Challenging Boundaries: Language teaching and learning beyond mainstream populations

As the submission deadline for Challenging Boundaries in Language Education, the book I am editing, draws closer, I’m really excited to see the manuscript gradually taking shape. Most chapters are still in various stages of revision in response to comments by the peer reviewers, and even my own chapter — the one that is making the slowest progress by far — is getting closer to its final form.

I will be posting updates on the progress of the book in due course, as well as comments on the process of editing a book. In this post, however, I want to present three more chapters that make up the collection.

A common thread uniting these contributions is the explicit attention on populations that have, so far, been treated as marginal in language education theory and practice. The first one of these chapters, by Claudia Mewald, is about capitalising on the linguistic and cultural resources of multilingual learners by fostering intercomprehension skills. The second one, by Gianna Hessel, looks into the language learning experiences of study abroad students. Finally, the chapter by Sonja Babic and Kyle Talbot looks into the experiences of language teachers who continue to engage with the profession after their formal retirement.

Close up of young girl producing a text
Producing multimodal texts does not only foster linguistic growth; it also helps to develop the heart, mind, and sense of identity, argues Claudia Mewald. (Photo by Pixabay on

Using intercomprehension to connect languages and cultures

Intercomprehension involves engaging with, and responding to input in less familiar languages, by making use of all available resources, ranging from existing linguistic knowledge, skills and strategies, to contextual cues and knowledge of the world

In a chapter entitled Across languages and cultures: Modelling teaching and learning with intercomprehension, Claudia Mewald argues that the production of multimodal texts by language learners can foster not just linguistic growth but also a more holistic development of mind, heart, selfhood, and identity. Central to this argument is the presentation of a framework of intercomprehension methodology (FRINCOM), which is described in detail in the chapter. Intercomprehension involves engaging with, and responding to input in less familiar languages, by making use of all available resources, ranging from existing linguistic knowledge, skills and strategies, to contextual cues and knowledge of the world. The framework put forward in the chapter consists of six main elements, namely: authenticity, sensitivity, scaffolding awareness, strategies and autonomy, all of which are discussed in the chapter. The potential of the framework is then illustrated with refernence to example multimodal texts that were produced by learners, aged 6 to 14. These examples demonstrate both the wealth of resources that multilingual learners can bring into the language classroom, and the value of explicit engagement with them.

Three university students chatting outdoors
Study abroad programmes do not always deliver the expected results. Gianna Hessel explains why. (Photo by Buro Millennial on

Second language self-efficacy and engagement in intercultural interactions among study abroad learners

Low L2 self-efficacy might prevent even linguistically proficient learners from fully benefiting from study-abroad experiences

Language education theory has typically focussed on classroom-based interactions, but the chapter by Gianna Hessel, entitled Study abroad: L2 self-efficacy and engagement in intercultural interactions, directs our attention to the experiences of people learning languages in study abroad contexts. Hessel’s chapter is based on meticulous and ground-breaking quantitative research on ERASMUS+ study-abroad learners, which aimed to understand how their perceptions of their L2 linguistic competence connected to their willingness to engage in interactions with people in their host contexts, and ultimately to linguistic development. Her findings show that low levels of L2 self-efficacy might hinder interactions and relationships in the second language, even among learners who have sufficiently developed linguistic proficiency to live in a foreign-language environment. In doing so, Hessel’s study demonstrates the importance of affective variables in language education, and also raises implications about the design of study abroad programmes.

Older man sitting on wooden bench, with young people in the background
Sonja Babic and Kyle Talbot discuss how third age language teachers and teacher educators continue to contribute to language education (Photo by Huy Phan on )

Language educators crossing the boundaries between work life, personal life and retirement

Language education professionals continue to make valuable professional contributions after retirement age

The last chapter in this set, by Sonja Babic and Kyle Talbot, two doctoral students at the University of Graz, extends the scope of language teaching psychology beyond the demarcation lines set by the work/life and work/retirement boundaries. The authors take a cue from Rebecca Oxford et al.’s (2018) call for more research on third age language educators. By drawing on data from interviews with third age language teachers and teacher educators, they raise awareness of the fact that many language education professionals continue to make valuable professional contributions after retirement age. Their study highlights how each of the participants navigated the micro-transition between personal- and work-life cycles, and the macro-transition between working- and retirement lives. The authors also make a cogent case for further study of this unique population, which has only recently began to receive empirical attention, and point at the implications such research can have for enhancing the wellbeing of these teachers and teacher educators.

About the book

With the addition of these three chapters in the collection, the edited volume now consists of 13 extremely interesting chapters that challenge established ways of thinking about language education (as the editor, I am probably biased, but I hope you will agree with me after you have read the brief presentations I’ve been posting in this blog). You can read more about these chapters in the posts below:

I expect that the book itself will be published towards the end of 2019, and it is my sincere hope that it triggers some discussion about the what language education is, what it involves, and who it is about. But this discussion needn’t wait until the publication of the book! If you have any thoughts or reactions you’d like to share please do so in the comment space below, and also do feel free to use the social sharing buttons to share this content with anyone who might find it interesting.

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