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‘Intercultural citizenship’ – a purpose for foreign language education?

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The obvious purpose of foreign language learning is ‘communication’ and this gives language teaching face validity in the eyes of learners, policy makers and the public. The shift from purposes of introducing learners to the ‘high’ culture of literature and philosophy in the target language, if not complete, threatens to reduce the educational value of language learning – except among those who specialise in languages. Perhaps we need to reintroduce an educational value. This is one starting point. A second starting point lies in the concept of ‘internationalism’ and the role of language teaching in counter-acting the nationalist tendencies of education systems – especially at pre-university level – to create citizens who identify (only) with their (nation-)state. Foreign language teaching can also be part of this tendency but has the potential to create citizens who identify not only with the state but also with trans-national/supra-national groups. I will attempt to argue this position in theory but also show examples from practice, from a small scale network of teachers at schools and universities. They are trying to operationalise the concept of ‘intercultural citizenship’ and encourage their learners to identify with other learners working on shared values and behaviours in other countries.

Michael Byram is Professor Emeritus in the School of Education at Durham University and Professeur invité at the University of Luxembourg. He read French, German and Danish at King’s College Cambridge, and wrote a PhD on Danish literature. He then taught French and German in secondary and in adult education in an English comprehensive community school. Since being appointed to a post in teacher education at Durham in 1980, he has carried out research into the education of linguistic minorities, foreign language education and student residence abroad. His books include Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence; Language Teachers, Politics and Cultures (with Karen Risager); His latest monograph is From Foreign Language Education to Education for Intercultural Citizenship. He is the joint editor with Adelheid Hu of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Language Teaching and Learning, and was until recently a Special Adviser to the Language Policy Division of the Council of Europe.

This talk is part of the Second Language Education Group series.

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