our words make worlds

Diasporic Identities and the Politics of Language Teaching Research

The perspectives of other research strands within the project (travelling concepts and narratives, loaded meanings and linguistics, embodied language, performance and digital culture) converge on the role, institutional practice and cultural identity of the native modern language teacher. The internationalization of Modern Languages teaching in the UK continues the traditional transnational exchanges associated with diplomats, merchants, reformers and non-conformist emigrés, and more recent intellectual and economic migrants. Modern Languages teachers are active cultural transmitters, embodying the concepts of ‘transculturality’ (Welsch 1995) and the ‘transnational’ (Assmann 2014): their trajectories and stories constitute a ‘traveling memory’ (Erll 2011) with rich potential for enhancing our understanding of the link between Modern Languages teaching and post-national citizenship. This potential along with the sophistication of their work are often under-valued in research-based Modern Languages departments. Teachers’ understanding of their role and their pedagogical practice are influenced by contextual factors that condition the worldviews they transmit to learners. For Duff and Uschida, sociocultural identities and beliefs ‘are co-constructed, negotiated and transformed on an ongoing basis by means of language’ (1997). This strand investigates language’s vehicular role by examining (1) how Modern Language practitioners in the UK construct and express their professional and personal identities through language, and (2) how they go about teaching the cultural concepts, key words and worldviews examined in other strands. Principally, we ask: how do Modern Languages practitioners conceptualise their professional and personal identities? How are these identities re-negotiated and implicated in their values and beliefs as they move in and out of the Hispanic and Lusophone worlds? How do these impact their teaching activities? These questions challenge preconceptions about Modern Languages teaching and so contribute to the redefinition of the discipline and the profession. Our study covers a range of settings (schools, Language Centres, and Modern Languages Departments) and learning environments (online, blended, and conventional face-to-face learning). We conduct research in and through our engagement with Modern Languages practitioners working principally in London schools and in five Language Centres and Modern Languages Departments (King’s College, Oxford University, University of Westminster, University of Leeds, The Open University).

Our methods combine questionnaires, life stories, interviews, and observation. Data collection follows three stages. First, questionnaires collect responses from a large sample of teachers of Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan and other languages (e.g. French). Second, we deploy ‘narrative inquiry’ methods (Brophy 2010, Barkhuizen 2013) to compile a corpus of professional life stories from a smaller sample of Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan teachers. We record oral narratives individually and written narratives on a digital platform. Third, we observe and video-record teaching. We employ discourse analysis and other linguistic methods (e.g. the study of metaphor, code-switching, phonetics and phonology), then relate our findings to Goodman’s worldmaking framework (1978), refined in cultural and media studies (Nünning, Nünning, and Neumann 2010). By combining linguistics with performance theory we develop a performative mode of analysis that highlights language’s role in constructing teachers’ professional identities. We enhance their professional development by integrating them into the research process, underscoring, for their institutions and the public, their potential as transcultural and transnational agents.