Intercultural Dimensions in Language Education: Languages Flagship Roundup

2nd December 2021

As we head towards a much-needed closure to another tumultuous year, CHL can feel proud to have wrapped up another successful year of flagship events. In our last couple of editions, we showcased the amazing conversations and interactions that were part of our two flagships—Identity & Ways of Knowing, and Decolonial Possibilities.

Our signature flagship on languages, Intercultural Dimensions in Language Education, brought the CHL 2021 trifecta to a conclusion with a flourish.

The Series

This year’s broad-ranging event was defined by three sub-themes, with the third and final roundtable discussion. These three interdisciplinary subprojects ran throughout 2021 to explore multiple dimensions and responses to this question. The final roundtable event then explored intercultural dimensions in language education, with a focus on critical engagement with culture in globalised Asia-Pacific language education. The theme was discussed in context of the ongoing COVID epidemic in an era when traditional and contemporary multicultural/cultural performances and traditions are reinventing themselves in global cyberspace. In light of these developments, panelists and participants across the series gathered to collectively explore how cultural traditions are being incorporated into language and culture education classrooms.

Cultural diversity in Hindi language education

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Led by Associate Professor Peter Friedlander, this sub-project examined what forms of literature are being used in contemporary Hindi-language education and how and why they are seen as representative of the cultures of Hindi speaking communities. It explored what kinds of texts—such as short stories, novels, plays and films—are used in Hindi classes across the region, and why these texts are important, how the questions they raise are integrated into Hindi education and the availability of scaffolding supports. Recordings of conversations and information on this exploration will be made available later in 2022 on our flagship website, Culture and Language Education (CALE).

Motivation and intercultural dialogue in advanced language learning

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Led by Dr Carol Hayes and Dr Toshiyuki Nakamura, this sub-project examined connections between motivations and advanced language-learning engagement with cultural production in its many forms—literature, popular culture, performance, music, film and visual arts. Some of the primary questions addressed included: How does student interest in culture sustain their motivation for continued language study into the advanced levels. How do teachers draw on cultural and intercultural content in their teaching to promote critical engagement with the language and culture nexus so central to effective communication? What is the connection between studies courses and language courses in this space?

Multilingualism, culture-language maintenance and education in Asia and the Pacific (Leads: I Wayan Arka, Duck-Young Lee, Yanyin Zhang and Carmel O'Shannessy)

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This sub-project examined the complex dynamics of multicultural/multilingual regions and countries in Asia and the Pacific have been of long-standing theoretical and empirical interest across different disciplines. Issues include the socio-cultural-historical-political-economic dimensions of the current multilingual/multicultural settings and the challenges they pose in the modern context in terms of inter-ethnic relations, peace and harmony, Indigenous minority rights, culture-language interrelation, culture-language maintenance, language and education policy, and local/regional ethnolinguistic economic vitality.

Spread across three days, this symposium was the largest gathering of the entire flagship series. According to Carmel O’Shannessy, the symposium saw representation from many areas in Asia and the Pacific, and different types of multilingual situations and languages learning situations, from early childhood through to adult learning. The issues discussed included different levels of multilingualism awareness and differing configurations of multilingualism, for instance egalitarian vs elite multilingualism, asymmetrical multilingualism, receptive multilingualism and English-knowing bilingualism. It was noticeable that in most places the configurations of multilingualism are changing—but multilingualism itself continues.

Professor Miriam Meyerhoff from Oxford University discussed different levels of change in two locations in Vanuatu, and how speakers and hearers respond to variation in Maori in New Zealand. Meanwhile, Dr Ruth Singer gave insights into the receptive multilingualism of speakers of Mauwng and other languages in northern Australia, where speakers understand each other's languages but speak the languages they belong to—two people in a conversation might speak to each other in different languages, which they both understand.

It was interesting to see that some of the observations raised by Professor Tony Liddicoat about multilingualism across Asia also resonate with multilingualism in some Australian Indigenous languages contexts. For example, languages have a different status in the views of wider administration, and it can be difficult for education decision-makers to see the value of speakers' primary everyday languages. Some kinds of policies that favour the languages of wider administration can mean that speakers' local everyday languages are not viewed as the languages of higher education, but this is being challenged in Australia by the teaching and learning of Indigenous languages in senior secondary schools and in universities. Yet, in many locations, children begin their schooling in a language that they don't really know, with perhaps little understanding of the ramifications of that. Carmel concluded stating that she thoroughly enjoyed gaining insight into a range of issues and challenges about multilingualism and education across the Asia-Pacific arena.

Dr Toshi Nakamura stated that “the flagship was a stimulating event. It was very interesting to see that, as Tony Liddicoat explained, the forms of multilingualism are diverse across Asian countries, and that there are considerable differences in how English and LOTEs (e.g., Japanese, Hindi, Indonesian) are learned/used among those countries.”

Toshi and Carol’s subtheme this year examined the connections between motivations and advanced language learning through engagement with cultural productions (e.g., literature, music, and films). The duo carried out an online survey of intermediate and advanced language students across language programs of ANU, including Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Hindi, Sanskrit, Indonesian, and Thai. Many students commented that they actively engage in a variety of cultural activities outside of classroom, such as listening music, watching TV programs/films/social media of the target language, and that classroom activities using these cultural productions are most engaging. Therefore, Carol and Toshi found that the students’ motivation to learn a language is sustained or enhanced by their positive language learning experiences in class, where their teachers draw on a variety of cultural contents. The students' study of language in class can be viewed as an extension of their engagement in various cultural activities in private life. Given that, language teachers have a significant role in mediating their students’ engagement in these cultural activities outside of the class and language study in the class, which helps sustain students’ motivation to learn the language and promote multilingualism in Australian universities.

On the final, roundtable event, Professor I Wayan Arka had to say, “The Roundtable was a success, with equally stimulating discussions across different intertwined issues. The discussions echoed similar threads of issues raised in the symposium on multilingualism, with deeper explorations in critical areas in the complex interconnection of multilingualism-multiculturalism and language education in Asia and the Pacific, such as motivation underlying successful language learning, socio-historical-political dimensions underpinning language policies in language teaching including English as L2 and LOTE, and the role of literature in language and culture education.”

Professor Duck-Young Lee, one of the lead panelists on the multilingualism sub-theme summed up the glorious outcome of the CHL Languages flagship beautifully.

“The symposium was a fantastic success. A wide range of interesting topics on multilingualism were discussed. This included a family that uses three or even four different languages among its members, and a country that attempts to assimilate people from other cultures into its own under the name of multiculturalism. Emerging from the symposium was the all-important recognition that the critical principle underpinning multilingualism and multiculturalism is the mutual understanding that we respect cultural diversity and understand others who speak different languages, rather than simply the ability to speak multiple languages, or the fact that one lives in a multilingual society. Of equal importance is that this mutual understanding is not acquired or maintained automatically. We all must remain mindful of its importance and continue to promote mutual understanding and respect through education.”

And so, that’s a wrap on the CHL 2021 Flagship Program, folks. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the wonderful, dedicated academics who tirelessly drove the events this year to ensure they were a success and achieved the outcomes set out at the inception stage. And that too, amidst some very challenging circumstances to adapt to in quick time.

We look forward to more such enlightening and stimulating conversations and learnings in 2022, when the CHL Flagship Program returns with yet another annual showcase of research and knowledge excellence.

Updated:  7 July 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, Culture, History & Language/Page Contact:  CHL webmaster