Study of foreign language has potential for transformative learning, researcher says

iStock_000014223132XSmallThe study of a foreign language is rarely seen as transformative learning, a process that involves a deep structural shift in basic premises of thought, feelings and actions, writes Jason Goulah in a recent issue of Critical Inquiry in Language Studies.

But, learning second languages offers extraordinary potential for connecting students with global social issues in a way that goes beyond awareness to transforming their attitudes and actions, the author writes.

“Envisioning multicultural communication, understanding and valuation as a goal makes the second/foreign language classroom an outstanding forum for transformative learning,” Goulah says.

It’s true that current second/foreign language instruction incorporates cultural issues and that national foreign language standards address the need for cultural learning, he says, but students rarely get beyond “surface culture.”

Deep culture

Deep culture is different, Goulah writes. “Deep culture is a more abstract, personal worldview based on the culture embedded in the language.” It lies beyond what another author (C. Kramsch, Language and culture) lamented as “foods, fairs, folklore, and statistical facts,” the author says.

A. Goodman, in an essay titled “Transformative learning and cultures of peace,” refers to the use in the Kabbalah of the term “language of branches” to describe words that are the manifestation of the roots and trunk of a tree, the author says. “In second/foreign language classes we must also examine the ‘trunk’ of the tree,” Goulah writes, “not just the ‘branches’, as has been the case.”

As students get in touch with the deeper consciousness or deep culture of another language, they have a lens with which to view their own culture and to place it within a more global perspective, Goulah explains. He notes that while America dominates financial, cultural and technological aspects of the global free markets, its population is a mere 4% of the world’s population. At one school, foreign-language students created digital videos about geopolitics and environmental issues while using the language they were learning. Instruction in other languages should have content objectives, he notes, and should strive for transformative learning.

More than a technical exercise

Acquiring another language can change students’ views of ecology, quality of life, economics and spirituality, Goulah says. Too often, language is objectified and reduced to a technical exercise. “Contemporary education today suffers deeply by its eclipse of the spiritual dimension of our world and universe,” he writes.

Nowhere is the issue of language and deep culture more evident than in the areas of endangered indigenous languages, Goulah writes. As these languages are pre-empted by Western languages, an indigenous worldview is lost, replaced by a dominant worldview. Language educators can try to limit the losses of other world views by placing the student of languages within a “broad cosmological perspective, wherein humans are part of the great unfolding of the universe,” he says.

“Transformative Second and Foreign Language Learning for the 21st Century” by Jason Goulah, Critical Inquiry in Language S<FONT face=Garamond-Italic>udies, 2007, Volume 3, Number 4, pp. 201-221.

Published in ERN November 2007 Volume 20, Number 8

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