Richard Watson Todd
King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi
For the first TAAL Applied Linguistics Graduate Forum in March 2021, I was asked to give an opening talk on ‘Trends in Applied Linguistics Research in Thailand’. To do this, I needed to examine research articles in the field published by authors with a Thai affiliation. Since it is almost impossible to trace all academic publications originating in Thailand, for practical reasons I decided to restrict my analysis to articles published in Scopus Q1 and Q2 journals. Scopus divides the journals it indexes into four quartiles with quartiles 1 and 2 being the highest-rated. Scopus Q1 and Q2 journals are therefore the most cited journals with the strictest acceptance criteria. Focusing on these journals means that we are examining articles likely to have the greatest impact. It also has the added benefit of focusing on articles which are counted in quality assurance exercises (with the recent expansion of Scopus, some QA assessments use only those articles published in Q1 and Q2 journals).
The Scopus website enables searches by countries of affiliation and by broad academic discipline. An initial search to return articles within the Social Sciences category and the Linguistics and Language sub-category with at least one author with a Thai affiliation was conducted. The resulting list was then narrowed down to exclude journals in the third and fourth quartiles and journals not related to applied linguistics.
My search for articles in Scopus Q1 and Q2 journals in applied linguistics written by authors with a Thai affiliation returned 239 articles. The first was a teaching tip published in ELT Journal in 1966. From then until the 1990s, article publication was very sporadic with many years having no articles published at all. From 2000 to 2008, around 5 articles were published each year, increasing to around 10 articles per year from 2009 to 2017. The number of articles then increased markedly from 2018. This pattern is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1 The number of highly-rated applied linguistics articles originating in Thailand
To investigate the trends in Thai applied linguistics research, we can look at the content of articles, especially in terms of what was investigated and how it was investigated, and at the impact of articles through bibliometric citation analysis.
Given how quickly the field of applied linguistics changes, I restricted the examination of the content of the articles to those articles published since 2017, giving 85 articles to analyse. The abstracts of these articles were collected and analysed in two ways.
First, to identify the topics of the articles, a keyword analysis was conducted. The frequencies of each of the words in the 85 abstracts were compared against their frequencies in the British National Corpus (a large corpus of general English) using KeyBNC (https://key-bnc.tfiaa.com/). The top 20 keywords ranked by log likelihood were taken as being indicative of the topics.
Second, to identify the methodologies used, the research methods and purposes in the abstracts were categorised into five broad groups representing different research philosophies:
- Experimental where the goal is to evaluate the effects of an intervention, such as through quasi-experimental research designs or as a case study.
- Survey where the attitudes, opinions or beliefs of participants were collected usually using questionnaires, interviews or diaries.
- Discourse analysis where the data consists of texts on which an manual analysis was conducted.
- Corpus where the data consists of texts on which an automated analysis was conducted.
- Academic/Review which includes meta-analyses and non-empirical academic articles.
For the bibliometric citation analysis, the 101 articles published between 2009 and 2018 were used. More recent articles were not included as it can take a couple of years for papers in applied linguistics to start being cited. The number of citations to each paper by other articles in the Scopus database was counted, and these numbers were adjusted to account for the length of time since publication since older articles have had more time to be cited. These corrected citation numbers were correlated with journal rank in Scopus. In the ScimagoJr database linked to Scopus, there are 425 Q1 and Q2 journals in the sub-discipline of Linguistics and Language, each with an individual rank. These were clustered into groups of 50 (i.e. the top 50, ranks 51-100 and so on) for the correlations.
To see if different approaches to research affected the number of citations, the abstracts of the 101 articles were examined to classify the articles in two ways:
- Teaching focus or Other focus (i.e. whether the research investigated teaching/the classroom or something else).
- Theory-driven or Practice-driven (i.e. whether the research has strong theoretical foundations or whether the primary motive behind the research is practical).
Each of these dichotomies was then compared against the number of citations using point biserial correlation.
These various comparisons allow us to see the impact of certain factors (namely, journal rank, research focus, and research foundation) on the number of citations, providing possible guidelines for researchers who hope to have a high citation impact from their research.
Content of recent articles
The 85 articles published since 2017 were examined for their topics through a keyword analysis and for their research approaches through categorising. The top 20 keywords in the abstracts of the articles when compared to the British National Corpus are shown in Table 1.
|1. English||6. learning||11. writing||16. L2|
|2. language||7. study||12. findings||17. learners|
|3. Thai||8. metacognitive||13. teaching||18. classroom|
|4. students||9. Thailand||14. teachers||19. strategies|
|5. EFL||10. listening||15. proficiency||20. test|
Table 1 Top 20 keywords in recent Thai applied linguistics articles
It is noticeable that all of the keywords in Table 1 are related to research into English language teaching (Thai collocates with words like university and students and does not refer to the language). This suggests that, even though the discipline of applied linguistics includes diverse focuses such as political discourse, translation and clinical linguistics, applied linguistics research in Thailand is dominated by concerns about English language teaching (ELT). While most of the keywords are broad terms applying across ELT, four keywords suggest more specific concerns. The skills identified as keywords are listening and writing (while reading and speaking do not appear in the list) suggesting a concern for these two language skills in particular. The other two more specific keywords collocate in the phrase metacognitive strategies implying that this is a particular research interest in Thailand.
The second analysis of the articles published since 2017 involves a categorisation of the articles into five broad research approaches. The number of articles following each approach are given in Table 2 (not all articles could be categorised). Table 2 shows that the most frequent research approach in recent Thai applied linguistics articles is experimental. In other words, a large proportion of the articles involve an evaluation of an intervention. The articles categorised into this approach generally concern an intervention in ELT suggesting that this is the prototypical applied linguistics research in Thailand.
|Broad research approach||No. of articles|
Table 2 Broad research approaches used in recent Thai applied linguistics articles
Impact of articles
The number of times an article is cited is taken as an indicator of its impact. For the 101 articles published between 2009 and 2018, 79 have been cited at least once. The most cited article with 178 citations appeared in TESOL Quarterly, and together the articles have an h-index of 18 (in other words, at least 18 articles have each been cited at least 18 times).
Comparing the number of citations of each article with the journal’s ScimagoJr rank (counted in groups of 50), we find r = 0.497 (p < 0.001), a strong correlation implying that publishing in higher-ranked journals leads to more citations. The top ten most cited articles were all published in highly-ranked Q1 journals, including TESOL Quarterly, English for Specific Purposes, Language Learning & Technology, ELT Journal and System.
Comparing the number of citations and the journal rank with the focuses and approaches of the articles produces the correlations given in Table 3. These correlations show that whether the research is focused on ELT or on another aspect of applied linguistics has no clear effect on its impact. However, articles which have strong theoretical foundations are generally likely to have a greater impact in terms of citations and be published in higher-ranked journals than articles driven by practical motives.
Effect of teaching focus or other focus
|Number of citations||rpb = -0.04||n.s.||No difference|
|Journal rank||rpb = -0.19||n.s.||No difference|
Effect of theory-driven or practice-driven
|Number of citations||rpb = 0.32||p < .05||Theory-driven articles are more cited|
|Journal rank||rpb = 0.31||p < .05||Theory-driven articles are in higher-ranked journals|
To examine recent trends in applied linguistics research in Thailand, I focused on articles published in Scopus Q1 and Q2 journals where at least one author has a Thai affiliation. Based on the number of such articles published each year, the most recent trends show great promise with a large increase in the number of articles since 2018. It appears that the Thai applied linguistics research community is starting to be productive and is likely to have more of an impact internationally, but there is still a role for the Thai Association for Applied Linguistics to play in helping to sustain this recent trend and to promote further increases in the future. With continued high productivity, Thai researchers could start to have an influence on the field at a global level, perhaps especially in the area of ELT which is a particular concern for applied linguistics researchers in Thailand. To have such an international impact, Thai researchers need to publish in the highest-ranked journals (probably in the top 100) since these lead to the greatest number of citations, and generally this means focusing on theory-driven research. It is hopes that the series of TAAL research webinars which has just started could help the applied linguistics research community in Thailand take its place on the global stage.