The educational promise of the language
center in the age of globalization
Claire Kramsch, UC Berkeley
Language Centers of the Future
UC Davis Language Learning Center
14 October 2013
Introduction: Historical background
Samples from language centers’ mission statements
The challenge of globalization in FL education
Back to basics: what is language, language teaching, language learning?
New possible roles for the language center
Conclusion: The difficult questions of the future.
Introduction: Historical background
The legacy of the language lab: opportunities and constraints. Great
opportunities for exploring instructional technology and CmC. But risk of
ghettoization of language teaching and reductionist view of IT.
Support for disenfranchised language faculty and professional development.
But professional development is not the same as intellectual stimulation.
Space for pedagogic and technological innovation and experimentation. But
learning conditions have changed radically. Who is asking the difficult
questions brought on by globalization?
Needed: A space for conceptualizing the fundamental epistemological and
disciplinary restructuring necessary to meet the demands of meaning
making, communication and literacy both in FLs and in English in a global
Samples from language centers’ mission statements
At the Language Center, we prepare all Stanford students to have a foreign language
capability that enhances their academic program and enables them to live, work, study,
and research in a different country. Stanford students need to be able to initiate
interactions with persons from other cultures but also to engage with them on issues of
mutual concern.
In order to accomplish this goal for Stanford students, the Language Center is
proficiency-oriented and standards-based. A proficiency orientation refers to emphasizing
doing rather than knowing. We try to make sure that students learn to speak, listen, read,
and write in ways that are immediately useful in a real world setting. Standards-based
refers to the National Standards on Foreign Language Learning that attend not only to
linguistic dimensions, but also to connections that learners make between languages,
cultures, and various academic areas; comparisons between languages and cultures;
and a knowledge of communities that speak a particular language.
Founded in 1994, the Berkeley Language Center’s mission is to support the
learning and teaching of heritage and foreign languages on the Berkeley
campus and, where appropriate, in the University of California system. To meet
this overarching goal, the BLC employs numerous strategies to improve
teaching effectiveness and enhance the learning environment:
→ Provide language instructors with opportunities to learn of new
developments in the fields of sociolinguistics, language pedagogy, and second
language acquisition theory;
→ Support research by language instructors and its dissemination at
professional meetings and in professional journals;
→ Support faculty production of new language learning materials;
→ Provide faculty and students with state-of-the-art learning facilities and
→ Provide faculty and students with access to language learning materials;
→ Maintain a library and media archive of materials for language teaching and
RICE UNIVERSITY’s Center for the Study of Languages (CSL)
seeks to develop and promote excellent language teaching and learning for
twelve languages through the third year of instruction with new technologies
and the current national standards for foreign language education playing an
integral part of the syllabus. The principal objective of our programs is to
educate students who are linguistically and culturally equipped to communicate
The administrative home of the Doctoral Program in Second Language Acqusition (SLA), the Language
Institute spearheads collaborative projects and instructional initiatives including:
-research studies on foreign language education such as the 2009-13 study, funded by the U.S. Department of
Education International Research and Studies Program, to investigate the alignment of postsecondary student goals
with the goals of the U.S. Standards for Foreign Language Learning, and a study, with International Academic
Programs, to research the long-term impact of study abroad;
-course and curriculum development initiatives such as distance, online language courses, including hybrid
Chinese courses for high school students, online Chinese courses for business professionals, instructional materials
development in languages such as Kazakh, Russian, Persian, Swahili and Uzbek;
-outreach programs such as World Languages Day for Wisconsin K-12 schools and the broader community;
-workshops and invited lectures such as the 2012-13 series on Language, Cognition and Sociality and bi-weekly
Language Over Lunch brownbag presentations;
-the Russian Flagship Center, an undergraduate program that provides opportunities for highly-motivated students of all
majors to achieve a professional level of competence in Russian by graduation;
-acacemic and career advising for undergraduate students and resources for university academic advisors.
CERCLL U. of Arizona
Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language
and Literacy (CERCLL) is a Title VI Language Resource
Center. We research culture, language and literacy within
less commonly taught languages. We also provide
educators with teaching resources and opportunities for
meaningful professional development.
YALE Center for Language Study
The CLS is a place for the language community to share ideas, bridge cultures,
and further the study of languages at Yale.
The CLS is offering a new Certificate in Second Language
Acquisition designed for Yale graduate students in departments of language &
literature to provide a comprehensive training program in SLA and language
teaching methodology.
BROWN UNIVERSITY Center for Language Studies.
Since 1987, the Center for Language Studies has facilitated contacts and
cooperation among faculty with teaching and research interests in second
languages. Our mission is to strengthen language study at Brown University
through promoting research, developing teaching techniques, courses,
programs, and learning resources, and creating new curricular configurations.
CLS supports the application of technologies in language learning, promotes
the professional development of language faculty and graduate students.
Members include teaching faculty from every language department on campus.
CLS is the academic home for American Sign Language, Arabic, Catalan,
English for International Teaching Assistants, Hindi/Urdu, and Modern Persian.
In addition, the Center often offers non-credit language courses. For academic
year 2012-13 we will be offering non-credit courses in Kiswahili and Turkish.
In sum: Some of the traditional roles of the language center have been:
provider of teaching services (Stanford, Brown)
testing services (Stanford)
delivering instruction (Brown, Stanford, Rice)
in-service training of teachers (Brown, Stanford, Berkeley)
producing innovative pedagogic materials (U of AZ, Brown)
research and resource clearinghouse (Berkeley, UW Madison, U of AZ)
Language Centers have been called upon to promote, improve, professionalize
language learning & teaching, commonly conceived - the how. They have not
played a role in reconceptualizing the why and what for of foreign language
instruction, the internationalization of American education, or the increasingly
multilingual nature of research and education in a global world.
The challenge of globalization for FL education
• Mobility and migration of people, capital, goods and knowledge
Block, D, Gray J. & Holborow M. 2012.Neoliberalism and Applied Linguistics. R.
Duchene,A. & Heller,M.(Eds) 2012 Language in Late Capitalism. Pride and profit. R.
Global information technologies, 24/7 media, ubiquity and simultaneity
Coupland, N (Ed.). 2010 Handbook of Language and Globalization. Wiley-Blackwell.
Block, D. 2010. Globalization and Language Teaching. Ibidem 287-304.
Block D & Cameron, D. (Eds.) 2002. Globalization and Language Teaching. Routledge.
Increased diversity and rapid change, i.e., pragmatic unpredictability,
semiotic uncertainty, authentic inauthenticity
Kramsch, C. 2012. Imposture: A late modern notion in post-structuralist SLA research.
Applied Linguistics 33:5
Kramsch, C. 2012. Authenticity and legitimacy in multilingual SLA. Journal of Critical
Multilingualism Studies.
Kramsch, C. 2013. History and memory in the development of intercultural
competence. In F.Sharifian & Jarmani (Eds.) Language and Intercultural
Communication in the New Era. Routledge.
Cultural hybridity, linguistic multiplicity, explosion of speech genres
-Briggs, C. & Bauman, R. 1992. Genre, intertextuality and social power.
Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2:2, 131-172.
-Ward, Steven. 2012. Neoliberalism and the global restructuring of knowledge and
education. Routledge
New ways of talking about language, about culture. From language as usevalue to language as exchange-value.
- Heller, M. 2003. Globalization, the new economy, and the commodification of language
and identity. Journal of Sociolinguistics 7:4, 473-92.
- Heller, M. and Duchene, A. Pride and profit: Changing discourses of language, capital
and nation-state. In Duchene, A. & Heller, M. Language in Late Capitalism. Routledge
- Thurlow, C. & Jaworski, A. 2010. Tourism Discourse. Language and global mobility.
Palgrave Macmillan.
Proliferation of meaning making practices, hypersemioticization of everyday life
The new skills required:
• cognitive, social, cultural, emotional, aesthetic flexibility,
• expectation of diversity and difference,
• multiplicity of voices,
• tolerance of ambiguity,
• awareness of one’s own subject position,
• sense of history,
• questioning dominant ideologies
The challenges: lack of teacher preparation; expectations of students; language
ideology in the public at large; lack of consensus on what language is and what
language does
“What is language? language teaching?”
FL instructors at UC Berkeley discover that they have quite different views of
what they are in the business of doing.
Urdu: “Language, basically/fundamentally, is a means/medium of
communication through words and sentences. Language teaching is to try to
enable learners to communicate through words, sentences and paragraphs in
target language and to understand what is spoken or written through words,
sentences and paragraphs”.
Q. “A rose is a rose is a rose”. Really?
Chinese: “Language is medium and message, form and content. It encapsulates
the values, beliefs, past and present histories of a community sharing the same
set of symbols.” “Language is a cultural product, a systems of forms that people
in a community with shared cultural behavior, values, and mind utilize or
manipulate to express ideas and feelings to fulfill particular purposes in
particular sociocultural contexts”
Q. We are teachers of language, not culture.
German: “Language is what we live, speak, read, see, hear, feel, taste, play
with, wonder about. Yes, it is a tool to communicate, but so much more – it lets
us express emotions, feelings, thoughts, upbringings, cultures, worldviews.
Language helps us to see and understand the world we live in, its people, and
ourselves.” Language teaching is to make learners curious and enable them to
change perspective, learn about others and themselves, become tolerant of
ambiguity, appreciate the aesthetics of a language and get a sense about what
language represents and can do.”
Q. Learning German as political/moral/aesthetic rearmement?
Italian: “In terms of its social attribute, language is what makes us different from
other species, what makes us human beings. We use it to describe the world
that we live in, to express our emotions and deliver our thoughts. Language
also helps us get a better understanding of other cultures and people. Overall,
language is a lively and changing subject.”
Q. Italian as a new way of representing, not constructing/acting upon, the
Danish: “Language is a code consisting of symbols/elements. Different codes
connected with different (often nation states) groups, used to communicate.
Symbols imbued with meanings beyond the symbolic value. Learning a
language is learning to crack the code.”
Q. How do you go from cracking the code to using the code?
French: “Language is not only a closed linguistic system made up of linguistic
structures and parts of speech, it is also a living mode of communication and a
way of constructing social and cultural realities, real and imagined worlds, and
historical and social identities”.
Q. How do you test the ability to construct new realities, worlds and identities?
National Standards (1996/2006)
Foreign language instruction in the 21st century should strive to reach five goals.
1. Communication
1.1 provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions;
1.2 understand and interpret written and spoken language on a variety of topics.
2. Cultures
2.1 understand the relationship between the practices and perspectives,
2.2 between the products and perspectives of the culture studied.
3. Connections:
3.1 connect with other disciplines and acquire information through the foreign language;
3.2 acquire information and recognize the distinctive viewpoints only available through the foreign languages and its
4. Comparisons:
4.1 understand the nature of language and 4.2 the concept of culture through comparison with their own
5. Communities:
5.1 participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world, both within and beyond the school setting;
5.2 become life-long learners by using the language for personal enjoyment and enrichment.
(Standards for Foreign Language Learning: Preparing for the 21 st century. Yonkers, NY: American Council on the
Teaching of Foreign Languages, 2006)
Magnan, S. S., Murphy, D., Sahakyan, N. (in press). Goals of collegiate learners and the
standards for foreign language learning. Modern Language Journal Monograph.
Many lower division FL learners seem to be only interested in “communication” and “communities”, NOT cultures,
connections, or comparisons.
“What characterizes the global network society is the contraposition between the logic of the
global net and the affirmation of a multiplicity of local selves” (37). . .The common culture of the
global network society is a culture of protocols of communication enabling communication
between different cultures on the basis not of shared values but of the sharing of the value of
communication” (Castells, M. Communication Culture, 2009:38 my emphasis).
FL educators seem to be confronted now with the task of having to teach two kinds of
culture: a global culture of communication for the sake of communication and local
cultures of shared values.
Foreign Cultures
“In today’s world of multicompetence (Cook 1992), it is difficult to define what is foreign, a label
we can no longer relegate to languages other than English or to cultures other than an
essentialized and idealized notion of what is American.” (Magnan et al., in press)
“Students have an understanding of the constitutive view of language study (Language
represents what we are, think, and reveal about ourselves) as opposed to an
instrumental view (Language consists of communicative and information gathering skills)”
but they don’t extend the relativity of language and thought to the knowledge they acquire
in English during their academic career.
Students have a healthy distrust of stereotypes, but they seem to want to dispel them
through direct contact with members of other communities on an individual basis and by
avoiding divisive topics rather than exploring differences and negotiating global
Most valued goal for college students learning a FL or HL, but the term no longer
represents speech communities bound by national boundaries. With global
communication networks, communities have for the most part become deterritorialized,
portable communities, real and imagined, that people carry in their heads.
The MLA Report (2007)
FL teachers in the U.S. don’t seem to have had to grapple yet with issues of global
English, multilingual encounters, historical identities, and the neoliberal commodification
of language. Nor have they really dealt critically with the injunction of the MLA Report
“Students are educated to function as informed and capable interlocutors with educated native
speakers in the target language. They learn to comprehend speakers of the target language as
members of foreign societies and to grasp themselves as Americans – that is, as members of a
society that is foreign to others. They also learn to relate to fellow members of their own society
who speak languages other than English.”
Six years later:
- Isn’t the monolingual monocultural native speaker dead?
- In a global world, what is ‘foreign’?
- In multicultural America, what is an “American”?
- On the global stage, is English a language or a basic skill?
Whither FL education in an age of globalization?
Globalization prompts us to ask new questions about the ultimate goals of
language instruction in an era of multilingualism, heteroglossia etc. Language
learners have to learn, as the 2007 MLA Report advocates, how to “operate
between languages” (p.35), i.e., how to develop a linguistic and cultural
competence across multilingual contexts. While this multilingual imperative has
been the theme of a special issue of the MLJ on multilingualism (Jasone Cenoz
and Durk Gorter 2011), and while applied linguists have put forth a range of
suggestions for embracing multilingualism (from Auer and Wei’s plurilingualism
to Blommaert’s truncated multilingualism, to Makoni and Pennycook’s
disinventing national languages, to post colonial scholars heterolingualism, and
Creese & Blackledge’s notion of translanguaging), such multilingualism has not
yet been taken seriously by foreign language teachers in departments of
foreign languages and literatures at educational institutions. But see Special
Issue of the Modern Language Journal (98:1, 2014) on the topic.
5. New possible roles for the Language Center
In addition to being an L2 Pedagogic Center where L2 skills are researched
and taught , and FL teachers are trained, the Language Center should be
a Language Research Center for the exploration of how knowledge gets
constructed through different symbolic systems, among which L1, L2, L3.
- What knowledge/language ideology gets constructed
through our foreign language pedagogies
through our textbooks and other instructional materials
What is at stake in the construction, transmission and dissemination of
knowledge through meaning-making symbolic systems and practices of
inquiry that are different in different societies/cultures ? How is knowledge
constructed in English different from knowledge constructed in French or
German? For the sciences and engineering, see: Baumgratz, G. Mobility
in higher education: Cross-cultural communication issues. European
Journal of Education 28:3, (1993) 327-228.
Initiate both undergraduate/ graduate students and faculty to the field of
applied language studies, broadly conceived.
Find links between the humanities and the social sciences, the social
sciences and the hard sciences (see Big Ideas courses), foreign languages
and English through focus on “Big L Language” in the construction of
knowledge. Issues of textuality, discourse, style, genre, register, perspective
and point of view.
Help familiarize undergraduates, graduate students and faculty with the big
questions raised by globalization: the bilingual mind, multilingualism,
(in)authenticity, code-switching, language ideology, the economy of
symbolic systems; old and new ways of “learning”.
If faculty and grad students don’t want to tackle these big questions, engage
the undergraduates. They are hungry for this kind of knowledge !
Help redefine “internationalization” as reframing the questions, not
diversifying the answers : see St.Olaf, Waterloo U., Indiana U.
The Language Center
A forum for discussing the role of Language in a global
Who, if not the Language Centers, can ask the difficult questions of the future:
- Is global English an aid or a threat to foreign language study? (see J.House
languages for communication vs. languages for identification in ”English as
a Lingua Franca: a threat to multilingualism?” Journal of Sociolinguistics 7:4
(2003), 556-578)
- “I already know Spanish, why do I need to take Russian?” (see M.Holquist’s
big L argument)
- “I just want to know enough German to talk to graffiti artists in Germany;
why do I need the whole of German grammar?” (see S.B.Heath’s argument)
- “How do I understand who I am, as a bilingual, multilingual, multidialectal
speaker, with my parents in China, my cousins in Berlin and my future in
California? Where’s home?”
- “I have just come back from 5 years in the Marines and 1 year deployment
in Iraq and I want to understand the way language and power have shaped
my life in the military”
“While it seems reasonable to downplay the educated native speaker as the
goal of instruction, what will take its place as the goal of instruction with
regard to language performance measures?”
“If we are to teach how to ‘operate between languages’, are we no longer to
worry about control over such linguistic features as verbal aspect, mood,
question formation, word order, pragmatic knowledge etc.?”
“In a post-national era, what should we mean by ‘culture’? (a purely
social/anthropological category? A psychological category? A humanistic
category?) and how does culture interface with language?”
“What is the appropriate ‘knowledge base’ for a foreign language educator?”
“How can we make better use of our foreign-born NS instructors, whose
experience as global citizens is currently unacknowledged and underused?”
Discussing Hiroshima in Japanese language classes? – No way ! – Really?
All these questions capture the anxiety of foreign language learners and
teachers faced with the weakening of national boundaries, the spread of
English and its attendant global neoliberal ideologies. The future will demand
- Reflexivity
- Attention to socio-historic variation and variability
- Attention to textuality, discourse, stylistics
- Multiple perspectives on events
- Memory and subjectivity
- Trans-lation of all kinds (across codes, modes, modalities, discourses,
genres …)
So why do tests only focus on grammar and vocabulary? the last bastion of
certainty ? a safeguard against inconvenient truths?
The Language Center can serve as a forum to discuss these issues.
Conclusion: The global/local Language Center
Equally distant from a totalizing tourist gaze on foreign
languages and cultures (taught in standard L2), and from a
totalizing view of Language with a big L (taught in English),
each foreign language presents a unique case study in
local particularity, starting with its unique grammar right up
to its unique history and literature. The Language Center
must make sure it remains both universal in its relevance
and particular in its approach. It must offer both a theory of
the actual practice and an actualization of the theory.
Above all it must respond to the need to mediate between
languages and fields in the Humanities and the Social
Sciences. Its patron saint ? St. Jerome.
In Durer’s engraving
you sit hunched over your desk,
writing, with an extraneous
halo around your head.
You have everything you need: a mind
at ease with itself, and the generous
sunlight on pen, page, ink,
the few chairs, the vellum-bound books,
the skull on the windowsill that keeps you
honest (memento mori).
What you are concerned with
in your subtle craft is not simply
the life of language–to take
those boulderlike nouns of the Hebrew
text, those torrential verbs,
into your ear and remake them
in the hic-haec-hoc of your time–
but an innermost truth. For years
you listened when the Spirit was
the faintest breeze, not even the
breath of a sound. And wondered
how the word of God could be clasped
between the covers of a book.
Now, by the latticed window,
absorbed in your work,
the word becomes flesh, becomes sunlight
and leaf mold, the smell of fresh bread
from the bakery down the lane,
the rumble of an oxcart, the unconscious
ritual of a young woman
combing her hair, the bray
of a mule, an infant crying:
the whole vibrant life
of Bethlehem, outside your door.
None of it is an intrusion.
you are sitting in the magic circle
of yourself. In a corner, the small
watchdog is curled up, dreaming,
and beside it, on the threshold, the lion
dozes, with half-closed eyes.
—Stephen Mitchell. Engraving above by Albrecht Durer.

The cultural dimension of language studies