Skip to main content
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.

Transdisciplinary Approaches to Language Learning and Teaching in Transnational Times

Preface and Introduction to the Special Issue

General Editor's Preface

It is with great satisfaction that L2 Journal presents to you this special issue on “Transdisciplinary approaches to language learning and teaching in transnational times,” guest edited by Julie Byrd Clark from the University of Western Ontario, Canada.

Introduction to the Special Issue

The initial ideas for this special issue transpired from an invited symposium panel, “Interdisciplinary Approaches for Language Teaching and Learning in Contemporary and Transnational Spaces,” that I organized for the 2014 AILA (Association Internationale de la Linguistique Appliquée) World Congress in Brisbane, Australia. With the acceleration of globalization, mobility, technological change, and the continued rise of youth with transnational identities and complex linguistic practices, I was compelled to talk about the need for interdisciplinary approaches that would inform language education in transnational times. Two years later, through several drafts and deliberations that went into this issue for L2 Journal, and with sensitivity to the current shifts in the field of applied linguistics, I have found that transdisciplinary represents a more appropriate fit for language learning and teaching in contemporary times.

Building upon the recent article by the Douglas Fir Group (2016), “A transdisciplinary framework for SLA in a multilingual world,” and taking account of some of the current initiatives in the literature that seek to open up the teaching of national standard languages to sociolinguistic variation, translation practices, multimodal activities, and translanguaging (e.g., Canagarajah, 2011; García & Wei, 2014 Kern, 2011; Kramsch & Malinowski, 2014), this special issue seeks to broaden these efforts further. This increase in scope is achieved by weaving together a unique, integrative conceptualization of transdisciplinarity—one that not only seeks to foster critical reflexive awareness (Byrd Clark & Dervin, 2014) of the tensions that exist among the real life complexities in our learning and teaching experiences, but that additionally makes visible the unpredictable, multidimensional, and multiple ways in which we make meaning (including the varied ways in which we, the authors, have come to make sense of transdisciplinarity). Accordingly, this special issue embodies a postmodern, ecological, and relativistic stance when it comes to transdisciplinary approaches concerning interculturality and the study of language in use. Such a stance is highly relevant as the global realities of our times continue to put into question claims of belonging to ‘imagined communities’ (see Anderson, 1991) of clearly demarcated nation-states unified through a national language (one language=one nation=one culture), with native speakers representative of a homogeneous speech community.


Reconceptualising Learning in Transdisciplinary Languages Education

Understanding and working with the complexity of second language learning and use in an intercultural orientation necessitates a re-examination of the different theories of learning that inform the different schools of second language acquisition (SLA). This re-examination takes place in a context where explicitly conceptualizing the nature of learning in SLA has not been sufficiently foregrounded. It also necessitates understanding how language itself, as the substance or object of learning a second language, is conceptualized. Neither the theorization of learning, nor of language on its own is sufficient to provide an adequate account of second language learning for contemporary times. In particular, this paper argues that views of language and learning derived solely from the field of (applied) linguistics are not sufficient to address the complex language learning needs of contemporary times and that a more interdisciplinary approach to language and learning is required. It is this interdisciplinary understanding that provides the basis for views of both language and learning that we consider to be necessary within an intercultural orientation. In particular, the paper will emphasize the interpretative nature of learning and the ways that such a view contributes to our understanding of learning in language education. From this perspective, the process of learning to communicate in a second language can be characterized as involving both a ‘moving between’ linguistic and cultural systems and an acknowledgement of the role of mutual interpretation in exchanging meanings through the acts of both communicating and learning.


A Transdisciplinary Approach to Examining and Confidence-Boosting the Experiences of Chinese Teachers of Chinese in Finland

With the current rise of China as a political, cultural, and economic superpower, Chinese as a foreign and second language has gained popularity worldwide. Finland is also responding to this global wave, as is reflected by the increasing number of Chinese courses in formal and informal settings in the Nordic country. Yet not all actors involved in the promotion of Chinese seem to experience instruction in the language in the same way. This study investigates how Chinese teachers of the Chinese language, who represent the majority of the ‘workforce’ for instruction in this language in Finland, perceive Chinese language education and their role in it.

We argue that there is a need for a paradigm shift in evaluating the teachers’ experiences. Specifically, we support a move away from perspectives that see culture as static and identity as singular. Using the “analysis of multivoicedness,” which was developed from dialogism (Aveling, Gillespie, & Cornish, 2014), the authors of this article identify a number of positions assumed/taken up by the teachers and others in their discourses. Finally, we propose a critical intercultural approach to Chinese teacher education or professional development based on transdisciplinarity, which relies on problem-solving that recognizes an important triad: educational contexts—teachers’ experiences—society (McGregor & Volckmann, 2011).


Translations and Paradoxes of ‘Western’ Pedagogy: Perspectives of English Language Teachers in a Chinese College

This paper engages the perspectives of teachers working in an English language department of a vocational college in China. It takes a transdisciplinary approach, applying constructs from the fields of comparative education, postcolonial theories in education, and critical applied linguistics to a case study of English language teaching; while the study assumes somewhat one-way flows of ‘best practices’ from ‘West’ to ‘East,’ it maintains a postcolonial skepticism of the East-West binary and of essentialist notions of culture and progressive education. Specifically, it situates the shifting conditions and practices of so-called Western pedagogies in China under heightened transnationalism and illuminates how these pedagogies are interpreted and translated by six English language instructors at a third tier college. It finds that the pressure to adopt Western, progressive approaches is both top-down and bottom up, that Chinese teachers have fairly consistent understandings of progressive modes, that they adopt Western approaches somewhat sporadically, and that, in practice, Western pedagogy presents a set of paradoxes for teachers and learners.


Whose ‘Crisis in Language’? Translating and the Futurity of Foreign Language Learning

This contribution questions to whom and to whose learning experience has the idiom of crisis that so pervades the domain of U.S. foreign language teaching been addressed. The authors report on an advanced foreign language classroom-based study from 2013, in which undergraduate German learners translated a 14-page prose poem about translingual experience—“Das Klangtal” (“The Sound Valley”) by British-Austrian poet and translator Peter Waterhouse (2003). The course—located at a university in the American Southwest—created an opportunity for the students and the instructor to reflect on a constellation of relations—transdisciplinarity, translingualism, and transcontextuality—often perceived under the aegis of a “crisis” of the subject. Through an analysis of the students’ reflections as translators, readers, and languagers, the study considers the different orders of recognition by which the learners in this class positioned themselves as multilingual subjects. Based on this case study, the authors argue that transdisciplinary practices and translingual pedagogies such as translation can and should be integrated into L2 classrooms in order to create opportunities for collaborative reflective practice between teachers and learners, which would enable educators to step out of their own habitual ways of speaking about foreign language learning.


Localizing the Transdisciplinary in Practice: A Teaching Account of a Prototype Undergraduate Seminar on Linguistic Landscape

Building upon paradigms of language and languaging practices as local phenomena (Canagarajah, 2013; Pennycook, 2010, Pietikäinen & Kelly-Holmes, 2013), this paper narrates a teacher’s experience in an undergraduate seminar in applied language studies as an exploration in transdisciplinarity-as-localization. Taught by the author in 2012-2013, the seminar was intended as an introduction to the politics of societal multilingualism as visible in the linguistic landscape of public texts. As such, it relied upon its own geographic and institutional locality, as well as the diverse conceptual moorings and methodologies of linguistic landscape research (e.g., Blommaert, 2013; Shohamy & Gorter, 2009; Trumper-Hecht, 2010) in order to lead students in interpreting the significance of East Asian languages in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, as the paper endeavors to show, the course’s own curriculum—and with it, the locus of teacherly authority—was forced to de-localize as the implementation of curricular ideals in practice revealed heterogeneous and expansive orders of meaning.