our words make worlds

2017/18 Debate 2: Modern Languages—A Discipline (Still) in Search of an Identity?

15 November 2017, 6–7.30pm, UG.04 (upper ground floor), 309 Regent Street; University of Westminster, W1B 2HW

Chair: Professor Debra Kelly, Language Acts and Worldmaking, Co-Investigator of the Language Transitions Strand

As Michael Worton (2009) argued almost a decade ago in his Review of Foreign Modern Language Provision in Higher Education in England, and Phipps and Gonzalez (2004) had done five years earlier, Language Education was in dire need of a new identity, and it can be argued that it still is. Whereas English Language Teaching is firmly embedded in disciplines such as Applied Linguistics, Language Learning and Language Education seem to be suffering from a permanent marginalisation and exile from its most natural partner in Higher Education: the discipline of Modern Languages. Language Learning and Language Pedagogy research and practice often still remains ‘isolated’ and has so far not found a permanent home in Departments of Education, PGCE programmes or Applied Linguistics Departments.

One of the organisms and think-tanks that has provided Language Education coherence and direction is the Council of Europe which, with its European Framework of Reference documents, has become a reference point for language pedagogy by defining the aims and objectives for language learning and creating widely-followed benchmarking statements. However useful this document is, it still falls short of putting Language Education on the map and identifying a discipline that connects with students’ personal, academic and vocational concerns and ambitions. It is time to question again what it means to learn languages and to learn and live multilingually. This debate addresses three key issues:

  • Are current definitions of language competence adequate for today’s multilingual populations and social encounters?
  • What role should the teaching of Culture and Intercultural Communication have in Language Education?
  • Is the increase in learning more recent ‘World Languages’ such as Chinese and Arabic changing the nature of Language Learning more widely?

Guest speakers: Dr Simon Coffey (Senior Lecturer in Language Education, King’s College London), Dr Peter Skrandies (Language Coordinator, German, LSE), Dr Derek Hird (Senior Lecturer in Chinese, Modern Languages and Culture, University of Westminster).

Discussants: Dr Cristina Ros i Solé (Goldsmiths University of London), Christine Pleines (Head of German, Open University), Christine Sas (Senior Teaching Fellow, Department of Dutch, UCL).

Download the programme for this event here

Read the blog post from this event here

Debate papers

Read the papers from the debate here:

Dr Simon Coffey

Dr Peter Skrandies

Dr Derek Hird

Dr Cristina Ros i Solé