Past Award Recipients
I am very honoured that the Canadian Association of Second Language Teachers would wish to make me a recipient of its prestigious Prix Robert Roy. CASLT is "THE" organization in Canada which brings all of us involved in second language education together in person, and virtually, through its magnificent award-winning website, and through its Canada-wide projects. I would like to thank all of you CASLTers who have devoted so much of your time and energy to bringing second languages to Canada's youth. It's so important.
I would like to tell a short personal story - the reason I did my doctoral research on children's acquistion of bilingualism was that I figured if I worked with bilingual kids, I'd become bilingual too, especially if I lived in Quebec City. Well, it sort of worked - I became bilingual in "kid-speak".
While at Laval, I had the good fortune to work with Dr. Bill Mackey, and through many trips to Montreal, to work with my mentor and hero, Dr. Wallace Lambert and his colleagues, Dr. Richard Tucker and Dr. John MacNamara. Through these wonderful Quebec colleagues, I was introduced to Dr. David Stern, who offered me a Research Associate position at OISE.
I feel so fortunate for having known these people - these people were the leaders and visionaries of the 1970's in thinking about bilingualism in Canada, and how to achieve it. They also found me an academic home that, to my complete amazement, I have never left, after moving about the country every few years or so. I call the Modern Language Centre an academic "home" because my colleagues have become my friends as we are a group who respect and admire each others' work - Sharon Lapkin, Alister Cumming, Jim Cummins, Birgit Harley, and Stacy Churchill.
And being at OISE has also meant having contact with the best and brightest of students interested in committing their lives and careers to second language education.
Finally, I would like to say a huge thanks to the Canadian Government who throughout my academic life has funded my research. None of my research with immersion students would have been possible without the support of several Deptartments within the Canadian Govt - the once-Secretary of State, now the Canadian Heritage Dept, OCOL, and whoever it is that administers the SSHRC grants.
I am thrilled to now be a life-long member of CASLT, and hope that I can keep my fingers in some of the pies you're now stirring up!
Presentation made by
Mesdames, Messieurs, Ladies and Gentlemen - It is indeed a very special pleasure and honor for me to introduce to you this year's recipient of CASLT's Prix Robert Roy. CASLT presents this award annually to a distinguished educator in honor of outstanding contributions in the field of Second Language Education. Professor Merrill Swain is indeed a VERY distinguished educator and her contributions to SLE during the past 38 years have been MUCH MORE than outstanding.
I must add that presenting this award to Merrill is personally very special because Merrill Swain is an important and valued colleague, an invaluable mentor, one of the best teachers I've ever had - AND she is a very dear friend.
I could tell you SO much about Merrill Swain...but I have decided to tell you a bit about her in three broad categories - Merrill the researcher, Merrill the teacher and Merrill the leader in our field.
Professor Swain is probably best known around the world in second and foreign language circles for her research related to French Immersion programs. It was through this research that Canada and the rest of the world recognized the exceptional mind and unfailing supporter we have in Merrill. Of course, she is also known for her output theory, a theory that recognizes the importance of what Stephen Krashen and others call comprehensible input...but, Merrill has used important data from FSL students to show that it is ALSO crucial for learners to speak and write in a second language, to do more than that - in doing so, they realize that they have gaps in their language, think about and hypothesize about how to say something they NEED to say and TALK explicitly about that gap in their language and figure out how to move forward linguistically. Since 1993 when she published her seminal article "Just speaking and writing aren't enough" in the CMLR, Merrill has drawn on Vygotsky's sociocultural theories, as well as her enhanced understanding of what happens in real second language classes, to enrich this output theory - she now talks about collaborative dialogue that occurs among second language learners as they interact, output in the target language, collaborate and learn together. This innovative way of thinking about second language learning has challenged many second language researchers, teachers, testers and curriculum designers. In fact, Merrill challenged and engaged an enthusiastic CASLT audience during a plenary talk at our 2000 colloquium in Toronto.
I believe that Merrill aptly chose the term output for one of her most influential contributions to the field for another good reason. In the world of academia, I am sure you have heard the expression "publish or perish." Well, in Merrill's case, there is no worry about perish except if we were to worry about the amount of output - in her case, the expression should read as "output and flourish." Imagine the following "output" record: 3 books, 9 edited books, 62 chapters in books, 91 articles in refereed journals, countless articles in teacher-oriented publications like Réflexions - see our fall 2000 issue - 22 technical reports, 135 invited and plenary talks + MANY conference presentations for researchers, teachers, parents and others interested in second language education. Talk about output!! I am sure that this list impressed you - I can tell you that it more than impresses ME. It scares me! You do the math...these totals spread over 30 odd years means that Merrill has produced MANY important documents and an average of 5 invited or plenary talks per year. I know first hand - because I am struggling to keep up within this world of publish or perish - how much time and sweat and tears go into one book, one plenary talk or journal publication. Let's just say that Merrill is a SUPERwoman! Moreover, MANY of the publications to which I referred are considered seminal readings for second lanaguage education courses around the world. Maybe some of you have read 1 or 2? Maybe in a class she taught to you?
This leads me to Merrill the teacher. Contrary to what many people believe, university researchers do teach, many are very interested in teaching in school-level contexts, and many are great teachers! Earlier, I referred to Merrill as one of the best teachers I have ever had. Why? When I think of Merrill's classes, and thesis committee meetings - one form of teaching - Merrill was an invaluable member of my doctoral thesis committee - when I think of Merrill in these contexts, the following adjectives come to mind: passionate, extremely committed, sensitive and caring, challenging - she is tough - inspiring, down to earth, collaborative, an unfailing supporter of FSL education, especially FSL in Canada, knowledgeable - super knowledgeable. Truly a special teacher and a special human being.
Just think of the number of students she has influenced directly or indirectly since she began her career - the 1000s of students who registered in her classes - they consistently give her top scores on teaching evaluations - all the participants in lecture halls during her many talks, those who have read her work...She has also supervised nearly 60 students' thesis work and has been a committee member for nearly 60 others. Suffice it to say that MANY people have benefited from Merrill's teaching, support, vision and passion.
Last but not least, I'd like to tell you about Merrill the leader. Did you know that Professor Swain is currently vice-president of the International Association of Applied Linguistics? I believe that she was the first Canadian president of the American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL) - impressive, great to see Canada leading our neighbours to the South...but I should also note that AAAL, as it's referred to, is much more than an American association. It is REALLY quite international. Merrill has also been consultant for second language programs across the world, including many projects in Canada, she is member of a number of professional and university committees, including the prestigious College of Reviewers of the Canada Research Chairs Program - if you're any where near a university these days you will appreciate the importance of this committee. Merrill is a member of a staggering number of editorial boards - 15 in fact - 15!!, Where does she find the time??
From 1981-1991, she also served as head of the internationally renowned Modern Language Centre at OISE-UT where she had been employed since 1971 and is currently full professor, a promotion she received in 1983.
Now lest you get the impression that Merrill Swain does nothing but research and teach and serve on volunteer boards, I would like to dispel that myth. She DOES work lots -maybe too much and believe you me, Merrill and I have had lots of talk about balance in our lives...BUT she does find time for her friends and Merrill has MANY around the world. Merrill does talk about more than FSL and collaborative dialogue. In fact, I have had many meaningful conversations with her about LOTS more than second language education and academics. She is a great reader, she has a personal trainer and walks LOTS, she loves to travel, she is very concerned about poverty in the world -she recently finished a term on the Board of directors of the St. Stephen's Society for the homeless in Toronto. I might also add that she loves fine food - Merrill and I have done some FABULOUS dinner parties chez elle...She also enjoys a good glass of wine with those dinners and conversations!
I am sure you are not surprised to learn that CASLT is not the first organization to honor Merrill Swain's contributions to second language education. In 1991, Merrill was the recipient of the Canadian Educational Association's Whitworth Award for Educational Research. In 1992, The National Language Institute of Australia honored Merrill as visiting research fellow. In 1993, she received honorary lifetime membership in the OMLTA. And in 2000, she received the Samuel Messick Memorial Award from the TOEFL policy Board.
So I feel that it's about time that CASLT recognize her outstanding and inspiring contributions to second language education in Canada and around the world. It is indeed an honour for CASLT to include her on our list of recipients of Le Prix Robert Roy. WE recognize this evening an incredibly special person. Please join me in welcoming and congratulating her.