Response to Crawford (1999): Should We Be Talking Languages Up or Talking Them Down?

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.

Crawford, J. (1999). Should we be talking languages up or talking them down? Australian Language Matters, 7(4), 9-10.

This article mentions that some teachers end up having to teach “non-linguistic” aspects of a language, such as positive attitudes and cultural awareness in upper level language classes because they are suddenly faced with a combination of students who have been studying the language since their primary years and students who are only just starting to study it. While this doesn’t exactly contradict the ideas expressed in Lo Bianco and Crozet (2003) and ALPLP about intercultural awareness being an important, and oft-neglected, aspect of language teaching and learning, it certainly does shed a different light on some of the challenges of teaching languages other than English in an Australian context. While I have made the jump from thinking of intercultural learning as a fringe endeavour in the classroom to being one of the main objectives of the class, I think any teacher would be frustrated to only be able to teach culture and not be able to dive deeply into the language with students who are potentially ready for it.

As I mentioned in my reflection on my unit plan feedback, I was surprised to discover that while I thought I believed in using the target language as much as possible in the LOTE classroom, I had designed my lessons to take part mainly in English. As Crawford indicates that “[t]eachers’ expectations of learner achievement were reflected in their choice of code in the classroom” (p. 9), I realized that my beliefs and my actions were not matching, and that I was setting my expectations too low, to the detriment of my potential students.

I found the Read (1999) article quite perplexing, though, because it seems to suggest that there is very little difference in outcomes between immersing students in the target language for language classes and teaching it in the native language. It made me think that there was something else going on here. Perhaps the tests that were given to show achievement were too easy, so there was no big difference between the two cohorts? I feel that these results are counter-intuitive, and the author doesn’t do a good enough job of discussing why the only thing they could say in defence of immersion learning was that “the immersion learners were at least not damaged” by the experience (p. 8)! I wonder if further testing would reveal a more nuanced understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of using the target language in the classroom.

Also mentioned:

Asian Languages Professional Learning Project (ALPLP). Getting started with intercultural language learning: A resource for schools. Retrieved April 15, 2010, from

Lo Bianco, J., & Crozet, C. (Eds.). (2003). Teaching invisible culture: Classroom practice and theory. Melbourne: Language Australia Ltd.

Read, J. (1999). Immersion Indonesian at Rowvill Secondary College. Babel, 34(2), 4-9, 37.