Teaching foreign languages at the university level in the age of globalization: Reflections – refractions – reconsiderations

Room 524, School of Education
Tuesday 2 September 2014 (11:00-13:00)

Jaspreet Kaur Takhi
Tel: +44(0)121 414 7579
Email: j.takhi@bham.ac.uk

Teaching foreign languages at the university level in the age of globalization: Reflections – refractions – reconsiderations

With speaker Dr. Heidi Byrnes from Georgetown University

In this presentation I want to explore how the teaching and learning of foreign languages, as contrasted with second languages, especially English as a second language in many parts of the world, is being challenged by phenomena that we associate with the age of globalization, multilingualism, and multiculturalism.

In and of themselves, I see those challenges as potentially fortuitous for revitalizing instructed foreign language learning: Approached judiciously, they can serve to recover understandings about foreign language teaching and learning, particularly at the college level, that, over time, became buried under sociopolitical relationships of power and expediency, were marginalized by disciplinary trends and fashions, and made nearly invisible by theoretical, empirical, and educational preferences and practices. Seen in this fashion, the multilingual vantage point of contemporary life—one that I associate with an unmistakable expansion of forms of meaning-making—can help us realize that the ‘canon’ of received knowledge about ‘good’ language teaching and language learning, most especially by adult learners, deserves a critical look.

However, I am concerned that attempts to understand the multilingual world can unwittingly undermine central aspects of instructed language learning and teaching in languages other than English. In many parts of the world, that enterprise is becoming quite fragile for reasons that we may not be able to control but, as I suggest, also because of an oftentimes impoverished theoretical and educational imagination regarding FL teaching and learning. Precisely for that reason portraying, conceptually grasping, and researching the multilingual world must be done in a way that is mindful of the needs of FL educational systems at all levels of instruction. In other words, as we research multilingualism we must remember that it is these professionals who are in the front line of the crucially important societal work of finding efficient, effective, and personally rewarding ways of learning and teaching foreign languages in the age of globalization. What support might we provide for this vitally important task?

In this talk, I want to engage in some reflections on this potentially controversial topic. I look forward to having you join me in considering these issues!

Please note that registration has now closed for this event.


Heidi Byrnes is George M. Roth Distinguished Professor of German at Georgetown University. Her research focuses on adult L2 literacy acquisition, particularly at the advanced level. Under her leadership her department created an articulated four-year genre-oriented and task-based curriculum, a project addressed in numerous articles (e.g., Applied Linguistics Review, Language Teaching, Linguistics and Education, MLJ) and in the monograph Realizing advanced foreign language writing development in collegiate education: Curricular design, pedagogy, assessment (co-authors, Maxim, Norris, MLJ, 94, s-1). She has edited and coedited books and special journal issues on the development of advanced literacy and the link between languaging and thinking, particularly in writing. Her most recent book-length publication is a co-edited volume, with Rosa Manchón, Task-based language learning: Insights from and for L2 writing, published in August 2014 with John Benjamins. She serves on several editorial boards, is a past president of AAAL, is the recipient of numerous professional association awards, including the Distinguished Scholarship and Service Award of the American Association of Applied Linguistics and Georgetown University’s lifetime research achievement award for 2014, and currently serves as editor-in-chief of the Modern Language Journal.

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