Academic journal article Babel

Reconceptualising Learning Programs for Intercultural Language Learning

Academic journal article Babel

Reconceptualising Learning Programs for Intercultural Language Learning

Article excerpt


This paper describes the need to reconceptualise teaching and learning programs for intercultural language learning. The shift is from concepts such as 'content' and its 'coverage' (intended to address 'learner needs and interests') to developing programs focused on meaning making in interaction and on learners as meaning makers. Specific questions are provided to stimulate a reconsideration of programming practices.


Intercultural language learning, content, interactions, reconceptualising programs.



Thinking about program development for intercultural language learning presents us with a fundamental tension between traditional and more recent views about curricula and programs. Curriculum and program design have traditionally focused on 'objectives', 'content', 'activities', and "outcomes' and the effort to map these in some coherent way across defined spans of time. The process of curriculum and program design has therefore entailed the selection, specification, and ordering of content (generally expressed as knowledge and skills) and the articulation of predicted outcomes. Inevitably, this emphasis on defining content and outcomes has led to the standardisation of curricula and programs. This standardisation, in turn, has tended to pre-structure both what happens in the teaching and learning process and teachers' interpretations and understanding of teaching and learning (see Pinar, 2003). If the goal in teaching is to 'cover the content' of the programs, there is little space for considering the people involved, and in particular, what they bring to the learning process, i.e.

* their linguistic and cultural identities

* their diverse life-worlds, desires, motivations, and aspirations

* how they interact in communication and learning

* how these influence their interpretations and meaning making in the process of learning.

What is neglected in this traditional conception of curriculum and programming is a consideration of how the learning program is actually experienced by the participants, primarily the teachers and students, and in particular how teachers and students interact and what meanings they make in and through these interactions (Bullough, 2006; Greene, 1973; Mayes, 2005). The meaning making of people in interaction (as a process in which they necessarily draw upon their whole linguistic and cultural make-up) is the very focus of language learning, and it is this focus that intercultural language learning programs seek to incorporate. This paper explores the implications of a shift from the prioritisation of content in developing programs to the prioritisation of social interaction and the interpretation and meaning making of the participants in the teaching-learning process.


Traditional programs usually set out the scope (range, extent, depth) of the learning that is to take place over the period of a lesson, a week, a term, a semester, a year, or a span of years. Whether short or long term, such programs tend to specify the 'content' that needs to be learnt. In the language learning area, this is most frequency described as a set of themes and topics (a way of defining subject matter content), e.g. grammatical structures; vocabulary or a list of characters; a list of possible contexts, roles, situations; possibly a list of cultural items; a list of text types; and a list of skills and subskills to be developed (see Munby, i978). Generally, there is some discussion about which items are for 'receptive' as opposed to 'productive' use, and how these items are to be ordered. Such programs, however, do not specify how these items are integrated because that is seen as a matter pertaining to pedagogy, and pedagogy is considered to be separate from programming. Programs based on a communicative or task-based approach also include some indication of the kinds of activities or tasks that are to be performed as well as an outline of the resources that will be used (see Breen & Candlin, 1980; Stem, 1983; Widdowson, 1978; Wilkins, 1976; see also Kramsch, 2006 and Larsen-Freeman & Freeman, 2008 for a critical analysis of communicative language teaching). …

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