Pagina principale Teaching and learning languages : a guide

Teaching and learning languages : a guide

, , ,
"... A resource for reflecting on languages education, the role of languages teachers, and their programs and pedagogies in relation to contemporary educational understandings and contexts".
Anno:
2009
Editore:
Curriculum Corporation
Lingua:
english
Pagine:
104
ISBN 10:
1742000819
ISBN 13:
9781742000817
File:
PDF, 2.31 MB
Download (pdf, 2.31 MB)

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The Myths of Reparations

Anno:
1978
Lingua:
english
File:
PDF, 2.10 MB
The Guide is designed to lead language education in new directions and to
help create inspiring learning environments. It invites teachers of languages to
think about the content, process and outcomes of their work in teaching, learning
and assessment. It is a resource for reflecting on languages education, the role of
languages teachers, and their programs and pedagogies in relation to contemporary
educational understandings and contexts.

Teaching and Learning Languages – A Guide

Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide is a key part of the Australian
Government’s commitment to educating young Australians. The Government
recognises that the skills and knowledge necessary to communicate and work
with diverse languages and cultures must be a core element of the Australian
school curriculum.

Teaching and
Learning Languages
A Guide

The Guide presents recent work by members of the languages teaching profession,
both teachers and researchers, based in classrooms, schools and universities.
It pulls together the expertise that is available at a number of levels in this country
in order to ensure an enriching language learning experience for all Australian
students and to further develop Australia’s international potential and capability.
The Guide is available, and is supported by additional materials, at
www.tllg.unisa.edu.au

Angela Scarino and Anthony J Liddicoat

Angela Scarino and Anthony J Liddicoat
ISBN 978-1-74200-081-7

9

781742 000817

Teaching and
Learning Languages
A Guide
Angela Scarino and
Anthony J Liddicoat

Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide was funded by the Australian Government
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
ISBN: 978 1 74200 081 7
SCIS order number: 1393292
Full bibliographic details are available from Curriculum Corporation.
Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide is also available on the website
www.tllg.unisa.edu.au
Produced by Curriculum Corporation
PO Box 177
Carlton South Vic 3053
Australia
Tel: (03) 9207 9600
Fax: (03) 9910 9800
Email: info@; curriculum.edu.au
Website: www.curriculum.edu.au

Statement
© Commonwealth of Australia 2009
This work is copyright. It may be reproduced in whole or in part for study or training purposes
subject to the inclusion of an acknowledgment of the source and no commercial usage or sale.
Reproduction for purposes other than those indicated above, requires the prior written permission
from the Commonwealth.
Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to Commonwealth
Copyright Administration, Attorney General’s Department, Robert Garran Offices, National Circuit,
Barton ACT 2600 or posted at www.ag.gov.au/cca

Disclaimer
The views expressed in the publication do not necessarily represent the views of the
Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
Printed by GEON Impact Printing Pty Ltd

Foreword
The Australian Government is committed to languages
education in Australian schools and recognises the important
role it plays in equipping young Australians with the knowledge,
skills and capabilities to communicate and work with our
international neighbours.
The Government is making a substantial investment in
Australia’s schools. The new National Education Agreement
will provide $18 billion to the states and territories over the
period 2009 to 2012, offering flexibility to target resources
towards key areas such as languages education.
The development of Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide represents a key part of the
Government’s commitment to support teachers in delivering quality language education programs
for all young Australians.
Learning a language should involve understanding how languages and cultures are a fundamental
part of people’s lives. Teaching languages from an intercultural perspective improves the engagement
and learning outcomes of students of languages in Australian schools.
This Guide is a multi-modal package that is accompanied by a series of web-based materials
which provide online practical examples of how the principles for developing intercultural language
learning outlined in this Guide can be incorporated in language education. The online examples
are drawn from the work of experienced language teachers who are working to implement new
ways of teaching and learning in their classrooms.
This Guide is a significant new resource for teachers, schools and communities, which can be used
to create inspiring language learning environments.
It will give students the opportunity to come to understand their own place in the world through
their language learning, and will help them to use their learning to develop Australia’s economic,
social and cultural relations in an increasingly globalised world.
I commend this Guide and hope teachers will find it useful in their language teaching endeavours.

Julia Gillard
Minister for Education

Acknowledgments
The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of those who participated in the project
to produce this Guide and the supporting online materials.
Development of Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide was funded by the Department
of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations under the Australian Government’s School
Languages Program (SLP). It supports some of the actions recommended in the National Statement
for Languages Education in Australian Schools and the National Plan for Languages Education
in Australian Schools 2005–2008 developed through the Ministerial Council on Education,
Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) relating to the strengthening and promoting
of quality teaching and learning practices and supporting the provision of high quality, ongoing
and structured professional learning programs.
The project was developed by the Research Centre for Languages and Cultures (RCLC)
at the University of South Australia.
Thanks to Jim Dellit for his editorial work on the Guide, and to Ari Bickley for the design.

The Project Advisory Group
Judy Gordon, Thomas Natera and Georgia Bray, representing the Australian Government Department
of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR)
Joe van Dalen, representing the Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations
(AFMLTA)
Meredith Beck and Ghislaine Barbe, representing a non-government education jurisdiction
Tamara Romans, representing a state/territory government education jurisdiction
Jacqueline von Wersch, representing an ethnic/community languages school provider
Ann Bliss, representing a national parents’ body

The RCLC project team
Associate Professor Angela Scarino (Project Director)
Professor Anthony J Liddicoat (Project Director)
Dr Jonathan Crichton
Dr Timothy J Curnow
Jim Dellit
Michelle Kohler
Kate Loechel
Nives Mercurio
Dr Anne-Marie Morgan
Andrew Scrimgeour
Dr Kazuyo Taguchi

Contents
1 Orientation of the Guide
Purpose����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 1
Using the Guide����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 3
Developing a personal, professional ‘stance’����������������������������������������������������������������������� 4
Working with complexity and change��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 5
Understanding contemporary contexts������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 7

2 Language, Culture and Learning
What is language?����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 15
What is culture?��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 19
Understanding learning���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 24
Understanding language learning������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 30
Intercultural language learning����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 33

3 Teaching and Learning
Classroom interactions����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 37
The nature of interactional language�������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 41
Tasks and task-types��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 45
Student engagement������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 49
The diversity of learners and their life-worlds�������������������������������������������������������������������� 50
Scaffolding learning��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 54
Technologies in language teaching and learning��������������������������������������������������������������� 55

4 Resourcing and Materials
The purposes of resources������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 57
Selecting resources����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 59
Authentic resources���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 60
Adapting resources���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 61
Contemporary resources��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 62

Using resources critically��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 63
Relating resources to each other��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 64
Learners as resources�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 65
Developing a resource bank��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 66

5 Assessing
The purposes of assessment��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 67
The assessment cycle�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 71

6 Programming and Planning
Planning language programs�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 77
Long-term and short-term planning��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 82
Planning interactions�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 85
Personalising learning experiences������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 85

7 Evaluating Language Programs
Evaluation for program renewal��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 87
Evaluation in context�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 88
Purpose and scope of evaluation�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 89
Evaluation as inquiry�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 90

8 Developing a Professional Learning Culture
Commitment to growth and development������������������������������������������������������������������������ 91
Creating a culture of professional learning������������������������������������������������������������������������ 92
Contexts of a professional learning culture����������������������������������������������������������������������� 93
Collaborating for a professional learning culture��������������������������������������������������������������� 95

���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
98
9
Further Resources

�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
100
10
References

1
Orientation
of the Guide
What is language?
Purpose
Purpose
This Guide is a resource for languages teachers to use in reflecting on languages education,
their role as languages teachers, and their programs and pedagogies in relation to contemporary
educational understandings and contexts. It invites teachers to think about the content, process
and outcomes of their work in teaching, learning and assessment. The Guide is based on recent
work by members of the languages teaching profession: teachers and researchers based in
classrooms, schools and universities.
At times this Guide describes the field of languages teaching today generally; at times it describes
actual practice in schools and in classrooms; and at times it reports on current research and thinking
in languages education. At all times, it seeks to inspire members of our profession to challenge
long-held beliefs about the teaching of languages with the intention of confirming their worth
or changing them.

1

A key message of this Guide is that teachers need to analyse their personal, professional teaching
'stance': the professional big-picture understanding and position they bring to their work which
shapes their programs and pedagogies. This Guide encourages teachers to consider their stance
and develop it with regard to:
•	professionalism and knowledge of education, teaching and learning
•	personal and professional experience and self-understandings
•	understandings of new and different contexts for students, teachers and communities
and their impacts on learning
•	contemporary understandings, including complexities and ambiguities, of languages
and pedagogy
•	the relationship of experience and past practices to new situations and new understandings
as their stance develops and changes.
None of our personal and professional beliefs, perspectives or commitments are ever static,
and the Guide addresses those aspects that teachers think about when considering the development
of a personal and professional stance. At the end of each section, there are questions to encourage
consideration of these aspects in relation to stance and to invite teachers to make changes to their
thinking and to the practices of their work.

A key message of this Guide is that teachers need to analyse
their personal, professional teaching stance: the professional
big-picture understanding and position they bring to their work
which shapes their programs and pedagogies.

2

Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

Using the Guide
The Guide is supported by additional materials available at www.tllg.unisa.edu.au. These
materials consist of a number of related resources designed to support teachers in developing
a teaching stance and the practices that follow. Each section of this Guide is supported online
with examples from classroom practice. The examples act as companion guides to the information
provided in each section and present teaching activities in six languages. These online resources are
provided as examples of what real teachers do when they are working in real contexts. They can be
used for reflection on teaching, learning, assessment and evaluation. We know that teachers learn
best from other teachers and so we encourage teachers to look across the sets of examples in all
languages rather than just in languages they teach.
The Guide does not purport to be a methodology manual, though the online examples
of programs will enable languages teachers to relate ideas discussed in the Guide to their daily
classroom practices. The nature of teaching and learning means that teachers are, by nature
and necessity, professionals who think about their work with their particular students in their
particular context, and who learn and change through thinking and reflecting on practice.
This Guide provides an opportunity to engage with the increasingly sophisticated theoretical
and practical work of language teaching and learning, and using languages for communication
in increasingly diverse settings.
Curriculum material has often come to teachers as prescriptive practices that they have been
required to adopt and adapt. But teaching and learning are complex processes that require
sensitive judgments and decisions to be made in context. Prescriptions do not necessarily work.
For this reason, this Guide focuses on developing understanding and professional self-awareness
rather than prescription (Pinar, 2003). It is a resource for members of the profession to use as they
continuously consider their own experiences in light of the ideas discussed and their own classroom
practice, and their own self-understanding as teachers, as part of the ongoing development of their
personal, professional stance.
Some teachers may wish to work through the Guide chapter by chapter on their own or with
a group of colleagues. Others may just wish to work on particular aspects of their practice, though
it is likely that working on one aspect of teaching and learning will naturally lead to a consideration
of others, in an ongoing cycle of reflection.

Orientation of the Guide

3

Developing a personal, professional ‘stance’
key ideas
• Stance describes the positions that teachers take toward their work as languages
teachers and to their knowledge and pedagogies
• A teacher’s stance is both personal and professional
• A teacher’s stance changes and evolves over time and in response
to changing contexts

‘Stance’ is a term adopted by Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Susan Lytle, researchers in education
in the USA. They describe common understandings of stance, including body postures, political
positions and the various perspectives that researchers and educators use to frame their questions,
observations and reports.

In our work, we offer the term … stance to describe the positions
teachers and others who work together … take toward knowledge
and its relationships to practice. We use the metaphor of stance to
suggest both orientational and positional ideas, to carry allusions
to the physical placing of the body as well as the intellectual activities
and perspectives over time. In this sense, the metaphor is intended
to capture the ways we stand, the ways we see, and the lenses we
see through. Teaching is a complex activity that occurs within webs
of social, historical, cultural and political significance … Stance provides
a kind of grounding within the changing cultures of school reform
and competing political agendas.
(Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999:288–289)

4

Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

The act of teaching and learning is intricate, not something that can be reduced to a few
methodological prescriptions. Furthermore, the role of teachers is not one of simply receiving
prescriptions from others that are subsequently ‘implemented’ in their context. Rather, teachers
come to the act of teaching and learning with their own dynamic framework of knowledge and
understanding of their own personal, social, cultural and linguistic make-up and that of their
students. Their experiences, beliefs, ethical values, motivations and commitments are part of their
framework of knowledge and contribute to their stance and identity as a teacher (Scarino 2007).
In teaching, the teacher’s framework interacts with those of their students as they work together
to develop new understandings.
This framework is continuously evolving, based on our distinctive experience and reflection on that
experience. It provides the frame of reference through which, in day-to-day teaching, teachers create
learning experiences for students and interpret and make meaning of their learning. It is through this
framework that teachers appraise the value of their own teaching and new ideas with which they
might wish to experiment, to further develop or change their ways of teaching.
In reading and working with the Guide, teachers will bring their own frameworks of understanding
to make sense of their work. The ideas and understandings that follow are a way of contributing to
the professional dialogue that teachers, as educators, have with themselves in developing a personal
stance and with colleagues and others in developing a collective professional stance.

Working with complexity and change
key ideas
•	The nature, contexts and purposes of using language and languages in our multilingual
and multicultural world is increasingly complex and teachers need to work with
this complexity
•	The key concepts that are central to teaching and learning languages are constantly
evolving and need to be open to deeper understanding

Our work as teachers of languages has always been complex and subject to change. In developing
a contemporary stance, languages teachers must consider and respond to notions of complexity
and change. Just as teaching cannot be reduced to methods or prescriptions, the key concepts
of ‘language’, ‘languages’, ‘culture’ and ‘communication’ cannot, and should not, be reduced
to something simple.

Orientation of the Guide

5

The nature, contexts and purposes of using language and languages for communication are
increasingly complex and ever-changing in our multilingual and multicultural world where people
use different languages and dialects for different purposes in a range of different contexts. The need
to communicate (that is, create and exchange meanings with diverse peoples both within and across
cultures, and use a variety of communication technologies) requires a sophisticated understanding
and use of language and languages. Through the experience of communicating across cultures and
reflecting on that process, people develop an intercultural capability and sensitivity.
Developing such a capability means interpreting and exchanging meanings in the variable contexts
of human communication and interaction, both within a particular language and culture, and
across languages and cultures. It involves coming to understand the nature of the interrelationship
of language, culture and learning and their connection to the meanings, practices and identities
of communicators as fundamental to language use in its variable contexts. From an educational
perspective, this means that the starting point in developing a stance for the teaching and learning
of languages must be an expansive understanding of language(s), culture(s), their interrelationship
and a process of communication that takes into account this variability. Theories and practices
related to language teaching, learning and assessment are subject to constant inquiry and change.
This means recognising that understanding these concepts, theories and practices, and developing/
changing a personal, professional stance, is a matter of ongoing professional inquiry.

6

Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

Understanding contemporary contexts
key ideas
•	Context of time and place influences purpose, shape and orientation
of teachers' role in education
•	Changes in the context of education influence teachers' personal
and professional stance
•	Globalisation has focused the importance of developing capabilities
in languages-literacy-communication and intercultural engagement
•	Languages have a central role in Australian education because they mediate
the interpretation and making of meaning among people
•	Advances in technology alter the way people use language, communicate
and relate with each other, with information and with learning (especially
the learning of languages)

All educational thinking and discussion is set in a particular context of time and place that
influences their purpose, shape and orientation. This section of the Guide explores:
•	some contextual understandings of our contemporary world
•	the changing educational landscape
•	Australia and the world of languages education
as a means of considering the contemporary influences on our personal, professional stance.

Orientation of the Guide

7

Globalisation
Globalisation, including the growth of a globalised knowledge-based economy has brought
about unprecedented access to information, global conversations and relationships, and economic
growth and, in some places, exploitation. The rapid movement of people, ideas and knowledge
has highlighted the need to better understand the diverse nature of society, cultures and values.
Globalisation has increased the diversity of teachers, students and community members engaged
in education, in face-to-face and ‘virtual’ learning situations, who bring extraordinarily diverse
histories, experiences, and backgrounds to learning. Australian educators are increasingly aware
that knowledge is not made only in English, nor made available only in English. There is an
increasing emphasis on the ‘internationalisation’ of education, which brings a variety of real
and virtual interactions.
The reality of globalisation has brought an increasing recognition that people in all spheres of
life, and particularly in education, need to develop an intercultural capability, that is, being able to
negotiate meanings across languages and cultures. It has also brought an increasing realisation that
a capability in English only is insufficient, despite its status in the world, and that being a bilingual,
or indeed multilingual, person has become the norm. Contemporary information and communication
technologies have become integral to people’s lives, and increasingly mediate learning, knowledge
and communication. They have altered the very way people relate with each other, with knowledge,
with the economy and, most particularly, with learning.
Languages have a central role in this context because they mediate the interpretation and making
of meaning among people within and across languages.

A changing educational landscape
Recognising the linguistic and cultural diversity in our world doesn’t just mean giving a place
to languages in the curriculum. It alters the very fabric of education, emphasising that languages
are integral to the national curriculum and education as a whole.
National collaboration sustains the diversity of languages formally taught and assessed in Australia
and the recognition, nationally, of multiple purposes of assessment opens up the possibility of
moving beyond a view of outcomes as levers of change to a focus on understanding and working
with the complex interrelationship of teaching, learning and assessment.

8

Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

Languages education is an integral part of education in general. An intercultural orientation
to education moves it from a monolingual to a multilingual phenomenon. Some points to note
about the current educational landscape and understandings about learning are:
•	that learners, teachers and their relationships are central to languages learning
as a ‘peopled’ activity (Candlin 1999)
•	that learning focuses on what learners with their distinctive linguistic, social and cultural
profiles, experience, interests, desires, motivations and values bring to their learning
environments and how that shapes their interactions with those learning environments
•	that teachers, with their schools and wider communities, create a culture of language
learning and using in the classroom and beyond
•	that teachers need to come to know their students profoundly in their social, cultural,
linguistic as well as cognitive diversity as the basis for developing and sustaining learning
•	that teachers need to have an expanded view of language, culture and the relationship
between them
•	that teachers need to recognise that languages change, depending on the context
in which you use them
•	that the act of teaching languages entails teachers and students bridging home
and peer cultures, as well as their cultural life in Australia and the cultures of the
communities making connections between the language being learned.

Australia – national initiatives in education
A number of developments are taking place at policy and curriculum level that will influence
languages education in distinctive ways. Much collaborative development has also taken place
in languages education in recent times at a national level and further development is anticipated.
Teachers of languages need to continue to engage with these developments and use them
as a basis for reflection on their work in their particular contexts.

Orientation of the Guide

9

The new National Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, a pivotal declaration
in Australian education was released in December 2008. Languages have been included as a key
learning area in the National Declaration, agreed by Ministers of Education of all states and territories
of Australia. In 2007, a report prepared by the states and territories of Australia stated that:

… skills for future participation in society must include
intercultural engagement, communication and understanding,
recognising the diversity in the Australian workforce and the
significant number of Australians employed in companies
operating globally.
(Council for the Australian Federation, 2007:17 – emphasis added)

This report also, appropriately, includes languages among the learning areas that it proposes
for all students. What is clear from the current context is that languages are integral to education
in general and, as such, should continue to be an essential part of the learning experience of all
students in Australian education.
Another dimension of the changing educational landscape in Australia is the contemporary work
on a national curriculum resulting from collaboration between the states and territories and the
Commonwealth and supported by the establishment of a National Curriculum Board. Languages
have been highlighted as one of the areas to be considered in early discussions in this context.
National collaboration is a key feature of languages education in Australia and has always been
based on a national desire to harness the full range of linguistic expertise available across all states
and territories and to share the load in extending the range of languages offered.
One of the most distinctive accomplishments of languages education in Australia is that through
collaboration nationally, across sectors and across states, and through a range of providers and
technologies, the educational systems continue to offer a range and diversity of languages at
different levels (beginners, continuers, background speakers) that are formally taught and assessed
at upper secondary level (Mercurio and Scarino, 2005). The commitment to continuing to sustain
and develop this degree of diversity is fundamental.

10 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

At a policy level, this has been achieved through policy statements such as the National Policy
on Languages (Lo Bianco, 1987); the Australian Language and Literacy Policy (Department of
Employment, Education and Training, 1991); the report: Asian languages and Australia’s economic
future (Council of Australian Governments, 1994) and its accompanying National Asian Languages
and Studies in Australian Schools (NALSAS) strategy. Most recently, at a policy level, national
collaboration across states, territories and the Commonwealth has centred on the National statement
for languages education in Australian schools and the National plan for languages education
in Australian schools 2005–2008 (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training
and Youth Affairs, 2005).
At a curriculum level, there is a longstanding history of national collaboration which began with
the publication of the Australian Language Levels (ALL) Guidelines (Scarino, Vale, McKay & Clark,
1988), and continued with collaborative, national curriculum development in four specific languages
(Italian, Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese); national collaboration at senior secondary level, through
the National Assessment Framework for Languages at Senior Secondary Level (NAFLaSSL); and
the Collaborative Curriculum and Assessment Framework for Languages (CCAFL). A further highly
significant, national collaborative development was Australia’s Indigenous Languages Framework
(SSABSA, 1996a, 1996b). Since 2005, national collaboration has continued predominantly in
the areas of research and professional development through national level projects funded by
the Australian Government through its School Languages Program. These projects include work in
investigating the state and nature of language learning in schools, teacher education, investigating
Indigenous languages programs, the promotion of language learning, improving the national
coordination and quality assurance of languages programs in after-hours ethnic schools, leading
languages and implementing professional standards.
In addition, a large professional learning project, the Intercultural Language Teaching and Learning
in Practice (June 2006 – December 2007), was funded under the Australian Government Quality
Teaching Program to allow teachers to learn about intercultural language learning and conduct
classroom-based investigations incorporating this orientation towards language teaching and
learning (www.iltlp.unisa.edu.au).
National initiatives in assessment have recognised that assessment serves multiple purposes,
only one of which is the reporting of learning outcomes. Additionally and fundamentally, assessment
provides information that teachers, parents and other interested parties need to improve students’
learning (assessment for learning). This usability of assessment information to improve student
learning depends on richness and quality which entails much more than simply articulating
outcomes. These two purposes of assessment can no longer be seen as separate. Rather, they
are both a part of the complex interrelationship of contemporary teaching, learning and
assessment processes.

Orientation of the Guide

11

Our profession has identified assessment and reporting of languages learning as a priority in our
own further professional learning. As languages education emerges from the era of outcomes
framed exclusively in terms of the typical curriculum development categories (ie skills, discourse
forms, tasks, linguistic features, etc), there is increasing emphasis on the ultimate value of learning
languages; that is, what is it that learners should/can take away from an experience of learning their
particular language?
For over a decade, the focus of educational systems has been on prescribing curriculum and
assessment requirements. What is needed now is a shift towards understanding how the complex
processes of curriculum design, teaching, learning and assessment actually work in particular contexts.

Early childhood and primary education
The focus, at a national level, on early childhood education and the centrality of the primary years
involves discussion about important learning experiences for all young children. Languages will
need to be part of this discussion, recognising both the range of languages that children bring
to education and the need to expand the integrated language-literacy-and-communication
repertoires of all students. In the past two decades, there has been a major increase in languages
learning in the primary setting and this remains an important area for development.

Central role of teachers
Research highlights the central role of teachers in students’ learning. At a national level,
there has been an important recognition of the central role that teachers play in students’
learning. The teachers’ charter released by Teaching Australia in 2008 describes the complex
professional, social and ethical role of teachers. The Australian Federation of Modern Language
Teachers’ Associations (AFMLTA), the major professional body for the language teaching profession,
has developed professional standards for the accomplished teaching of languages (Kohler, Harbon,
McLaughlin & Liddicoat, 2006; Liddicoat, 2006). The AFMLTA’s statement of standards recognises
both the value, and the professional and ethical responsibilities, of language teachers.
The overarching standard is described as follows.

12 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

Being an accomplished teacher of languages and cultures means
being a person who knows, uses and teaches language and culture
in an ethical and reflective way. It involves a continuous engagement
with and commitment to learning, both as a teacher and as a lifelong
learner. It means more than teaching knowledge of languages and
cultures and includes teaching learners to value, respect and engage
with languages and cultures in their own lives and to interact with
others across linguistic and cultural borders. It means creating a culture
of learning which approaches language, culture and learning with
respect, empathy, commitment, enthusiasm and personal responsibility.
(Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations, 2005)

These aspirational standards developed by the profession, for the profession, describe the kind
of teaching that will promote learning in our current times and shape the personal, professional
stances adopted by languages teachers to their work, their students and their communities.

Role of parents and caregivers
The role of parents as participants in the educational experiences and decision-making of their child,
in creating a culture of learning, has a distinctive flavour and purpose in languages education.
Contemporary understandings of education emphasise that learning is both continuous and lifelong
and that it occurs at home, in the community, in school and beyond. Parents are not only a child’s
first educators, they continue to shape the learning and attitudes to learning of their children into
adulthood. Parents seek opportunities to participate in, and contribute to schooling by sharing
curriculum related information, knowledge, experience and skills, and through the understandings
they have of their children and their aspirations for them. The professional stance adopted by
teachers to their role and work will recognise parents and other community members as active
contributors to learning, ensuring that parents receive meaningful information about the curriculum
and teaching program, and about their child’s learning and progress, so they can participate in their
child’s learning, achievements and decision-making.

Orientation of the Guide

13

In relation to learning languages, parents have distinctive roles and responsibilities. In intercultural
language teaching and learning, parents can support their children in analysing cultural and linguistic
similarities and differences within and across languages and cultures. Parents and community
members can offer historical and regional perspectives on cultural and linguistic developments
and engage in developing intercultural understanding with their children. Some parents will also
be users of the language their child is learning and their contribution will be directly useful. Parents
who speak other languages will be able to support their children in developing a broad linguistic
understanding of how languages work and of interactions across language and culture generally.
In all families, the child’s language learning affords the opportunity to parents to work with their
child to learn something new together by relating their own knowledge of history, geography and
social systems and their own understandings of language and culture.

Questions for reflection
1	Think about your own personal, professional stance as a languages teacher. How does it reflect
your particular personal social, cultural and linguistic make-up and values?
2	To what extent do your current beliefs, ethical values, motivations and commitments reflect
the contemporary and global educational landscape?
3	What gaps in your current knowledge and understanding do you instinctively feel you need
to investigate by learning more about? How does this influence your stance?
4	How do you currently engage with parents in relation to language teaching and learning?
To what extent do you utilise the diversity of family experiences?

14 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

2
Language, Culture
and Learning
What is language?
What is language?
key ideas
•	Language is more than just the code: it also involves social practices of interpreting
and making meanings
•	The way we teach language reflects the way we understand language
•	What is learned in the language classroom, and what students can learn,
results from the teacher’s understandings of language
•	There is a fundamental relationship between language and culture
•	It is important to consider how language as code and language as social practice
are balanced in the curriculum

15

Understanding language
Language is at the heart of language teaching and learning and teachers need to constantly
reflect on what language is. This is because our understandings of language affect the ways
we teach languages.

Language as code
Traditionally, language is viewed as a code. In this view, language is made up of words and a series
of rules that connect words together. If language is only viewed in this way, language learning
just involves learning vocabulary and the rules for constructing sentences. This understanding of
language is, however, a very narrow one. It sees language as fixed and finite and does not explore
the complexities involved in using language for communication.

Language as social practice
An understanding of language as ‘open, dynamic, energetic, constantly evolving and personal’
(Shohamy, 2007:5) encompasses the rich complexities of communication. This expanded view of
language also makes educational experience more engaging for students. Language is not a thing
to be studied but a way of seeing, understanding and communicating about the world and each
language user uses his or her language(s) differently to do this. People use language for purposeful
communication and learning a new language involves learning how to use words, rules and
knowledge about language and its use in order to communicate with speakers of the language.
This understanding of language sees a language not simply as a body of knowledge to be learnt but
as a social practice in which to participate (Kramsch, 1994). Language is something that people do
in their daily lives and something they use to express, create and interpret meanings and to establish
and maintain social and interpersonal relationships.
If language is a social practice of meaning-making and interpretation, then it is not enough
for language learners just to know grammar and vocabulary. They also need to know how that
language is used to create and represent meanings and how to communicate with others and to
engage with the communication of others. This requires the development of awareness of the nature
of language and its impact on the world (Svalberg, 2007).
Our understanding of language, as languages educators, becomes part of our professional stance
and, as such, influences our curriculum, planning and classroom pedagogies. Teachers who view
language simply as code make acquiring grammar and vocabulary the primary, if not the only,
goal of language learning. Within such a limited approach, students do not begin to engage with
language as a communicative reality but simply as an intellectual exercise or as a work requiring
memorising.

16 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

A professional stance that understands language
as a social practice requires students to engage in tasks
in which they create and interpret meaning, and in which
they communicate their own personal meanings and
develop personal connections with the new language.

The understanding of language that is part of our stance also affects what happens in the classroom
and the ways in which learners begin to understand the relationship between their own languages
and the languages of their learning. If the language learning program focuses on the code, then it
models a theory of language in which the relationship between two languages is simply a matter
of code replacement, where the only difference is a difference in words. If the language pedagogies
focus on the interpretation and creation of meaning, language is learned as a system of personal
engagement with a new world, where learners necessarily engage with diversity at a personal level.
Within a professional stance that understands language as a social practice, teachers need to ensure
that students are provided with opportunities to go beyond what they already know and to learn
to engage with unplanned and unpredictable aspects of language. Learning language as a complex,
personal communication system involves ongoing investigation of language as a dynamic system and
of the way it works to create and convey meanings. This involves learners in analysis and in talking
analytically about language. Kramsch (1993:264) notes that: ‘talk about talk is what the classroom
does best and yet this potential source of knowledge has not been sufficiently tapped, even in
communicatively oriented classrooms’. The emphasis on ongoing investigation and analysis assumes
that learners are involved in learning which promotes exploration and discovery rather than only being
passive recipients of knowledge as it is transmitted to them by others. These learners require learning
skills which will give them independence as users and analysers of language (Svalberg, 2007).

Language, Culture and Learning

17

Language and culture
Understanding the nature of the relationship between language and culture is central to the process
of learning another language. In actual language use, it is not the case that it is only the forms of
language that convey meaning. It is language in its cultural context that creates meaning: creating
and interpreting meaning is done within a cultural framework. In language learning classrooms,
learners need to engage with the ways in which context affects what is communicated and how.
Both the learner’s culture and the culture in which meaning is created or communicated have an
influence on the ways in which possible meanings are understood. This context is not a single
culture as both the target language and culture and the learner’s own language and culture are
simultaneously present and can be simultaneously engaged. Learning to communicate
in an additional language involves developing an awareness of the ways in which culture
interrelates with language whenever it is used (Liddicoat, Papademetre, Scarino, & Kohler, 2003).

A matter of balance
In developing a professional stance to language teaching, it is important to consider how language
as code and language as social practice are balanced in the curriculum. In developing language
capabilities, students need to develop their knowledge and understanding of the code and also
to come to see language as a way of communicating between people. Both of these goals need
to be present in language teaching and learning from the beginning.

Questions for reflection
1	Consider the tasks you have used for a particular class or module. What do these tasks show
about what you have been emphasising in your own teaching? Do these show a balance
between treating language as a code and as a social practice of meaning-making and
interpreting?
2	How might you develop new tasks for use in the classroom which present a more balanced
or more elaborated understanding of language?

18 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

What is culture?
key ideas
•	Culture can be seen as practices or as information
•	Culture plays a central role in the way meanings are interpreted
•	Cultures are characterised by variability and diversity
•	The intercultural is not the same as culture but is a process which goes beyond
the idea of ‘knowing a culture’
•	Culture is fundamentally related to language

The way in which we understand culture, just as the way we understand language, affects the
way we teach culture in language learning. In developing our stance, there are two fundamentally
connected issues to consider:
•	what we understand culture to be
•	how we understand the place of culture within language learning.

Understanding culture
One way in which culture has often been understood is as a body of knowledge that people
have about a particular society. This body of knowledge can be seen in various ways: as knowledge
about cultural artefacts or works of art; as knowledge about places and institutions; as knowledge
about events and symbols; or as knowledge about ways of living. It is also possible to consider this
aspect of culture in terms of information and to teach the culture as if it were a set of the learnable
rules which can be mastered by students. When translated into language teaching and learning,
this knowledge-based view of culture often takes the form of teaching information about another
country, its people, its institutions, and so on. Culture is not, however, simply a body of knowledge
but rather a framework in which people live their lives and communicate shared meanings with
each other.

Language, Culture and Learning

19

Static and dynamic approaches to culture
In thinking about how to teach culture in the language classroom, it is useful to consider how
the ways in which culture is presented can be categorised. The diagram below (adapted from
Liddicoat, 2005) is one way of thinking this through.

Approaches to teaching culture
Artefacts and institutions
Static approach to cultural
learning and content

Static approach to content
Dynamic approach to learning

Facts

Processes

Static approach to learning
Dynamic approach to content

Dynamic approach – active
engagement with practices
of a cultural group

Practices

One dimension is the axis of culture as facts or as processes: that is, whether culture is seen as
a static body of information about characteristics of a society or as a dynamic system through which
a society constructs, represents, enacts and understands itself. The second axis represents the way in
which culture is conceived in terms of educational content. It makes a distinction between artefacts
and institutions and practices: that is, whether culture is seen in terms of the things produced by
a society or as the things said and done by members of a society.
The most static way to approach the teaching of a culture typically emphasises artefacts, institutions
and factual knowledge. Both the approach to culture learning and the content itself are static.
The lower left quadrant adopts a static approach to the nature of learning, but a more dynamic
approach to the content, whereas the top right quadrant is static in terms of its content, but
dynamic in terms of its approach to learning (eg as in activities in which learners engaged with
cultural artefacts in a hands on way). The most dynamic approach to culture is represented
by the lower right hand quadrant, which sees learners actively engage with the practices of
a cultural group.

20 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

The intercultural dimension
Knowledge of cultures is important for facilitating communication with people. Therefore learners
of languages need to learn about and understand cultures. Understanding culture as practices
with which people engage becomes centrally important. This means that in the language
classroom it is not just a question of learners developing knowledge about another culture but of
learners coming to understand themselves in relation to some other culture. This is why there is a
contemporary emphasis on ‘intercultural’. Learning to be intercultural involves much more than just
knowing about another culture: it involves learning to understand how one’s own culture shapes
perceptions of oneself, of the world, and of our relationship with others. Learners need to become
familiar with how they can personally engage with linguistic and cultural diversity.
There is another way to think about culture in language teaching: the distinction between
a cultural perspective and an intercultural perspective (Liddicoat, 2005).
This ‘cultural’ pole implies the development of knowledge about culture which remains external
to the learner and is not intended to confront or transform the learner’s existing identity, practices,
values, attitudes, beliefs and worldview. The ‘intercultural’ pole implies the transformational
engagement of the learner in the act of learning.

The goal of learning is to decentre learners from their own
culture-based assumptions and to develop an intercultural
identity as a result of an engagement with an additional
culture. Here the borders between self and other are
explored, problematised and redrawn.

cultural

intercultural

Language, Culture and Learning

21

Taking an intercultural perspective in language teaching and learning involves more than developing
knowledge of other people and places. It means learning that all human beings are shaped by
their cultures and that communicating across cultures involves accepting both one’s own culturally
conditioned nature and that of others and the ways in which these are at play in communication.
Learning another language can be like placing a mirror up to one’s own culture and one’s own
assumptions about how communication happens, what particular messages mean and what
assumptions one makes in one’s daily life. Effective intercultural learning therefore occurs
as the student engages in the relationships between the cultures that are at play in the language
classroom. Such learning involves much more than just developing knowledge about some other
culture and its language.
The intercultural framework proposed here, then, consists of three intersecting dimensions
for understanding approaches to the teaching of culture in language learning:
•	the nature of content: artefact-practice
•	the nature of learning: fact-process
•	the nature of the educational effect: cultural-intercultural.
In learning about culture in the language classroom, we need to draw on our own experiences
of language and culture as they are encountered when trying to create and interpret meanings.
The ability to learn beyond the classroom is probably more important than any particular information
that students may learn about another culture during their schooling. This is because it is impossible
to teach all of any culture because cultures are variable and diverse. As languages educators, we
know that what we can teach in the classroom is inevitably only a partial picture of a language
and culture. By acknowledging that limitation in our own teaching, we are less likely to develop
stereotypical views of the cultures we are teaching about. Learning how to learn about culture
means that, as people engage with new aspects of culture, they develop their knowledge and
awareness and find ways of acting according to their new learning.

22 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

One way of developing intercultural capabilities is through an interconnected set of activities
involving:
•	noticing cultural similarities and differences as they are made evident through language
•	comparing what one has noticed about another language and culture with what one already
knows about other languages and cultures
•	reflecting on what one’s experience of linguistic and cultural diversity means for oneself:
how one reacts to diversity, how one thinks about diversity, how one feels about diversity
and how one will find ways of engaging constructively with diversity
•	interacting on the basis of one’s learning and experiences of diversity in order to create
personal meanings about one’s experiences, communicate those meanings, explore those
meanings and reshape them in response to others.
A dynamic relationship between language and culture is always at play. It is through exploration
of the interactions of language and culture that this awareness and the ability to act on it can
be developed.

Questions for reflection
1	Collect the tasks you have used to teach and assess culture for a particular class or module.
What do these tasks show about the way you have presented culture in your teaching?
Do they show that you have used culture explicitly to develop the interculturality of your learners
or do they show a focus on acquiring information about others? Do these tasks explicitly include
opportunities for activities such as noticing, comparing, reflecting and interacting?
2	How significantly does your stance as a languages educator focus on interculturality?
3	How might you modify your teaching to focus more on developing the ability
to learn how to learn?
4	How would you explain intercultural language learning to parents?

Language, Culture and Learning

23

Understanding learning
key ideas
•	There are changing views about learning in general and languages in particular
in contemporary education
•	The learning theories that teachers hold implicitly or explicitly influence their teaching,
learning and assessment practices
•	Theories of learning have changed from behaviourism to cognitive and sociocultural
theories. They have been described through acquisition and participation metaphors
and it is recognised that both are needed
•	Language, culture and learning together form the basis for the languages curriculum

Rationale for considering learning theories
In thinking about teaching, learning and assessing in languages education, it is essential for
us to consider the understandings that we hold and the assumptions that we make about learning.
This is because these understandings, be they implicit or explicit, influence our professional stance
as language educators and our teaching, learning and assessment practices. Our understandings
of learning are not simply acquired as knowledge that is put into practice; rather, they develop
over time and in diverse contexts working with diverse students, based on ongoing experience
and reflection.
In such an ongoing process, often ‘dominant theories of the past continue to operate as
the default framework affecting and driving current practices and perspectives’ (Shepard,
2000:4). Thus, it is important to have a sense of past theories as well as more contemporary
conceptualisations of learning as a basis for examining understandings and assumptions about
how students learn. Teachers as social beings construct the world of teaching and learning
according to their values and dispositions. As such, their biographies are central to what they
see and how they interpret their world. As Shepard points out, changing conceptions of learning

24 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

are closely entwined with changing conceptions of curriculum and assessment. She observes that,
at present, there is a mismatch between current views of learning on the one hand, and teaching
and assessment practices on the other. This mismatch warrants further consideration in each
particular context of teaching and learning.
Some teachers find engaging with theory to be of limited direct value and prefer to focus on
practice. Theory versus practice dichotomies do not reflect current understandings as theory and
practice are not seen as opposites. Contemporary understandings show that there is an important
relationship between the two: a good theory can be immensely practical, just as excellent practice
informs theory-making. It is learning theory that provides big picture understandings when teachers
wish to reconsider and potentially change their practices.

Theories of learning
Behaviourism
Behaviourism, one of the most pervasive theories of learning in the 1940s and 1950s was based
on stimulus-response associations. Its focus is on observable behaviour rather than thinking. Learning
within this theory entails the accumulation of atomised bits of knowledge that are sequenced and
ordered hierarchically. Each item of knowledge (called ‘objectives’ in curriculums and programs)
is to be learned independently on the assumption that this makes learning more manageable. All
the constituent parts of learning are to be mastered before proceeding to the next part (objective)
in the hierarchy, gradually leading to a complex whole. In this theory, learning is seen as developing
associations between stimuli and responses. Motivation involves positive reinforcement of the many
small steps in learning and forming good habits. Development is seen as occurring through a series
of required stages, in a step-by-step process.
The major concerns with this theory are that:
•	learning is broken down into ever-smaller, analytic parts that are no longer
integrated to form a whole
•	learning entails much more than a response to a stimulus
•	learning is task and context dependent.

Language, Culture and Learning

25

Cognitive theories
The various cognitive theories, which challenged behaviourism, introduced the concept of
a thinking mind. Learning within these theories is understood as a process of active construction
whereby each individual makes sense of new information in his/her mind by mapping it onto
his/her existing framework of knowledge and understanding. The incorporation of new knowledge
leads to a restructuring of the individual’s conceptual map. These theories also highlight the fact
that learning is context-dependent – that is, ‘situated’ – and that new knowledge can only
be taken in when connected to existing knowledge structures. In this sense, learning involves
a process of making connections – reorganising unrelated bits of knowledge and experience into
new patterns, integrated wholes. Students learn by relating new experiences to what they already
know. Learning involves making new meanings which are generally expressed through language.
In this way learning, language, meaning and thinking are closely related. Within this perspective,
beyond the accumulation and restructuring of information, developing knowledge involves
developing processes of self-monitoring and awareness that we refer to as metacognition.

Sociocultural theories
Whereas cognitive theories highlight thinking as it occurs in the mind of the individual, sociocultural
theories consider the relationship between thinking and the social, cultural, historical and
institutional context in which it occurs. The rediscovery of the work of Vygotsky (1978) has led to
the understanding that learning and development are culturally embedded and socially supported or
mediated processes. As Lantolf, one of the major researchers who has developed sociocultural theory
in the field of applied linguistics, explains:

Sociocultural theory holds that specifically human forms
of mental activity arise in the interactions we enter into with
other members of our culture and with the specific experiences
we have with the artefacts produced by our ancestors and by our
contemporaries. Rather than dichotomising the mental and the
social, the theory insists on a seamless and dialectic relationship
between these two domains. In other words, not only does our
mental activity determine the nature of our social world, but this
world of human relationships and artefacts also determines to
a large extent how we regulate our mental processes.
(Lantolf, 2000:79)

26 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

Learning according to this theory is developed through social interaction with more knowledgeable
or more proficient others. This social process of interaction (through language, as well as other
systems and tools such as gestures, narratives, technologies) mediates the construction of knowledge
and leads to the individual’s development of a framework for making sense of experience that is
congruent with the cultural system in which the learner and learning are located. It is through this
social and cultural process that students are socialised to act, communicate and ‘be’ in ways that
are culturally appropriate to the groups in which they participate as members, and through which
identities are formed.
Within sociocultural theories, development occurs twice: firstly in the process of social interaction
(that is, on an interpersonal plane) and then within the mind of the individual (that is, on an
intrapersonal plane). Language is integral to learning in that it is the major means by which we make
and share meanings with ourselves and with others, and by which we negotiate social relationships
and social values. It is language that makes it possible for people to objectify and conceptualise
themselves in the world – to give names to experiences, and make sense of the environment,
objects, experiences, events and interactions. In short, language is central to the process of
conceiving meaning, which is integral to learning.
Sociocultural theory is concerned with the development of individuals over time. According
to Vygotsky (1978), learning is not fixed but dynamic and developmental. In this sense, the
developmental focus is on an individual’s potential abilities. An individual’s learning potential
depends fundamentally on mediation – that is, learning support or scaffolds that are made available.
These scaffolds might include reminders, examples, models, graphics, illustrations, explanations,
further questions and elaborations, as well as encouragement. They are designed to move the
learning forward in the zone of proximal development. An individual’s learning and achievement
are mediated by supportive interactions with others. This interaction is fundamental to learning.
To understand learners’ learning and potential development, it’s important to take into account
both what they are able to do independently and what they can do, with others, in and through
social interaction – what they are able to do at any particular time and what they continue to learn
to do over time.

Language, Culture and Learning

27

The cultural dimension of sociocultural theories of learning is highlighted by Gee.

A sociocultural approach places a premium on learners’
experiences, social participation, use of mediating devices
(tools and technologies), and position within various activity systems
and communities of practice. The word ‘culture’ has taken on a wide
variety of different meanings in different disciplines. Nonetheless, it is
clear that as part and parcel of our early socialisation in life, we each
learn ways of being in the world, of acting, and interacting, thinking
and valuing and using language, objects and tools that critically
shape our early sense of self. A situated/sociocultural perspective
amounts to an argument that students learn new academic ‘cultures’
at school (new ways of acting, interacting, valuing and using
language, objects and tools) and, as in the case of acquiring any
new culture, the acquisition of these new cultures interacts
formidably with learners’ initial cultures.
(Gee, 2008:100)

Thus the diverse cultural understanding and experiences that students bring are highly influential
and need to be taken into account. The implication of this for us as a profession is that we need
to enlarge our understanding of learners, recognise the extraordinary differences in their social and
cultural life-worlds, experiences, motivations, aspirations, and incorporate this diversity into our
teaching and learning.

Merged theories
While there is much debate within and among cognitive, constructivist and sociocultural theories,
Shepard (2000:6), among others, maintains that it is some kind of combined or ‘merged’ theory that
will end up being ‘accepted as common wisdom and carried into practice’. Learning, then, is socially
constructed, mediated through language and other tools that are congruent with the culture in
which the learner and learning are situated, and develops over time. As Broadfoot says:

28 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

What we can and should do is … recognise that learners are
first and foremost sentient beings and, hence, that the quality
and scope of their learning is likely to be at least as closely
related to their feelings and beliefs about it as it is to their
intellectual capacity.
(Broadfoot, 2005:138–139)

Students bring with them their own conceptions, misconceptions, understandings, experiences
and feelings that shape their learning.

Acquisition and participation
Anna Sfard (1998) discusses learning theory through two metaphors: an acquisition metaphor
and a participation metaphor. Learning within the acquisition metaphor involves the accumulation
of a body of facts or items of knowledge that are abstracted and generalised. The process may
involve either reception or development by construction, but the focus is on ‘gaining ownership’
(Sfard, 1998:5) or possession of something. Within the participation metaphor, learning involves
participating within a community of more knowledgeable others to construct understanding.
Participation takes place in the context of culture through social mediation. The focus within this
metaphor is not on possession but on participation in various kinds of activities characteristic of a
learning area as the learner gradually becomes a member of the subject community. Sfard highlights
that ‘each (metaphor) has something to offer that the other cannot provide’ (Sfard, 1998:10).

Questions for reflection
1	How does your stance to language learning reflect your views on learning?
2	Where do your views on learning come from?
3	How are your views of learning evident in your teaching and assessment practice?
4	What are some implications of these learning theories for your own teaching?
5	Why do you think Sfard emphasises the merging of the two metaphors?
6	Are there dimensions of learning that are not captured by the acquisition
and participation metaphors?

Language, Culture and Learning

29

Understanding language learning
key ideas
•	Second language acquisition and learning theories need to account for language
learning by learners from diverse life-worlds, learning with diverse needs, interests,
motivations and desires in diverse contexts
•	Intercultural language teaching and learning focuses on the relationship between
language, culture and learning
•	Using languages, hence learning languages, is:
– an intrapersonal and interpersonal process of meaning-making
– interactional
– developmental/dynamic
– interpretive, imaginative and creative

Second language learning
Theories that have been developed to account for second language learning, or acquisition,
are closely related to those discussed above as general learning theories.
A behaviourist approach to second language learning focuses on imitation, practice, encouragement
and habit formation. Learning a second language necessarily involves comparison with the learner’s
first language, but the latter is generally perceived as causing ‘interference’ in the learning of
additional one(s). This approach is seen now to offer an insufficient explanation of the complexity
of language learning.
The linguist Noam Chomsky (1957) provided a major critique of behaviourism and its view of
second language learning as imitation and habit formation. He developed a theory of first language
learning that suggests that language learning is an innate capacity – that children are programmed
to acquire language thanks to their in-built knowledge of a Universal Grammar. He called this
knowledge ‘competence’, to distinguish it from what might actually be said on a particular occasion.

30 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

For Chomsky, this abstract knowledge of language consists of a limited set of rules that enabled
an infinite number of sentences to be constructed. While he did not specifically address second
language learning, his theory has been applied to it.
With regard to teaching methodology, behaviourism can be linked to grammar/translation methods
that tend to focus on the parts of grammatical knowledge with less attention on how these parts
might be brought together in communication. The audiovisual and audio-lingual approaches were
based on stimulus-response psychology – that is, training students through practising patterns
to form ‘habits’.
One of the most influential of the innatist theories (ie theories that argue that language is innate,
is that of Stephen Krashen and it is this theory that influenced communicative language teaching
(for more information, see Lightblown & Spada, 1999, Chapter 2).
Within cognitive theories of second language acquisition, learning involves building up the
knowledge system or architecture which over time and through practice becomes automatically
accessible in reception and production. Some theorists within the cognitivist tradition have argued
that interaction is essential for language learning to take place, with the modification of input, by
teachers for example, to render it comprehensible to the learner (see Long, 1983).
The sociocultural perspective on second language learning, based on the work of Vygotsky (1978),
highlights that all learning, including language learning, is based on social interaction (see Lantolf,
2000) with more proficient others, on an interpersonal and intrapersonal plane as described above.
Through the concept of the zone of proximal development, it highlights that language learning
is developmental. The characteristic of ‘prior knowledge’ is very important. It recognises that new
learning is built on prior learning – that is, the ideas and concepts that students bring to learning.
Teachers work with these preconceptions in order to facilitate learning.
The characteristic of ‘metacognition’, or awareness about how we learn, is integral to learning.
Students need to understand how they learn. They need to continuously reflect on their learning and
develop self-awareness of themselves as learners. There is a strong connection between learning and
identity: learners need to negotiate constantly who they are, and how they can be/ should be/ would
like to be in the language and culture they are learning.

Language, Culture and Learning

31

The role of language
The role of language in learning cannot be over-emphasised. Language is the prime resource
teachers have and use for mediating learning. When learning languages, then, teachers and
students are working with language simultaneously as an object of study and as a medium for
learning. In teaching languages, the target language is not simply a new code – new labels for
the same concepts; rather, effectively taught, the new language and culture being learned offer
the opportunity for learning new concepts and new ways of understanding the world.
While these theories of second language learning provide insights on aspects of second language
learning, there is no comprehensive or ‘complete’ theory that can guide the practices of teaching
and learning. Nonetheless, this does not mean that ‘anything goes’. Rather, it becomes necessary
for teachers to become aware of and understand what they do and why, by examining their own,
often tacit, theories about learning in relation to insights from current and best theories, and by
considering the implications of these for teaching. Both teachers and students need to develop
a rich conception of what language and culture are and do, and how they interrelate to interpret
and create meaning.

Questions for reflection
1	How do you elicit and use students’ prior knowledge?
2	How do you understand ‘metacognition’ and how would you discuss this with your students?
3	How does your current stance on languages teaching reflect differing, and perhaps oppositional,
aspects of the theories discussed in this section?

32 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

Intercultural language learning
key ideas
•	The intercultural orientation to language learning is intended to give salience to:
– the fundamental integration of language, culture and learning
in learning and using any language, and
– the reality of at least two languages being constantly at play
in learning an additional language
•	Intercultural language learning can be considered through five principles:
– active construction, making connections, interaction, reflection and responsibility

A stance to languages teaching that has intercultural language learning at its heart involves
developing with students an understanding of their own ‘situatedness’ in their own language and
culture, and the recognition of the same in others. It also involves understanding the way in which
this recognition influences the process of communication within their own language and culture,
and across languages and cultures. Liddicoat, Papademetre, Scarino and Kohler describe it as follows.

Intercultural language learning involves developing with learners
an understanding of their own language(s) and culture(s) in relation
to an additional language and culture. It is a dialogue that allows for
reaching a common ground for negotiation to take place, and where
variable points of view are recognised, mediated, and accepted.
Learners engaged in intercultural language learning develop
a reflective stance towards language and culture, both specifically
as instances of first, second, and additional languages and cultures,
and generally as understandings of the variable ways in which
language and culture exist in the world.
(Liddicoat et al, 2003:46)

Language, Culture and Learning

33

Through intercultural language learning, students engage with and learn to understand and interpret
human communication and interaction in increasingly sophisticated ways. They do so both as
participants in communication and as observers who notice, describe, analyse and interpret ideas,
experiences and feelings shared when communicating with others. In doing so, they engage with
interpreting their own and others’ meanings, with each experience of participation and reflection
leading to a greater awareness of self in relation to others. The ongoing interactive exchange
of meanings, and the reflection on both the meanings exchanged and the process of interaction,
are an integral part of life in our world. As such, intercultural language learning is best understood
not as something to be added to teaching and learning but rather something that is integral
to the interactions that already (and inevitably) takes place in the classroom and beyond.
Liddicoat, Papademetre, Scarino and Kohler (2003) propose a set of five principles which provide
a starting point for developing intercultural language learning, as shown in the (adapted)
table on page 35.

Questions for reflection
1	How would you describe intercultural language learning to a colleague who is new
to teaching languages?
2	What do you see as implications of the five principles for your teaching?

34 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

Principles for developing intercultural language learning
1

Active

Learning involves purposeful, active engagement in interpreting and

construction

creating meaning in interaction with others, and continuously reflecting
on one’s self and others in communication and meaning-making in
variable contexts. For students, it is more than a process of absorption
of facts but continuously developing as thinking, feeling, changing
intercultural beings.

2

Making

Learning is developed firstly through social interactions (interpersonally)

connections

and then internally within the mind of the individual (intrapersonally).
In the interpersonal process previous knowledge is challenged, creating
new insights through which students connect, reorganise, elaborate and
extend their understanding. In this process, constant connections are
made between:
• language and culture and learning
• existing conceptions – new understandings
• language and thinking
• first language – additional language(s)
• previous experiences – new experiences
• the intercultural self – intracultural self – others.

3

Interaction

Learning and communication are social and interactive. Interacting
and communicating interculturally means continuously developing
one’s understanding of the relationship between one’s own framework
of language and culture and that of others. In interaction, participants
engage in a continuous dialogue in negotiating meaning across variable
perspectives held by diverse participants, and continuously learn from and
build upon the experience.

4

Reflection

Learning involves becoming aware of how we think, know and learn
about language (first and additional), culture, knowing, understanding
and their relationship as well as concepts such as diversity, identity,
experiences and one’s own intercultural thoughts and feelings.

5

Responsibility

Learning depends on learners’ attitudes, dispositions and values,
developed over time. In communication, it involves accepting
responsibility for one’s way of interacting with others within and across
languages and for striving continuously to better understand self and
others in the ongoing development of intercultural sensitivity.

Language, Culture and Learning

35

Summary
Taking the above discussion into account, some key dimensions of language learning include
the following.
•	Learning is both intrapersonal (ie takes place within the individual) and interpersonal
(ie accomplished socially in interaction with others). It is also personal in the sense of
pertaining to the person, shaping who they are and their identity. The most important point
here is that learning is about personal meaning-making – how children and young people
make meaning within themselves and with others, in and through learning.
•	Learning is developmental – that is, a continuous process where students engage with
increasing complexity.
•	Learning builds on prior knowledge and cannot occur without attending to students’
prior conceptions/misconceptions.
•	Learning is interactive where interaction is focused on meaning-making.
Learning is mediated primarily through language – all the languages of the students’ repertoires.
•	Feedback is critical to learning – students need to know where they stand and what they need
to do and understand in order to take the next steps in their learning.
•	Learning involves transfer; it needs to be applied in diverse contexts. Through use in different
situations, with different participants etc, students learn how to adjust their learning to the
particular local context, circumstances and requirements.
•	Learning is self-awareness and relates to metacognition (ie learners being aware of how they
learn, and why they learn as they do).
These characteristics of learning are also features of intercultural language learning.
An expanded view of learning and using languages in the context of culture recognises these as
intra- and interpersonal processes of meaning-making: interactional, developmental, interpretive,
imaginative and creative. The implication for teaching is, fundamentally, that learning extends
beyond ‘exposure’ to focus on interaction and the life-worlds of all people involved. As such,
it is a ‘peopled’ view of language learning.

Questions for reflection
1	Consider your view of language learning in the light of the discussion and summary above.
Which characteristics are regular parts of your teaching? In what ways are these characteristics
evident?
2	Which characteristics are less evident in your teaching? In what ways might you incorporate
these characteristics? How will this change your ‘stance’?

36 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

3
Teaching
and Learning
What is language?
Classroom interactions
key ideas
•	Interaction is a social process of meaning-making and interpreting
•	Interaction has an important place in education as it allows active engagement
with ideas and interpretation
•	Interaction must be purposeful and meaningful for participants

37

Interaction as structural
Languages classrooms are fundamentally interactive. However, the nature and quality
of the interaction varies according to the ways in which it is understood and constructed.
Studies of classroom interaction have tended to focus on the organisation of talk in the classroom
and on identifying structures, such as the Initiation-Response-Feedback structure of teacher-student
talk (eg Cazden, 1988; Stubbs, 1986). They have also examined patterns of teacher talk directed to
students (eg the use of questions, feedback, recasts) or of student talk in small group interaction
(eg the use of learners’ clarification requests, comprehension and confirmation checks, how students
interpret instructions). Much work in Communicative Language Teaching has also focused on the
idea that classroom interactions should be ‘natural’, by which it is assumed that they will resemble
conversations in a number of ways: unequal participation, the negotiation of meaning, topic
nomination and negotiation by more than one speaker, and the right of interlocutors to decide
whether to contribute to an interaction or not (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). Such studies assume
that language instruction is enhanced by certain ways of talking designed to provide students
with opportunities for original utterances in the target language, clarifying the meaning of units
of language, and modelling grammatically correct versions of learners’ talk. These studies portray
interaction as any and every opportunity to use the target language and see interaction as successful
if meanings are understood.
What is missing from such a view of interaction is an appreciation of the fact that interaction is
purposeful. People do not talk in order to use language: they use language in order to talk. Therefore
people need to have something to talk about and someone they wish to talk about these things
with. By removing communicative purpose as a relevant consideration in classroom action, language
teaching has tended to construct interaction as a sterile and pointless activity. Moreover, by removing
communicative purpose from interaction, such views make it difficult to determine the educational
purpose of interaction: what learning is being developed, supported or enhanced by interaction?
If the purpose of interaction is solely to use the target language, and any target language use is
unproblematically seen as ‘learning’, then the sorts of learning through which interaction can be
developed are necessarily limited and superficial.

38 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

Interaction as social
More recent understandings of interaction, and its roles and purpose in teaching and learning,
see it as more than just the exchange of target language talk. Interaction is fundamentally a social
process of meaning-making and interpreting, and the educational value of interaction grows out
of developing and elaborating interaction as a social process. It is through interaction that learners
engage with ideas and concepts and the diverse interpretations and understandings of these held
by their interlocutors. In interaction, the participant is both performer and analyser of what is
happening. Educationally purposeful interaction must engage the learner in both roles.
Understanding communication as a social process does not simply mean that language is used
for ‘socialising’, it means that there is a social purpose for the interaction. In classrooms, the
social purpose of interaction is related to learning, through the discussion of ideas, insights and
interpretations. Classroom interaction is more than a simulation of everyday interaction: it is
interaction with learning as its central concern.
A social view of interaction also means considering the participants in interaction in different ways.
It involves interactions between teachers and students and between students and teachers, between
students, between students and others (including the voices of others as they are encountered
through texts, video, digital technologies, etc). Interactions need to bring opportunities to students
to explore their ideas, interpretations and reactions as they encounter the ideas, interpretations and
reactions of others. Such learning involves:
•	using language as a starting point for interaction to generate ideas, interpretations and responses
•	seeking opinions and the reasoning behind these
•	probing responses to elaborate deeper and more complex understandings
•	drawing out, analysing and building on personal experiences
•	eliciting variability in contributions, and engaging with the diversity found as a resource
for further interaction
•	engaging in open dialogues between participants in which all have opportunities to explore
their own perceptions and understandings
•	developing language abilities to meet interactional needs rather than limiting interactional
opportunities to current language capabilities.

Teaching and Learning

39

In planning for interactions, it is important to consider the tasks with which students are to engage.
As each task constructs an experience of language and culture, there needs to be variation in the
types of tasks to which students are exposed over the course of the program. If too much class time
is devoted to a particular type of activity – for example language practice, small group discussion,
text analysis, projects – the range of experiences of language, culture and learning available to the
students will be reduced and skewed towards certain capabilities rather than others.
In considering tasks, it is important to take into account not only what students will do but also what
they will learn. If tasks are understood as activities, then it is the carrying out of the activity itself that
becomes the goal and learning is only understood in relation to whether and how well the task could
be done (that is, knowing the procedure). This form of learning leaves out the deeper conceptual,
reflective elements which are central to the process. To move deeper, it is important to consider
what students will gain from doing the task, what they will take away from the learning experience
and be able to draw on in other contexts and at other times. In considering what learners will take
from a learning experience, it is also important to consider what learners bring to that experience
that can be drawn upon, developed and/or challenged. It is important to consider what the students
will engage with in the task, the central ideas or concepts which will be the basis of their deeper
learning, and how the task will bring them to such engagement. Moving to this view of task design
strengthens the purposefulness of the interactions in which students engage and possibilities that
they offer.

Questions for reflection
1	What kinds of interactions are evident in your classroom teaching and learning?
How would you characterise them?
2	Using a task from your current program or textbook, describe how you could modify
it to strengthen interaction as discussed above.
3	Imagine interaction in your language classroom from the point of view of one of your students.
How do you think they might be experiencing the interactions you create? Ask them and
compare their responses with yours.
4	Audio-record an interaction from one of your classes. Analyse it using the distinction
between doing and learning made above. What do you notice?

40 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

The nature of interactional language
key ideas
•	An interactive classroom requires attention to the nature and quality of language use
•	Questioning is a central element in intercultural language teaching and learning and
requires a thoughtful approach to the purpose of questions in learning

In the language classroom, language provides the starting point for learning and interactional
language contributes directly to the nature and quality of the learning. This effectiveness is not
simply a product of the amount of talk, but is influenced fundamentally by the quality of the talk.
Talk needs to be about something and the substance of the talk needs to have value in its own right.
In planning for interaction, teachers plan the sorts of things that students will be able to say, whether
in speaking or in writing. What sorts of ideas will they be able to explore? What sorts of ideas,
interpretations and responses are likely to result from the experiences in which they participate?
How will they be able to participate in these experiences? What roles are constructed for students
in the interaction: initiator, respondent, critic, investigator, etc?

Explaining
Explanations are a typical element of teacher talk in which teachers introduce new concepts
or information for students to assimilate into their own knowledge. In providing an explanation,
a teacher is the sole source of the information being delivered and the teacher’s authority is the
sole validation of the information. Explanations are mostly monologues and may occupy an extensive
period of class time. During an explanation, students are often expected to be passive receivers of the
information being provided by the teachers, although they may be encouraged to seek clarification
if they do not understand aspects of the explanation. As a part of any instructional approach,
explanations need to be interactive to promote active forms of engagement with the material
by students.

Teaching and Learning

41

Concepts can be introduced in other ways which allow learners the possibility of constructing,
exploring and expressing their own interpretations of the material to which they are exposed.
Where learners are given experiences of meaningful communication in the target language in
which ideas, attitudes or perspectives of others are present, these can be used as a starting point for
exploration in which learners actively construct their own knowledge about the concept. The process
is interactive in multiple senses. It involves interactions between students and the originator of the
text in which they make interpretations of the language and its meaning for themselves. It needs
to be guided interactively by teachers as they scaffold the processes of assembling and interpretation
through questions, hints, reminders and modelling. Ideally, it should also involve opportunities
for students to interact in developing and refining their interpretations, in communicating their
interpretations to others and in commenting on and reflecting on the interpretations of others.
While an explanation delivers information which needs to be remembered, the interactive
investigation of information provides opportunities and processes for developing learners’
understandings of the material.

Questioning
Questioning is a central part of developing interactive language in the classroom. Teachers allocate
significant teaching time to asking questions and it is these questions which give shape to the lesson.
Students’ questions tend to be less frequent and are often restricted to clarification or confirmation
functions. In an interactive classroom, questions need to be distributed across participants in a way
which allows for collaborative exploration of ideas. It is not just who asks questions and how often
that is important in the intercultural language classroom, but also what sorts of questions are asked.
In studies of teachers’ questioning, two main question types are described:
• display questions in which the answer is known by the teacher and used to elicit recall
of information from students
• referential questions in which the answer is not known by the teacher and used to elicit
a meaningful communication from the student.
Of these two types, display questions are specific to instructional contexts while referential questions
are found in many types of social interaction. Display questions include, for example:
What did Marc lose on the train?
Does Paulo have a cat?
Why did Taroo not go to school today?
How did José get to work?

42 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

Referential questions can be closed or open. Closed questions are those which have only a single
response, which is right or wrong, or true or false. For example:
How do you get to school in the morning?
When do you play sport?
These questions elicit facts, are relatively easy to answer, can be answered relatively quickly and
keep control of the interaction with the questioner, almost always the teacher. They do not open
up possibilities for going beyond the frame developed by the question.
Open questions are those which are designed to lead to a broad range of possible responses.
For example:
What did you do during the holidays?
How do you spend your leisure time?
What do you think about nuclear power?
Open questions allow for the possibility of opening up discussion and of developing more questions
on the basis of the initial response. They ask the respondent to think and reflect, to give opinions
and feelings and they hand greater control of the interaction to the respondent.
Other types of questions include the following.
• Polar questions, to which the answer is either yes or no: Do you like ice-cream?
• Alternative questions, to which the answer is a choice between possibilities:
Do you prefer the red one or the blue one?
• What, where and who questions, which elicit facts: What is your name?
Who gave you the book? Where is the Eiffel Tower?
• Why and how, which elicit opinion or reasoning: Why is Mari unhappy?
How can Hans solve the problem?

Teaching and Learning

43

The conventional distinctions between questions are not enough to provide a basis for developing
interactional language in the classroom. They are all question types and do not consider the types
of answers which come from the questions. The most important element for understanding the
nature and role of questions is to consider the purpose of the question for it is the purpose which
shapes the possibilities of the answers. For example:
• eliciting information
• exploring possibilities
• investigating connections
• eliciting interpretations
• eliciting assumptions
• promoting reflection.
These purposes can be elicited by a diverse range of question types. The focus of planning interaction
here is not so much to ensure a diverse range of question types as to ensure that questions are used
with a diverse range of purposes, appropriate to the learning focus. For example:
Why do you say that?
What is your interpretation based on?
What do you think about that?
Why do you think X thinks this way?
How do X’s ideas differ from your own?
How could this be seen differently?
How does your interpretation relate to X’s?
Quite often the purpose is not achieved by a single question. Rather, a question launches an
interaction which is then elaborated through other questioning possibilities with multiple participants
contributing questions and answers.

Questions for reflection
1	How would you characterise the kinds of questions you pose your students? The ones they
pose to you? The ones they pose to each other?
2	Prior to your next class, consider the tasks/materials/ideas that you will be working with.
Prepare two or three key questions that will extend your students’ engagement.
After the class, take note of additional questions you posed. What do you notice?
3	Describe how you might use questions to extend students’ thinking.

44 Teaching and Learning Languages: A Guide

Tasks and task-types
key ideas
•	Task-based language teaching shifted the focus of language learning from
knowledge of language to a focus on its use to achieve communicative purposes
•	The value of tasks in language learning resides in their focus on purposeful
use of language in diverse contexts
•	Task-types provide a means for ensuring that students experience a comprehensive
range of learning experiences
•	The difficulty with using tasks as the basis for curriculum design resides in the issue
of sequencing

One of the major developments in language teaching and learning in the 1980s, in concert
with communicative language teaching, was the emergence of task-based language teaching
and learning. This was an important movement that highlighted that students not only need
to have knowledge of a language but also need to develop the ability to actually use it to achieve
communicative purposes. Thus, students’ learning was no longer to be described only in terms
of inventories of language items, but also, and most importantly, in terms of tasks that they
would accomplish – that is, what students do.

The nature of tasks
There has been an extensive debate on what constitutes a ‘task’ for the purposes of languages
teaching and learning. Some distinctions have been drawn, for example, between ‘exercises’
(focused on noticing and developing aspects of the form of language) and ‘tasks’ (focused on
integrated use of language) or between ‘pedagogic’ tasks (tasks accomplished for the purposes of
classroom learning) and ‘real-life’ tasks (tasks involving the use of language in the real-world). More
recently, emphasis in general education has been placed on developing ‘higher order thinking tasks’
or ‘rich tasks’. Teachers developing these rich tasks build deep, elaborated thinking into the tasks

Teaching and Learning

45

they ask students to do. As languages educators, we consider not only the need to develop accuracy
(through a focus on form) and fluency (through active use of the target language in tasks) but also,
and importantly, the need to develop complexity (Skehan, 1998) in interpreting and using language
and in reflecting upon language and culture in the context of use. Thus, in developing tasks we also
need to consider how each task builds on or extends previous learning and how it contributes to
continuous and cumulative learning. Some of these distinctions are worth considering in developing
the range of learning experiences that comprise a teaching and learning program for our students.
Tasks might be described as purposeful and contextualised instances of language use. They include:
a purpose:	an underlying reason for undertaking the task (beyond the mere display of subject
an underly