supremacy but rather a new reconfiguration that ensures its maintenance. In a similar vein, in this presentation, I argue that the “post” in post-COVID era should not be interpreted as a fundamental break with the past but rather its continuation within a changing sociopolitical context. Specifically, I argue that within the context of the Trump administration, explicit forms of white supremacy have once again been normalized in mainstream discourse. Taking a raciolinguistic perspective as my point of entry, I trace the contemporary raciolinguistic ideologies associated with the COVID pandemic back to colonial representations that were designed to justify racial inequities. I pay particular attention to political and media representations from the past and the present, showing how explicitly white supremacist representations of racialized bilingual communities have become reconfigured in ways that allow those producing it to deny racism even as they utilize long-standing white supremacist frames. I end with implications for how to research white supremacy in applied linguistics within the context of a post-Trump and post-COVID world.