Challenging Boundaries in Language Education: Disrupting Geographical Borders

There are multiple ways in which we can conceptualise ‘borders’ in language education, the unifying thread of the edited collection Challenging Boundaries in Language Education. The term could refer to curricular boundaries, and in the previous update I presented two contributions which challenge the rigid demarcation of linguistic and content curricular aims. Another, perhaps more literal, way to reflect on borders is by problematizing the changes that have been brought about by globalisation and the linguistic and cultural diversification of language classrooms.

Not too long ago, we tended to think of foreign language teaching as a process where a largely homogeneous group of learners, united by a similar cultural background and the same mother language, were taught a ‘single monochrome standard’ (Quirk 1985: 6) of the target language. This view is increasingly untenable now, and the three chapters that are presented below challenge its validity and describe the emerging new realities of language teaching.

Language education in superdiverse urban settigns

The first chapter (Schools as Linguistic Space: Multilingual Realities at Schools in Vienna and Brno), by Lena Schwarzl, Eva Vetter and Miroslav Janík looks into superdiverse schools in Vienna and Brno. The authors approach the linguistic realities of the schools in two ways. By reporting on expert interviews with the school leadership, they outline the language policies in the schools, which involve varying combinations of uniformity and pluralism. This perspective is complemented by an inquiry into the linguistic repertoires of students. Using innovative research methods that combined visual and linguistic data, they discuss how students categorise the different languages that make up their repertoires, and what their attitudes toward these languages are. This highly valuable study showcases the diversity of contemporary urban schools, and the complexities this linguistic diversity generates.

Globalisation and shifting professsional identities

Alia Moser and Petra Kletzenbauer pick up on this topic and discuss how this increasing complexity is impacting language teachers. In their chapter, Thinking outside the Box: The Impact of Globalization on English Language Teachers in Austria, they discuss how the erosion of certainties associated with language teaching is affecting language teachers. Using a narrative approach, they present the perspectives of six language teachers in secondary schools and universities, and discuss how their identity is shaped under the influence of globalising processes. Their discussion encompasses the global influences (e.g., the role of the textbook industry), societal factors (e.g., changing perceptions about teachers), institutional aspects (e.g., the bureaucratisation of education), and the impact all of these shaping factors have on the teachers’ identity. In doing so, the authors raise awareness of the complex interactions between the ways in which language teachers think about themselves and ongoing processes in their professional contexts.

Preparing teachers for a borderless profession

Finally, in a chapter entitled Beyond Conventional Borders of Second Language Teachers’ Training: A Digital, Interdisciplinary and Critical Postgraduate Curriculum, an author team from the Hellenic Open University (HOU) led by Roula Kitsiou (which in addition to her, includes Maria Papadopoulou, George Androulakis, Roula Tsokalidou, Eleni Skourtou) present an innovative teacher education programme that was designed in response to the emerging new reality. The Language Education for Refugees and Migrants programme is a new postgraduate course that is offered by the HOU, and aims to prepare language educators to engage with the opportunities and challenges associated with teaching refugee-background learners. This programme challenges traditional models of teacher education by including in the course content themes that are not regularly encountered in similar programmes, such as migration and intercultural communication, or international law and human rights. The course has also attracted strong interest from other professionals (i.e., non-teachers) who work with migrants, thus opening up new channels of interdisciplinary synergy. The chapter clearly illustrates the potential, and value, of disrupting ‘technical’ models of language education and explicitly orienting towards a critical perspective.

As is perhaps evident from this post, I am quite excited with the way this collection is shaping up, and feel very privileged to be entrusted with these submissions. Another update is coming up towards the end of the week, so watch this space.


Featured image: Muhanad and Ahmad, refugees from Syria in school in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley | UK Department for International Development | CC BY

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