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Investigating Reciprocal Meaning-Making as an Element of Intercultural Language Learning in the Languages Classroom

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The Australian Curriculum: Languages is based on an intercultural orientation to the teaching and learning of languages. Reciprocal meaning-making, or interpreting self in relation to others as language users, is a key element in an intercultural orientation. The concept of reciprocating is embedded in the language-specific curricula currently being developed. It is therefore worthwhile exploring how this concept can be realised in practice. In this article I report on classroom-based research I undertook in which teachers explored the concept of reciprocating in their teaching and students' learning of French language. I discuss the findings of this study and conclude with a discussion of the value of the concept as a dimension of intercultural language teaching and learning.

KEY WORDS

Australian Curriculum, curriculum, curriculum development, Intercultural language learning, reciprocal meaning-making, reflection, Australian Curriculum: Languages

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INTRODUCTION

Intercultural language learning underpins the Australian Curriculum: Languages. With the development of the new curriculum comes the opportunity for teachers to explore the constructs of intercultural language teaching and learning, and how these place learners at the centre of learning and meaning-making for themselves. I have done this through classroom-based research as part of postgraduate study, and present my exploration and findings in this article, especially with regard to the idea of learners interpreting themselves in relation to others, and how teachers might develop pedagogies for language teaching and learning through a focus on this orientation. To date, little work has been done on contextualising intercultural language learning at the primary level. The students who took part in this study were all 10 and 11 years old, who have approximately one hour of French study per week.

I begin with some contextual exploration of intercultural language learning, and then outline my study and analysis of my findings. Finally, I suggest ways that my study might inform other teachers as they begin to work with the new curriculum, and with these considerations.

(Note: pseudonyms have been used for teachers and students, throughout.)

UNDERSTANDING INTERCULTURAL LANGUAGE LEARNING

An intercultural stance towards language teaching and learning has been developing over the last two decades or so in the Australian schools context. The fundamental premise of this stance is that language, culture and learning are seen as interrelated and that this interrelationship is at the centre of the learning process (Liddicoat, Papademetre, Scarino & Kohler, 2003, p. 43). We have moved from teaching 'culture' as isolated facts to developing in students a capacity to connect or engage with the new culture, always in relation to their own (Scarino & Liddicoat, 2009). Two projects within Australia that have explored intercultural language learning through teacher practice in recent years, and which have informed my study are the Intercultural Language Teaching and Learning in Practice (ILTLP) project (Scarino, Liddicoat, Papademetre, Kohler, Scrimgeour, Dellit, Crichton, Morgan, Loechel, Mercurio, Crozet & Carr, 2008) and the Professional Standards Project: Languages (Scarino, Liddicoat, Crichton, Curnow, Kohler, Loechel, Mercurio, Morgan, Papademetre & Scrimgeour, 2010).

Communication has been the main goal of language teaching for many decades, and most Australian languages curricula are based on a communicative approach to language teaching. Although much of the discussion about language acquisition is based on a cognitive view, socially oriented theories such as those proposed by Sfard (1998), Lantolf (2000) and Larsen-Freeman (2007), which look at how participation changes and develops in the learner as part of social interaction, have also had a significant impact in how languages curriculum is described and approached. …