“Ideology” can be a dismissive turn people use to critique or undermine certain ideas or practices by contrasting this “ideology” with facts, or science, or reality. On the one hand, the dismissers are right—these are “just ideologies.” On the other hand, it’s also not the case that there is a reality free of ideologies. Ideologies may simply be a collection of beliefs, but these beliefs shape our perceptions and experiences of what we call “reality.” Thus, the problem is not the existence of ideologies, but rather our lack of awareness of how ideologies are always shaping our world. Below, I’ll address some reasons I think it’s critical to be aware of language ideologies in the language classroom.
The meme above seems to be making the rounds for everything these days, and the image above popped up in my Facebook feed the other day. I smiled, because it my experience it captures a common conundrum in Arabic teaching—we usually focus on Modern Standard Arabic, MSA, الفصحى in the classroom, much to the dismay of many Arabic students, especially those who go abroad. In my own research on Arabic study abroad students, many of them complain about the “uselessness” of fus7a, and support studying Arabic dialects prior to study abroad, so they don’t lose time learning 3ammiyya (although my research also shows they pick up major dialect features quite quickly, sometimes within a few weeks of going abroad). Students and teachers that oppose dialect teaching typically point to the regional variations in dialects, and that students travel to different locations and teachers in the same program may be familiar with varying regional dialects. In this perspective, MSA is seen as being a “neutral” variety because it is used across geographical regions (although research also shows that there is geographical variation in MSA, and speakers of different regional varieties do not necessarily switch into MSA to speak to each other). Thus, whether to teach dialects or not is a seemingly never-ending debate with strong feelings (and not much research) on both sides.
Last week, I described the nation state ideology of language, and its implications for language teaching. This week, I’m discussing folklinguistic theories of language, and their implications for language learning and teaching. Generally, “folklinguistic” theories, or the general population’s beliefs about language, are contrasted with “linguistic” theories developed via the scientific study of language, or linguists beliefs about language. Frequently, these are in conflict. There are, of course, multiple linguistic theories, indicating that linguists don’t necessarily agree on what language is either, and I’ll discuss some of those as they relate to learning and teaching languages in upcoming posts. However, for the moment I’ll focus on folk linguistic beliefs I come across in the field of language teaching that to the best of my knowledge are not supported by scientific theories of language.
In my quest to make language and intercultural learning better, I sometimes feel that just when I start to understand one piece of the puzzle, I discover that the puzzle is in fact much larger than I thought. Recently, I have been researching ideologies of study abroad, which led me to think about ideologies for language learning, and just how much our beliefs about what language is influence how we teach it, and what we expect our students to do or know. Yet it is my impression that as teachers, we rarely think about what our ideologies of language are, we just take them for granted.