Diary of an Edu-Tourist in Costa Rica: An Autoethnographical Account of Learning Spanish

By Lotherington, Heather | TESL Canada Journal, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Diary of an Edu-Tourist in Costa Rica: An Autoethnographical Account of Learning Spanish


Lotherington, Heather, TESL Canada Journal


Introduction

I teach a seminar entitled Multilingual Education, open to graduate students of education and linguistics, which includes weekly topical online assignments. In one of these activities, participants are sent on a digital treasure hunt for instantiations of internationalization in language education. This assignment has yielded rich and varied findings in the chaos of Internet traffic, unveiling, for example,

* information on revitalization efforts in indigenous language communities worldwide, e.g., Canadian First Nations languages (http://www.library.ubc.ca/xwi7xwa/lang.htm)

* online language and literacy learning/maintenance opportunities for diasporic small language communities, e.g., Tongan (http://loseli.tripod.com/tasks.html)

* online discourse and literacy opportunities for diasporic artificial language communities, e.g., the news in Esperanto (http://gxangalo.com/)

* online teaching of "dead" classical languages, e.g., Latin (http://www.wannalearn.com/Academic_Subjects/World_Languages/Latin/)

* distance education language courses in real as well as artificial languages, including:

** guaranteed, instant foreign language learning using language teaching methods devised by self-identified experts, for example, "Dr. Paul Pimsleur is now hailed as the household name in foreign language training" (http://www.pimsleurdirect.com/s.nl/sc.15/.f)

** courses in pop-culture artificial languages, e.g., Klingon, created for the television series, Star Trek, and into which, according to the Wikipedia entry, Hamlet has been translated (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klingon_language)

Another educational spin-off of globalization increasingly found in responses to this assignment is the proliferation of private language schools angling for international students seeking second-language immersion courses through online advertisements of what I describe as edu-tourism.

The Internet has revolutionized the basics of the economy, society, culture (Castells, 2000), and communication (Crystal, 2001; Lotherington, 2004a), affecting language and literacy practices and education enormously. The dynamics of globalized, interactive, technologically mediated communication have opened up dramatically new communicative spaces that have spawned new genres and new literacy conventions, practices, and expectations. The virtual world available on the Internet creates in essence a vast one-stop shop.

As Block and Cameron (2002) point out, "'communication skills' and the new literacies demanded by new technologies, as well as competence in one or more second/foreign languages, all represent valuable 'linguistic capital'" (p. 5). Paired with encroaching globalization that as Harris, Leung, and Rampton (2002) note, "is inextricably linked with the developments and demands of free-market capitalism" (p. 31), the marketing and practices of bilingualism and multilingualism have been profoundly affected. Heller (2002) describes the growing international trend to the commodification of bilingualism, focusing on Canada as an example.

In their assignment responses, my students have located indications of the commercial success of marketing immersion foreign language courses online in countless possibilities for the study of second or foreign languages in syndicated as well as independent language schools in countries around the globe. In essence, the value of bilingualism acquired in an immersion context is being marketed in a tourism framework akin to the booming niche market of eco-tourism (see Figure 1).

I decided to do some personal online shopping for an immersion course to dust off my Spanish, studied over 30 years ago for my BA, and to experience second-language learning and teaching a la edu-tourism. My 15-year old daughter Maya accompanied me to learn basic Spanish never having studied the language. This article presents my perspectives on our journey through abridged and annotated diary entries threaded with practical and theoretical reflections. …

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