Globalization And Language Learning

Increasingly experts are urging people to learn a second language in order to be competitive in an interconnected world.

Learning a language is thought to not only provide the learner with new language skills, but also to broaden their understanding of the world via the cultural education that often goes hand-in-hand with learning another language.

The Modern Language Journal recently published an issue devoted to ‘Teaching Foreign Languages in an Era of Globalization.’ Claire Kramsch, Professor of German and Education at the University of California-Berkeley, guest edited the volume.

While technological wealth and communication innovations provide exciting possibilities for educators, Kramsch pointed out in her introduction:

“…there has never been a greater tension between what is taught in the classroom and what the students will need in the real world once they have left the classroom. In the last decades, that world has changed to such an extent that language teachers are no longer sure of what they are supposed to teach nor what real world situations they are supposed to prepare their students for.”

Kramsch points out that globalization, with its ability to complicate our understanding of the world, puts into question the “modernist tenets” of the language education profession which depends upon the stability of nation-states, linguistic grammars, and “codified norms of correct language usage.”

In her introduction Kramsch also raises the issue of authenticity — specifically how one can judge what is authentic to language in an era of increasing cultural hybridity.

“FL educators may rightly feel that it is not their mission to encourage their students to codeswitch with abandon in their classes, especially if they are paid to teach satisfactory levels of proficiency in one FL. However, with globalization, we seem to have entered an era where different degrees of purity and authenticity are expected in different venues of learning and use.”

There is more in Kramsch’s introduction to spur thought and conversation about this issue. Each of the articles in the journal approaches this issue of globalization and language learning from a different perspective — they deal with memory, geopolitics, the places of languages to name just a few.

This open access article from Richard Kern explores the way the Internet, and its attendant technologies, impacts language education. In the piece Kern argues “that the dynamics of online language learning call for a relational pedagogy that focuses on how medium and context interact with language use. ”

One interesting Internet site exploring how globalization and language intersect is Language on the Move. It “is a peer-reviewed sociolinguistics research site devoted to multilingualism, language learning and intercultural communication in a transnational world.”


Sign in Melbourne. Image via Jes (Flickr).

It focuses on a number of different issues, including globalization and migration. One of the sections highlighted on its homepage deals with ‘Japanese on the Move‘ — it features the personal stories of individuals with connections to both Japan and Australia and details their struggles and triumphs as they navigate two cultures and two languages.

The push and pull of two languages is at the heart of an article in The International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. It explores identity and ideology in a transnational space created through language.

Its focus is on the different approaches to English language acquisition taken by different waves of Korean immigrants to the United States. The research is based on interviews with Korean mothers and explores how their experiences informed their approach to their children’s English language education.

Clearly this is just a tiny sampling of the types of thinking and writing being done on the issue of language acquisition in this era of globalization. But it is an important area of inquiry as so much of who we think we are is bound up in the languages we speak, the languages we choose to learn, and the languages we use to describe ourselves.

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