Although telecollaboration is one of my research contexts, I realized I’ve never written a post about it. So, here is a long overdue discussion of telecollaboration, the projects I’ve been involved in, and the lessons I’ve learned.
In my very first post on this blog, I discussed how despite popular belief, language and intercultural learning are not automatic outcomes of study abroad. I also mentioned three key components of study abroad programs necessary to promote these outcomes: language and intercultural contact, reflection upon this contact, and connecting the pre, during, and post sojourn experiences. In this post, I want to focus on one of my favorite interventions for study abroad, that of ethnographic projects for study abroad.
Last week, I discussed several popular methods of organizing beginning language classes under the overarching critique of focusing on either decontextualized sets of language or prioritizing transactions over social relationships. This week, I’m focusing on what I am interested in implementing in my classroom, drawing from both functional theories of language and translanguaging pedagogy. Language teaching contexts and preferred ideologies vary, so I want to be clear that I don't think there is a one size fits all for the beginning language classroom. However, I do think that too often we don’t even think about what ideologies are informing our practice, and if these are ideologies we even agree with! So, here are some things that my colleagues and I are working on or plan to implement in our classes:
Last week, I talked about how the language of social relationships is often overlooked in beginning language classes, and I think this is one reason students use English. As language teachers, I think we tend to view beginning language classes as the start of a language learning journey, or a step to more advanced classes or study abroad (despite the fact that it’s actually also the end for many students, especially with the way language requirements and offerings are being eliminated these days in the U.S.). Yet choices about what is taught in beginning language classes are also excellent insights into ideologies of language, that again we rarely think about as teachers. Here are some examples:
Like formal theories of language, functional theories of language come from the field of linguistics, although this type of linguistics is less commonly found in the U.S.. The type of functional linguistics I am most familiar with is Systemic Functional Linguistics, based on the work of Michael Halliday, and practiced predominantly in Australia. While I am also far from an expert in functional linguistics, a key tenet of functional linguistics is that language cannot be separated from social function, or what humans do with language. This means that in contrast to formal linguistics, there is not a linguistic system that can be analyzed independently of the way it is deployed. In terms of language learning and teaching, this means that:
The term formal theories of language usually refers to linguistic theories that stem from the work of Noam Chomsky on Universal Grammar, or the idea that there is an innate language mechanism in humans that allows us to learn and use language. These theories are are also referred to as generative grammar, and are prominent in linguistic research in the United States. As a results, they have informed a great deal of research on second language acquisition, as well as theories of teaching. When the folk linguistic theories of language learning I discussed previously are contrasted with linguistic theories, these linguistic theories are most often formal theories. From my perspective, there are three main implications for taking an approach to language learning and teaching informed by formal theories of language, and I discuss these below.
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.
For U.S. students, study abroad has never been more popular—according to the Open Doors data from the U.S. State Department, the number of students studying abroad has more than doubled since the turn of the 21st century, and about 10% of U.S. students will study abroad during their undergraduate career. As a study abroad researcher, this is both exciting (because more students are getting this opportunity) and disheartening (because there seems to be little attention paid to what happens after students cross that national border and gain the status of a study abroad student).