Language Education and Community-based Global Learning

Stacey M. Johnson  A few weeks ago, I got to sit down with Eric Hartman and Richard Kiely to record an interview about their new book on community-based global learning for my podcast, We Teach Languages. As a language teacher, I was particularly interested in how Eric and Richard might connect the larger framework of community-based learning with the specific goals of language teaching.  Service learning and community engagement are big topics in language education, as one might imagine. In this blog post, I will explore some of the points of connection I drew between what I learned from Richard and Eric and my own work teaching college students to communicate in a new language. I realize now that I had assumed before our interview that our discussion would be limited to the kind of learning that happens when teachers go out into the “real world” to immerse students in target language communities. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the kind of community engagement that Richard and Eric advocate is not just applicable to the way we take students out into communities, but also equally relevant to how we bring representations of community into our classrooms. The principles and practices of bringing community INTO foreign language education have been explored from various perspectives, including several that I will recommend: from the perspective of language resources in a handbook for teachers (Menacker, 2001), from the perspectives of teachers and students (Magnan, 2014; Magnan, Murphy, Sahakyan, & Kim, 2012), and recently by my colleague L.J. Randolph and myself from the perspective of social justice in and through language instruction (Randolph & Johnson, 2017) . My conception of what comprises language teaching is closely tied to the standards in my field. The teaching of languages other than English in the US generally regards the World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages , often called the 5 Cs, as the defining goals of language instruction. These five domains of knowledge, skills, attitudes, and personal growth that students undertake when they study language are Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. Specifically, the Communities standards states that students will “communicate and interact with cultural competence in order to participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world” (p. 1, NSCB, 2015).  The standard then breaks down this community-engaged learning into two subcategories. First, students will learn to engage with communities during language study as a part of the curriculum, and, second, students will continue to engage with communities after they leave the language classroom for “enjoyment, enrichment, and advancement.” What I realized during our conversation, which is available here, is that the type of community engagement that Richard and Eric discuss as a larger educational context is the type of engagement that language teachers can be and often are nurturing every day in small ways in our classrooms. For many language teachers, especially teachers like me who primarily teach the lower level courses for novices, interacting in a new language with communities of language users is not yet possible. A novice learner just does not yet have the communicative ability to navigate that kind of interaction. However, community engagement is woven into every lesson and every interaction of my classroom. As the instructor, I have control over what language texts and resources we use in class. My choices affect how communities are represented to my students. When I am deciding what language-rich resources to include for listening or reading activities, I am not just giving my students access to a new language, I am also giving them a glimpse into a community. The principles Richard and Eric share in their interview are not only applicable to teachers who plan to leave the classroom to engage with target language communities, although that is important. Those of us who bring communities into our classrooms through authentic resources like video, audio, blog posts, news articles, or guest speakers also need to continually self-evaluate. How am I teaching my students to interact with communities in ways that not only produce language proficiency, but also develop global citizens who value, listen to, and partner with the communities we are studying? In particular when teaching languages through a critical/social justice lens, these are questions we must consider as we represent, discuss, and enter into communities of language users. I was also struck by the term “cultural humility” that Richard and Eric used in our discussion. Another podcast guest, Manuela Wagner (episode 27), a scholar of intercultural communicative competence at the University of Connecticut, is working on the concept of intellectual humility and its role in intercultural competence. I have enjoyed following Manuela on Twitter and reading her thoughts on how intellectual humility is tied into other kinds of learning. So, another question that I want to explore in my own teaching is: how is my inclusion of communities fostering cultural and intellectual humility as a core value of community interaction? I am very grateful to Richard and Eric for sharing their expertise with We Teach Languages listeners, and I look forward to hearing from language teachers in the GlobalSL community who want to extend the conversation. You can reach out on Twitter to the podcast @weteachlang or to me @staceymargarita, or you can use this contact form. I would genuinely love to hear your thoughts on language learning through community-engagement!
Stacey M. Johnson is the organizer and host of the podcast We Teach Languages and serves as the Assistant Director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, while holding appointments as Senior Lecturer of Spanish in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Affiliated Faculty in the Center for Second Language Studies, and Adjunct Faculty in Peabody College’s Master’s program in English Language Learners. Stacey teaches courses in foreign language teaching methods, second language acquisition, and education. Her research includes work on classroom practices, hybrid/blended instruction, and adult language learning including transformative learning and critical pedagogy.
References Magnan, S. (2014). Special Monograph Issue: Goals of collegiate learners and the standards for foreign language learning. The Modern Language Journal, 8(1). Magnan, S., Murphy, D., Sahakyan, N., & Kim, S. (2012). Student goals, expectations, and the standards for foreign language learning. Foreign Language Annals, 45(2), 170-192. Menacker, T. (2001). Community language resources: A handbook for teachers (NFLRC Net Work #22) [HTML document]. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i, Second Language Teaching & Curriculum Center. Retrieved from The National Standards Collaborative Board [NSCB]. (2015). Summary of the World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages. 4th ed. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from Randolph, L.J., & Johnson, S.M. (2017). Social justice in the language classroom: A call to action. Dimension, 99-121.