Academic journal article Babel

Linguaculture in the Language Classroom: A Sociocultural Approach

Academic journal article Babel

Linguaculture in the Language Classroom: A Sociocultural Approach

Article excerpt



This article seeks to explore how a sociocultural approach to learning can change pedagogy in the teaching of second language literacy. As a first step, the changing notions of first language literacy are acknowledged. Vygotsky's notion of everyday and schooled concepts is then used to understand research data gathered in a Year 9 Japanese language class.


Sociocutural approach, second language literacy, Japanese pedagogy.


CHANGE IS ONE OF THE KEY THEMES IN education studies, and this has been especially so in the area of literacy where an ongoing debate, centred on what constitutes a text and how we 'read' it, has ensued for more than two decades. The idea of linking second language learning and this literacy debate was spelled out as a future goal by Kramsch and Noland (1994, p. 28):

   As language teaching enters the 21st century, voices are making
   themselves heard for a redefinition of second language literacy and
   in particular for a reassessment of the 20th century split between
   language study and literary/cultural studies.


This article will argue that second language teaching, and in particular second language literacy, needs to be part of the more general literacy debate; and that language teaching has a lot to learn from the literacy domain. However, I suggest that before such a vision can be taught, literacy in the language classroom needs to move beyond the orthographic code towards the cultural context.

What this might mean has already been suggested in, for example, the Queensland Education Department's 'vision of literacy' (Anstey, 2000), where literacy is described as 'a repertoire of practices that reflect the context, use, and cultural nature of any text, as well as its structural elements'.

It is also made clear in the National Statement for Languages Education in Australian Schools (MCEETYA, 2005), which proposes that language teaching needs to present 'a contextualised and culturally connected vision of language'.

This article will discuss the changing nature of literacy from two points of view, one based on research from first language literacy and the other on a more general conception of learning from sociocultural theory. It will briefly look at how second language acquisition (SLA) theory is used as a framework for teaching a second language, then outline an alternative sociocultural approach by introducing the 'social reading model' (SRM) that I have developed as a tool for enabling new literacies to become integral to the language classroom. As my own background is that of a teacher of Japanese, this study will focus on the question: Can a sociocultural approach to learning a second language help students of Japanese recognise and engage with a tear in a contextualised, culturally sensitive, and critical way?


When using a sociocultural approach to learning, the starting point is to see language and culture as inseparable entities that are continually reconstituted in a dynamic way. For this reason, in the discussion below about second language literacy I adopt the term 'linguaculture' (Friedrich, 1989; Agar, 1994) which recognises that culture is the foundation on which language is built. Friedrich argues that language and culture have 'a common ground that is shared by both phenomena and that the common ground is usually more important than what is not shared' (Friedrich, 1989, p. 307). The word linguaculture carries this belief and therefore is an appropriate term to use when discussing language in a sociocultural context.

The key themes of the National Statement can be summed up by the word linguaculture. Intercultural language teaching is the language equivalent of new literacies, in that language, like the literacy that encodes it, is seen as a cultural symbol that is shaped and used within 'social practices'. …

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