An Interview with Sarah Mercer

(Published in Learner Autonomy in Language Learning (, December 2012)

Lorna Carson, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

Paginated PDF version

Lorna: Sarah, a new volume entitled Psychology for Language Learning: Insights from Research, Theory and Practice, which you edited along with Stephen Ryan and Marion Williams, will be appearing soon, published by Palgrave Macmillan. It seems it will be an immensely practical book for researchers​. Could you give us a brief overview of the book’s content?

Sarah: In the book, we decided to focus on psychological constructs typically addressed in educational psychology; in particular, we were keen to draw attention to those which have been somewhat neglected in SLA. We also wanted to create a book that could bring together related work on differing constructs in one unified volume to help show the interconnections between them and consider common themes. Altogether the book is composed of 16 chapters including an introduction and concluding chapter as well as 14 separate chapters, each covering a different psychological construct. Each chapter presents an outline of current thinking in the area in respect to the construct and ways of researching it, an example of current research carried out by the author(s) and concludes with reflection on the potential implications of the theory and/or research for practice. For us, it was a fabulous, rewarding experience working on the book as we were fortunate enough to get together an outstanding collection of experienced researchers from around the globe who shared their insights and experience in their fields of specialisation.

Lorna: Are there any chapters that will be of particular interest to researchers interested in language learner autonomy?

Sarah: Actually we hope all of them will be of interest! We have chapters covering motivation, self-concept, identity, personality, mindsets, attributions, affect, WTC, strategies, styles, goals, metacognition, group dynamics and one specifically on self-directed learning. Whilst the latter, written by Richard Pemberton and Lucy Cooker, will be the most immediately relevant, I do think all of the other chapters touch on issues related to learner autonomy and so ought to be of interest to researchers working in the field.

Lorna: Is there one particular area that you feel is gathering momentum at the moment in our study of what makes particular learners or classrooms more ‘successful’, and how we might investigate, describe and gauge that ‘success’?

Sarah: When we initially approached authors, we were careful not to request any specific perspective or research approach given our belief in the benefits for the field of a diversity of methodologies and theoretical frameworks; however, interestingly, a number of common key themes emerged across the chapters. The most notable was a move towards looking at the big picture. Traditionally researchers have tended to look at one part of the picture in isolation, but the overall impression we get from the various contributions to our book is that researchers are becoming much more interested in how those parts fit together. Thus, rather than stressing the significance of one particular construct as being an underlying reason for success, several authors considered the ways in which multiple factors interconnect and the useful insights that are likely to be gained from considering multiple factors in combination. Another central theme that we noted was the wide recognition of how psychological constructs interact with and are mediated by contexts as well as expanded understandings of what is meant by context. As a result, we also saw a much greater openness to qualitative methods. On the whole, we felt that there seems to be a general move towards more complexity-informed perspectives in the field.

Lorna: Thanks Sarah, we look forward to reading this volume very soon! It’s always a relief to get a book off to the publishers, especially given the pressures of coordinating an edited volume, but can we ask you about your next project?

Sarah: Yes, right now Marion and I are editing another collection of papers entitled ‘Multiple Perspectives on the Self’. The idea behind this collection of papers was to try to bring some coherence to the rather fragmented field of self research in SLA. Our aim is to explore various self constructs and perspectives on the self and to consider how these differ, are similar and how examining them all together can generate a more comprehensive understanding of the self. We are in the midst of work on it at the moment and it already promises to be another very exciting project!

Lorna: Well, we wish you the very best with that, and look forward to hearing more in due course!

Sarah: Many thanks and we hope you enjoy the book!



Mercer, S., Ryan, S. & Williams, M. (eds) (2012) Psychology for Language Learning: Insights from Research, Theory and Practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan



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