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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The L2 Journal is an open access, fully refereed, interdisciplinary journal which aims to promote the research and the practice of language learning and teaching. It publishes articles in English on all aspects of applied linguistics broadly conceived, i.e., second language acquisition, second language pedagogy, bilingualism and multilingualism, language and technology, curriculum development and teacher training, testing and evaluation.

Special Issue on History and Memory in Foreign Language Study


Editor’s Introduction to the Special Issue

Editor’s Introduction to the Special Issue

Texts of Memory and Texts of History

Starting with the observation that the terms “memory” and “history” are used almost interchangeably in everyday discourse and professional academic discussion, I argue that they can and should be distinguished. Drawing on longstanding debates about nations and nationalism, it is possible to trace the roots of this distinction and see how it has taken on new significance in contemporary memory studies. I outline a few assumptions about humans as meaning makers, users of cultural tools, and “cognitive misers” and then turn to oppositions that have been drawn between collective memory and formal history. These concern the degree of subjectivity or objectivity involved, the source of authority for narrative tools, and the willingness to sacrifice evidence to preserve a narrative account about the past or vice versa. In order to translate these oppositions into more concrete means for discussing memory and history, I introduce a distinction between “specific narratives” and “narrative templates,” and I examine the source of “ethnocentric narcissism” that characterizes memory to a greater degree than history. Insight into this issue can be derived from drawing out William James’s comments on the “me-ness” of individual human memory to examine the “us-ness” of collective memory.

Studying Fictional Representations of History in the L2 Classroom

The article addresses the didactic questions of what, why and how aspects of culture and history can be—and should be, it is argued—an integral part of all foreign and second languageteaching and learning. In particular, it is argued that the study of literary fiction within tertiary foreign language education can function as a gateway for students to develop not only a stronger interest in and knowledge of cultural history, but also a better understanding of the complexity of historical representation, public memory and self-identity. Drawing on current theories of narrative discourse and historical representation, as well as the experience of having taught a foreign language course in Sweden dealing with fictional representations of culturally important periods in US history, the paper shows how a personal engagement with these “little narratives,” to use Lyotard’s term, can enhance foreign language students’ understanding of, not only important historical events and periods in the shaping of contemporary Americanculture, but also of the importance of textual representation and cultural “grand narratives” in the shaping of collective identities and personal subjectivities.

Memories of War: Exploring Victim-Victimizer Perspectives in Critical Content-Based Instruction in Japanese

This article presents a language specialist’s content analysis of four topics related to the memory of World War II. The purpose of the analysis is to develop critical content-based instruction (CBI) in an advanced Japanese language course that will be implemented at a Canadian university. These specific topics are: Atomic bombs (A-bombs) in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Canada’s involvement in the development of the A-bombs, the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and representations of peace and war in language arts and history textbooks used in Japan. I identify higai and kagai [suffering from harm vs. causing harm] relations in various materials including articles, literature, textbooks, and films, while demonstrating how these victim-offender relations reflect complex international and domestic relations of power rather than a simple binary. Such intellectual engagement will enable learners to gain multiple perspectives for ethical understandings of historical events in the target and in their own societies. Some examples of materials and activities are presented.

Perspective-Taking and Meaning-Making through Engagement with Cultural Narratives: Bringing History to Life in a Foreign Language Classroom

The MLA Report (2007) accords considerable weight to the role of culture in a transformed approach to language education in the U.S. and outlines “one possible model” for developing transculturalunderstanding that involves the interpretation of the “cultural narratives” inherent in all forms of cultural representation (p. 238). How exactly students might be engaged in interpreting cultural narratives in the foreign language classroom, though, remains to be further specified, imagined, practiced, and studied. Moreover, expanding this model of culture-in-language education to include active production and negotiation of meaning around cultural narratives, in addition to interpretation of these, has important pedagogical and learning implications. This paper highlights how engagement with historical narratives is a natural site for the kinds of interpretive and meaning-making practicesthat foster the deep cultural learning discussed in the MLA’s report. Reporting data from an ethnographic, discourse-analytic study of a university-level French classroom, this paper illustratesthat through the instructional environment created by the teacher and through the students’ engagement in class activities, many rich opportunities for perspective-taking from multiple points ofview were made available to students, ultimately weaving a dense web of meanings around French experiences of World War II. Close analysis of excerpts from classroom interaction show how aconstellation of instructional features and patterns of student engagement allowed the class to access the repertoire of more or less plausible storylines attached to this historical period and to practice with interpreting perspectives embedded in cultural texts. Interview data further highlight both the challenges and great potential of inviting multiple perspectives and voices into culture pedagogy in the foreign language classroom.

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Teaching Difficult Topics: The Example of the Algerian War

While history as critical discourse differs importantly from the more subjective narratives of collective memory, even historians vary in their accounts and analyses of past events. This article argues for the need to include a spectrum of voices and text types when teaching history in the context of foreign language study, taking the example of “official stories,” collective memories, and historical accounts of the Algerian War of 1954-62. In addition to presenting varied views and text genres, the argument is made for the importance of teaching the controversies that arise around difficult topics, even many years after the fact. Teaching different sides of a difficult story and its unresolved conflicts is a form of realism that respects students’ intelligence and fosters their self-awareness as cultural subjects. Examples of a multiple perspectives approach are drawn from two textbooks published in France, with additional suggestions for classroom materials and activities at various instructional levels.

¿Un legado histórico?: Symbolic competence and the construction of multiple histories

This paper argues that any approach to the teaching of history in the second language classroom must consider how history is constructed and what is at stake in such representations. Doing so opens up the possibility of developing students’ symbolic competence through critical reflexivity at three interrelated levels: 1) language itself as wielding symbolic power in the construction and representation of history; 2) the subject positions available through language to negotiate or to alter these constructions; and 3) the larger ideologies and structures of power that operate on language use, historical constructions, and options for negotiating subject positions. Using an example from a textbook, I analyze how the history of the Conquest of the Americas is constructed while demonstrating that what is at stake is the reproduction of the colonial narrative and the negation of other historical representations. At the same time students are positioned as tourists and cultural consumers who are positioned outside of history. I then describe classroom activities that can be usedto modify the textbook activities in order to interrogate meaning-making processes that recognize the emotional resonances and embodied histories of the students as they use language to critically engage in the contested spaces of history and memory.

Localizing Archival Memories of Spanish Language Education in California, Engaging with the Multilingual Histories of the Present

Focusing on Spanish in California, this article offers language educators a critical perspective into how the languages we teach have histories constructed in shifting memories of language,speakership, and education. This article builds upon the 2007 MLA report’s vision for curricular reform that situates language study in “cultural, historical, geographic, and cross-cultural frameswithin the context of humanistic learning.” Cultural narratives and frames are connected to localized “archives” of histories and memories surrounding the learning and teaching of Spanish.Examining key texts and contexts, this article explores European and American imperial discourses surrounding language in education in connection to indigenous memories by the colonized or “reduced” Indians who were the among the first learners of Spanish in early multilingual California. This article advocates understanding archival texts as a step toward articulating an explicitly critical and historical component to recent reform movements in foreign language education. It is suggested that critical archival perspectives offer possibilities for rethinking and expanding the curricular space of history and memory in undergraduate and graduate Spanish programs, as well asin teacher education programs.

Bridging Language and History in an Advanced Italian Classroom: Perspectives on Medieval Florentine Narratives within their Context

Among the challenges faced by L2 instructors is the inclusion of historical memories. Although they are foundational to a culture’s identity, sometimes they are so far removed from students’ present reality that they have no familiarity with them. Meeting this challenge requires the development of activities that contextualize these narratives while bridging the past and the present by engaging withlearners’ own values and experiences. This article presents a model didactic unit drawn from a particular aspect of the Italian culture, namely, the medieval Florentine narratives. At the same time,the strategies and tools that are proposed can be implemented to explore virtually any historical memories in other L2 courses.

The Study of Literary Texts at the Nexus of Multiple Histories in the Intermediate College-Level German Classroom

This article addresses the teaching of complex representations of history through the study of literary texts in the college-level intermediate German class, employing the categories and tenets of Scollon and Scollon’s (2004) nexus analysis (see also Scollon, 2001). Nexus analysis is a model for understanding the meetingpoint of social actions and multiple discourses, each with its own historical body, interaction order, and discourses in place. These discourses and social actions can include the narrated action of the text, the author’s writing of the text, the reception of the text, and of course, the student’s reading and study of the text. Important for pedagogical design, nexus analysis includes consideration of the analyst’s—in this case the L2 student’s—own discourses and social actions. The curricular proposals based on two literary worksby German-Jewish authors within a conventional intermediate-level German language course provide theframework for curriculum and teaching that allows learners at this level to engage with multiple, intersecting and overlapping historical, literary, and cultural issues and questions. It further involves consideration of multiple levels of analysis and multiple timescales in order to raise learners’ critical historical consciousness.