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Open Access Publications from the University of California

L2 Journal

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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.

Critical Pedagogies and Teaching and Learning Languages in Dangerous Times

Preface and Introduction to the Special Issue

Preface to the Special Issue

It is my distinct pleasure to start off the academic year 2020-2021 with this special issue,  Critical Pedagogies and the Teaching and Learning of Foreign Languages in Dangerous Times, guest edited by Panayota Gounari, Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, specialized in language policy, critical discourse analysis, and critical pedagogy. I have long been eager to bring to the attention of both practitioners and researchers in Applied Linguistics the dynamic and politically engaged field of Critical Pedagogy.

Introduction to the Special Issue on Critical Pedagogies

“Language is a ‘war zone’,” Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o powerfully notes (Inani, 2018, para. 17). In trying to conceptualize and define Critical Pedagogy in the current historical moment for the teaching and learning of languages, this seems the most appropriate definition. After all, language teaching and learning are neither politically neutral, nor ahistorical, nor free of ideological considerations. On the contrary, language as a site of power, ideological tensions, political and financial interests, hierarchies, and symbolic and material violence, is most definitely a war zone. War is being waged over which languages have more “value” or are “worth learning;” which languages are at the core ...


Critical Pedagogy and L2 Education in the Hemispheric South

Colombia, as other Latin American countries, has not been indifferent to the power of English as the language of business, international communication and academia. Since the end of the 20th century, there has been a great push in the country to promote the teaching of English: language policies have been formulated, ideal levels of proficiency have been established (based on a framework initially designed for European countries), and a national English curriculum for all grade levels has been distributed among schools. The status English has gained competes with that of other foreign languages and more evidently with heritage languages.

The field of L2 education in Colombia is experiencing a tension between neoliberal interests of L2 education to support social mobility and the nation’s economic growth and political power (with a focus on linguistic and communicative competence), and alternative academic agendas grounded on the analysis of the influence of social, cultural, and economic factors on L2 teaching and learning, and on learners’ identities.

In this article, I use the example of an analysis of L2 education, from a critical pedagogy standpoint, using a Latin American university as a context to depict such a contrast. This University is a place where there is confluence of diverse languages that have different social statuses: English as lingua franca, European and Asian foreign languages, and heritage languages. I argue that critical pedagogy, partly inspired in the work from intellectuals from the Hemispheric South, serves as a framework to guide analyses of power in the relationship between these languages and L1, and the effect of such relations of power on learners’ identities. Also, I contend that by using critical pedagogy in this context, it becomes transformed, nurtured, as it overlaps and dialogues with other knowledges developed in the Hemispheric South.


Relevance, Representation, and Responsibility: Exploring World Language Teachers’ Critical Consciousness and Pedagogies

Critical pedagogical work hinges upon teachers’ critical consciousness about students’ identities that constitute ‘diversity’ and how they are situated within systems of oppression and privilege. In this study, survey data were collected from practicing world language teachers’ (WLTs) to explore their beliefs about the extent to which dimensions of students’ identities played a role in their language teaching practices. Additionally, these data captured their beliefs about the extent to which teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, and schools should be responsible for addressing identity dimensions, such as ethnoracial status, gender, socioeconomic status, and faith. Results from cluster analyses indicated that teachers’ orientations varied systematically: a first belief orientation locates neither teachers nor schools as responsible, and that student ‘diversity’ may be irrelevant to education; a second orientation locates both teachers and schools as having shared responsibility, but that some identities might be irrelevant to teaching and learning; a third orientation wherein teachers viewed some identity dimensions as more relevant to their teaching practices than others, suggesting that, although teachers may be critically conscious about identity, that consciousness may not translate to critical pedagogical practices; and a last orientation that suggests critically conscious language teachers who also endorse learner-centered teaching practices. Findings from this study illuminate new theoretical and conceptual spaces about WLTs’ sense of responsibility and advocacy for both students and the ways they position their classrooms as sites of critical pedagogies. These findings have implications for teacher leaders and teacher educators as they work to build teacher capacities for engaging in critical pedagogies that examine systems of oppression and privilege in language classrooms.

The Boal-Freire Nexus: Rehearsing Praxis, Imagining Liberation in Bilingual Teacher Education

Freire (2005) encourages people to take “critical ownership of the formation of ourselves” (p. 44) in order to be able to act upon the world in what he (1993) calls “praxis.” This praxis consists of the development of critical consciousness leading to transformative action. Critical consciousness and praxis should be conceived as an ongoing and creative process through the actual doing within spaces of authoring (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 2003). Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed might provide Freire’s ideas with a stage where liberation and praxis can be concretized, rehearsed and imagined. A discussion of this Freire-Boal complementation is offered by providing examples of two studies I conducted among Mexican-American/Latinx bilingual pre-service teachers to 1) prepare them linguistically after years of subtractive anglo-centric schooling, 2) to develop political and ideological clarity (Bartolome & Balderrama, 2001), and 3) to encourage them to engage in leadership and advocacy inside and outside of the classroom.


Critical Content Based Instruction for the Transformation of World Language Classrooms

This interpretive multiple-case study examines the practices and perspectives of four mid-level and secondary world language teachers in diverse teaching contexts as they design and implement critical content-based instruction units in their classes. Knowing that content can be defined as either cultural or academic content (Spenader, Wesely, & Glynn, 2018), the middle and high school level teachers in this study aimed to use a critical approach in their curricula and to integrate topics of social justice into the cultural content, promoting inquiry and critical thinking among students. Using data collected from recorded videos of teaching and individual semi-structured interviews, this study aims to answer the following research question: How is Critical Content-Based Instruction (CCBI) (Sato, Hasegawa, Kumagai, & Kamiyoshi, 2017) being employed by U.S. Spanish teachers to examine complex topics through a lens of social justice? Findings indicate that teachers feel compelled to integrate topics of social justice into their curriculum to promote criticality (critical thinking) and to encourage students to effect change in their own communities and beyond. The discussion supports consideration of teachers’ roles in the development of student agency through their curriculum and instruction. Implications are addressed for educational research, teacher education, and professional development.


Genre Instruction and Critical Literacy in Teacher Education: Features of a Critical Foreign Language Pedagogy in a University Curriculum

This paper focuses on critical pedagogy and EFL teacher education and it argues that it would be unrealistic to expect students who have been educated through traditional university curricula (aiming to deliver content through a ‘banking model’) to become critical foreign language teachers and educators. The education of future teachers requires new university curricula which view literacy as a critical social practice and prepare them through transformative pedagogies, encouraging them to examine critically their values and beliefs by developing a reflexive knowledge base, an appreciation for multiple perspectives and a sense of critical consciousness and agency.

Based on this premise, the article presents the case of Genres in English, an undergraduate language course at the Department of English Language and Literature of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, aiming to raise students’ critical literacy. Using the tools of Systemic Functional Grammar and drawing on a genre-based approach to writing development, the course initially invites students to take up the role of critical text analysts deconstructing academic and media texts and at a later stage to engage in a popularization of science writing task mediating information from an academic to a media text. Through language tasks which approach genres as historical constructs, students are introduced to the ideological nature of discourses and genres and they explore the conditions of production, distribution and consumption of texts. To evaluate the effectiveness of this approach, the paper presents the findings from a small-scale research conducted with students who have attended the course.


Critical Pedagogy for Foreign-Language Writing

Although critical pedagogy has been widely discussed in the Americas, little research has been done to recontextualize it in foreign language (FL) writing and explore its actual impact on the learners’ sense of self. Hence, I consider in this article the possibility of transforming FL writing education by using a reconceptualized critical pedagogy. It first adapts from existing literature to develop a new framework for critical pedagogy for FL writing, emphasizing four interrelated components, i.e., relationship, identity, power and agency. It then describes the implementation of such a pedagogy in a creative writing classroom by a teacher researcher in an FL environment. Evidence such as students’ written reflections, writing samples and teacher’s fieldnotes suggests that this new critical pedagogy can help FL learners develop agentive ways with writing, which entails more increased confidence in writing, greater mastery of writing and healthier writing dispositions. My intention is not to provide a template for future work, but rather to generate discussion and localized explorations that facilitate rich understandings of both self and other through employing critical pedagogy for FL writing education.