Response to Scarino (1999): The Neglected Goals of Language Learning

This post is from a course that I took. I had to make blog posts for the course and I decided to move the posts over here when the course finished.

Scarino, A. (2000). The neglected goals of language learning. Babel, 34(3), 4-11 & 37.

Scarino suggests that language teaching and learning is often reduced to goals related to communication, and that four other elements of language learning — the ones that are often emphasized in curricular documents and given as the very justification for learning other languages — are often neglected. These are the neglected goals that she gives:

  • understanding the sociocultural implications of language
  • learning how to learn
  • developing language and cultural awareness
  • enhancing general knowledge

Scarino brings up an important point about teaching culture. It can be tempting to present a foreign culture as a collection of oddities, involving strange food, strange festivals, and strange fashion; however, a true understanding of a foreign culture requires that the students come to recognize the internal consistency of the culture. This requires students to reflect on why people eat what they do (due to, for example, their relationship with their environment) and why they make the choices they make (based on, for example, a different perception of how people should interact with each other) and come to accept that these ways of thinking are as legitimate as their own way of thinking. This also results in students coming to a deeper understanding of their own culture. This matches nicely with Orton’s (1997) idea of engaging with “otherness”. Both authors (Scarino and Orton) also agree on the importance of teacher reflection in order to bring teachers (at least temporarily) out of their lesson planning headspace and into a place that allows a more holistic view of the language learning environment.

I agree with this idea of incorporating reflection in the teaching cycle. While teachers are always thinking about lessons (how did that go, what am I going to do next), we don’t always remember to jump out of that cycle and look at where we are going and what we are trying to accomplish. As Scarino indicates, it is not enough for students to be able to name things and get the services they require in a foreign culture. In order for students to get the maximum benefit from language learning, they need to engage with the “otherness” of the culture and be able to see the culture behind the communication. A truly reflective approach to teaching is necessary to make sure that we don’t bog ourselves down with communicative tasks to the detriment of this, more holistic understanding of language in a cultural context.

Questions from the Study Guide

Scarino’s retrospective on the ALL Guidelines shows that the goals which were not clearly developed as frameworks by ALL were not taken up by the majority of teachers even though lip-service is paid to them all in syllabuses. Why do you think this happened?
I think that language teachers moved from teaching grammar to teaching in a more communicative way, and hadn’t quite gotten to the point of understanding that they needed to include cultural considerations as well. The people who wrote the curriculum documents understood this, and the teachers probably understood this on an intellectual level, but it was probably not clear how those outcomes and frameworks translate into the classroom. Even Scarino’s article gives very few specific ideas about how to teach in this way, and she herself glosses over two of the four neglected goals.