To order a café in Spain

One of the many concerns I have when designing curriculum is how to maintain conscious for myself those assumptions that frame what I choose to do in the classroom with students. I think that every lesson requires concepts to be introduced with a good dose of skepticism both in the delivery and content. In my view, this skepticism is what keeps pushing uncomfortable questions to the centerstage of learning activities. It is also a way for educators to decenter themselves and acknowledge their own ideological orientation and keep it in check.

Skepticism and the experiment with uncertainties in the classroom, therefore, can account for the contingencies of learning experiences. To remain skeptical and experimental is to respect students’ individuality. These dispositions also allow us the cognition that the universe is quite probabilistic, and so is our learning. The non-examination of our practices at the ideological level can lead us to reproduce ideologies that are detrimental to students’ critical language development.

In an article re-posted by Stephen Krashen, the linguist praises the work of a language teacher who, departing from his hypotheses, “created” a “method” for teaching second languages. The method and workshop that accompanies it is known as Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling (TPTRS).

I don't think it is necessary here to elaborate on a critique of Krashen's input hypothesis and the assumptions that underpin it. Krashen's famous hypotheses rest on self-evident statements. Nor do I feel is necessary to elaborate on the fact that storytelling and literacy, as the TPTRS author understands it, has been used for ages by language educators who have not cared to trademark what seems obvious standard classroom practice.

Krashen's hypotheses are well summarized here.

Yet, what I find troubling with a sweeping statement by the “method's” author, Bryce Hedstrom, is his affirmation that “Spanish-learners don't want to learn the intricacies of the language, they just want to be able to order a cup of coffee when they go to Madrid. Notice that Hedstrom doesn't say Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela. He assumes Spain, the colonial motherland.

The statement “students want to learn Spanish to order a café in Spain” is a fair illustration of the state of affairs of (second) language education in the U.S. There is simplicity in what the public desires and perceives as priority in education.

Hedstrom’s statement, contextualized within his trademarking of that which are common intuitive practices in the L2 classroom, leaves no doubt about the fact that critical reflection in the field of language “acquisition” — that is to say, the framing of language as a complex social practice embedded in local contingencies guiding the direction of signs (phonetic and written) — is neither desired nor necessary.

But, this lack of interest in the critical aspects of second language learning in the everyday classroom fosters political dispositions that affect how individuals learn. These dispositions ultimately sustain superfluous attitudes towards what LOTE (languages other than English) are and what they are good for. These dispositions reflect, of course, neoliberal discourses on the nature and utility of language. Learning LOTE becomes thus framed as analogous of one's access to prosperity, prestige and, most importantly, citizenship.

While normative forms of prestige in language education do play an important role in students' access to power, they do not guarantee equal opportunities and economic advantages. "Monolingualism" — which I recognize is a term that requires a certain push back, since we speak many varieties of what one considers a language — remains the norm in the U.S. insofar as we, educators, are oblivious to what goes into the production of a type of language that we design to teach about an Other.

When it comes to teaching and learning, the old real estate adage matters: location, location, location.

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