A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
The intention of the article
This paper attempts to study the expansion of the Anglo-Saxon world in the south of Spain in the last decade, both the language and all the cultural connotations that arise from its implementation as a second language. I will analyze the role of English teachers which practices are unquestionable constrained by national, regional and school policies; and frequently influenced by the notorious relevance that textbook syllabus still have on the language teaching practices in my region.
I will also reflect on the concept of critical literacy leading this analysis to my role as an active critical agent within the classroom by sharing recent teaching experiences in which I had to struggle in order to face with critical eyes the globalized culture imposed by the English speaking countries.
The expansion of English in Spain
Learning foreign languages have become an indispensable requirement in order to communicate effectively among the European nations. Once the political frontiers ceased to exist communication and interaction between the European countries became more accessible, sparking the growth of alternative culture patterns and new modes of thinking. Besides, the new technology boom in the beginning of the XXI century facilitated the connectivity diminishing those ancient barriers. This undeniable reality plus new flows of immigration coming from Africa and Eastern Europe called attention to the need to provide the current European society with a more diverse language school curriculum. The European commission was aware of this new situation in terms of the current linguistic and cultural needs. It therefore began to foster the concept of “Multilingual Society” which came into being with the European Framework of Reference for Languages: learning, teaching, assessment.
Multilingualism refers to the knowledge or the coexistence of several languages in a determined society; and that is what has happened and it is happening in my region since long. Following the European language policies, the education department of Andalucía drew up “El Plan de Fomento del Plurilingüismo” in 2005. This plan aspires to better the linguistic competence of the Andalusian society by implementing language programs that let Andalusian master two foreign languages. Thus, “La Junta de Andalucía” wants to provide the best learning opportunities so that the Andalusians acquaint themselves with the new globalized reality. It is worth mentioning that this new linguistic approach does not aim students to learn English, rather stands for the European language diversity. Despite “El Plan de Fomento del Pluringüismo” seeks to foster the linguistic diversity within the European realm, as well as arise multicultural awareness and tolerance towards other modes of expression, it is undeniable the “widespread use of English as a medium of inter-communal and inter-lingual communication for a variety of commercial, educational, professional, and social purposes in different world locations” ( Leung and Street, 2012, p. 85). “Due to the geopolitical and historical facts that put forward the biggest English speaking countries as (at that time) primary forces in forming the age of globalization, English language received the status of the global language, and therefore a medium through which globalization further advanced to all possible parts of the world and all possible aspects of living” (Stojkovic and Zivkovic, 2012, p. 1). Learning English has become an indispensable social and economic asset in Spain empowering those ones who masters it, as they turn into competitive agents within the working and economic system. According to Stojkovic and Zivkovic (2012) to be trained in English language means being instructed for fitting into the world of globalization. Assumption that most Andalusian schools are taking for granted inasmuch they have advocated for English bilingual programs eluding the existence of other European languages. Moreover, as other regional language programs in Spain “Plan de fomento del Plurilingüismo” is highly influenced by the European linguistic policies which try to homogenize the language curriculum within the members of the EU. This language standardization forces teachers and schools to work under the same umbrella without taking into account the local contexts and giving English the absolute supremacy over other languages.
Danger: Textbook addiction
Considering the ongoing language policies in Andalucía and having had the opportunity to take part in the implementation of a CLIL-based bilingual program in my own school, I have had to deal with a diversity of new circumstances that overwhelm my teaching practice. In the uncertainty of this educative scenario, one of my biggest concerns was to transmit my students my passion for the language not only as a mode of communication imposed by external agents, but as an opportunity of cultural openness and social understanding.
Developing a CLIL-based curriculum entails to work on interdisciplinary units in which English (the second language in my school) turns into a “vehicular language” that function as a communicative tool that let students learn new contents. Thus, textbooks organized by thematic modules become a mere resource to draw on when the themes have something to do with the topic of the project. Over the years, printing houses have worked untiringly to convince both regional educative administrations and schools about the benefits of working under their language programs, something that we cannot deny since most of them offer a variety of complete guides that facilitate our teaching practice by saving a great deal of time when planning classes. On the negative side, a vast group of teachers still sees the material provided by the publishers as the only teaching source, turning into “bookalcoholic”, lessening their creativity within the class. Most of books I have had the chance to browse since I work as an English teacher propose a series of controlled tasks focused on the language learning; conversations, role plays, games, carried out in different scenarios that publishers select in order to approach the cultural connotations, that languages bring along, to the learners. It is worth mentioning that all the texts, images and music exposed in these textbooks follow Anglo-Saxon cultural patterns, a key aspect to take into account since the book atmosphere is quite distant from the learners´ lives differing considerably from their local context. Having this in mind, we teachers should reflect on our daily practice, as we are not simple puppets performing a repetitive shallow play. I strongly believe we can make a better use of these resources, going beyond what we are supposed to do in light of the book syllabus, guiding our students to see the language not only as an imposed communicative tool, but also as an opportunity to understand what it is going on out of the walls of the school from a more critical perspective. Pennycook, A. (2001) states that the language we teach, the materials we use, the way we run our classrooms, and the things students do and say, all these can be seen in social and cultural terms, and thus, from a critical perspective, as social political and cultural political questions. To put in another way, we have the responsibility to lead our students to a place where they find themselves safe to question and understand the different circumstances they have to deal with in the globalized setting they live.
Going beyond the printings
Looking back and putting my teaching years into question, I dare to say that after the instruction received in the seminar and convinced of the relevance of critical literacy within the language class, it is not an easy practice to develop utterly due to an array of factors, such as institutional policies, school curriculum, methodological approaches, as well as the globalized culture we all are immersed. Given these points, it is undeniable the constraints that we teachers find on the way, yet when we come into the class we all have the power to transform our lectures into meaningful scenarios for our students. Obviously, policies and curriculums will always be there, though our duty as social agents is to mold them and think how to address them considering our students´ needs, the cultural connotations of the second language they are exposed to and the diverse reality where they grow up blatantly influenced by the expansive patterns coming from the English speaking countries.
According to Vasquez (2014), a critical literacy curriculum needs to be lived. It needs to take into account the current social and political conditions with the purpose of helping students and teachers understand and act upon those conditions. As active social agents, we must prepare our students to examine and view the world from a number of different perspectives as well as enable them to understand the sociopolitical systems and the relationships between power and language. Developing such a critical thinking “children can discuss social issues and plan ways that they can have an impact on their communities” (Norris et Al., 2012, p. 2)
Dozier et Al. (cited in Norris et Al., 2012) emphasize that to teach critical literacy, teachers must first become critically literate themselves, then must value social justice, and finally must have an understanding of the cultural contexts in which they work. Assuming these statements and despite the wide range of situations where teachers can put into practice critical literacy, I have to say that I have not always faced the class literature with critical eyes, basing many lectures on the development of linguistic competences rather than the social depth that a text, a song or an image brings along. I still have in mind those Anglo-Saxon yearly celebrations that most of English teachers insert as part of the language program, parties such as Halloween, Saint Patrick, Easter eggs. These traditions, underpinned by the globalized wave of consumerism, have taken Spanish schools by storm, invading every single English class.
Trick or treat, Easter bunnies, Bonfire night, Halloween stories, different cultural elements that appeared in my students´ textbooks, what they found quite appealing. This situation has become an irremediable exposition that they do not see as globalized invading patterns if we do not take the time to deconstruct them inside and outside the classroom. As Rahimi et Al. (2015) maintain, teachers need to prepare the students for higher levels of critical literacy helping them go beyond shallow memorization of data to acquire logical reasoning and critical thinking skills. Based on this statement, I come up with questions that we all teachers should bring to the class when these celebrations show up in order to question the dominant popular culture: Why are grocery stores packed with spooky wrapped products when Halloween is right around the corner? Do we have any local celebration on the same date? Why Venice Carnival is not as trendy as other Anglo-Saxon parties? It is not sufficient and enriching for the students to engage them in this paraphernalia through readings, videos and games without empowering them in the inquiry of going beyond the text, the image, the ritual. That said, Lankshear and McLaren (1993) states that in our role as English teachers we have an unquestionable responsibility to get our students encouraged to become active readers and writers of cultural texts so that they can create their own meanings to shape and transform their social conditions. We have to guide them in quest of critical questions and diverse responses. Responses that do not take for granted standardized behaviors. Teaching them to read between the lines, see a picture or watch a video with a critical lens. “Through critical dialogue about a text or a moment of society, we try to reveal it, unveil it, and see its reasons for being like it is, the political and historical context of the material (Shor & Freire, 1987, p. 13). With this intention “teachers need to see themselves as ‘transformative intellectuals’” rather than mere “classroom technicians employed to pass on a body of knowledge” (Giroux, 1988, p. 299).
In essence, developing a critical literacy approach entails to:
Teach students to read and write against texts: to identify and understand that language and texts are not neutral and always ideological. Therefore, critical literacy consist not only of academic literacies associated with reading and writing texts for traditional purposes but also practices associated with reading and writing against traditional curricula in school and dominant popular culture, multimedia, and other texts students encounter outside of school (Borsheim-Black, Macaluso and Petrone, 2014, p. 1).
As has been noted above, we have to assume the firm responsibility of becoming “transformative intellectuals” encouraging our students to develop and enhance the critical literacy that “leads them toward a heightened awareness of the presence of power structures” (Fajardo, 2015, p. 32)
Plan de Fomento del Plurilingüismo.
“El plan de fomento de Plurilingüismo” pursues to foster the learning of foreign languages in Andalucía, due to the ongoing cultural and linguistic and cultural transformation the community is going through after the political frontiers ceased to exist in Europe. The plan advocates the gradual implementation of a functional bilingualism. Aside from giving the Andalusian the opportunity to learn foreign languages, this plan attempts Andalusian society to widen their cultural awareness and encourage to build and implement common projects that bring about the formation of a strong multilingual and multicultural community.
Junta de Andalucía