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Foreign Language Learning as Intercultural Experience

The Subjective Dimension

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Edited By Arnd Witte and Theo Harden

Learning a foreign language in its cultural context has a significant effect on the subjective mind, ranging from the unsettling to the inspirational. The complex interplay between native and foreign languages, their cultural conceptualisations and discourses and the mind and body of the learner results in the subjective construction of individual positionings located «in between» the languages and cultures involved. These processes are not restricted to the cognitive level of learning but also involve deep-seated habits, values and beliefs. These habits, values and beliefs are to a certain extent the result of subjective experiences and feelings; however, they are also embedded in a socio-cultural network of concepts, norms, traditions and life-worlds, so that they are characterised both by the learner’s subjectivity and by the sociality and (inter-)culturality of their environment.
The essays in this volume explore the subjective dimension of intercultural language learning, ranging from theoretical considerations to empirical studies and providing stimulating insights into this important area of study.
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The Subjective Blending of Spaces in Intercultural Foreign Language Learning: Theoretical Considerations and Issues of Assessment

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Introduction

When starting to learn a foreign language (FL) in a schooling context, most learners do so, intentionally or not, with reference to their previously internalised linguistic and cultural patterns of construal, as well as the internalised social norms, values, beliefs and conventions of their native speech community. Since these have been acquired from very early on in life in tandem with the processes of developing mental functions, feelings and notions of self, they have a deeply formative influence on all cognitive, psychological and physical activities of the subject. The acquisition of the first language (L1) therefore implies the socialisation and enculturation of the subject’s mind.

Despite this intimate connection between language and subjective faculties of thought, action and emotion, language cannot be used in a completely subjective or private manner. Rather, it is a socioculturally construed symbolic repertoire, given to the individual by others, which the subject adapts for the purpose satisfying his or her specific needs and intentions in particular contexts and circumstances. Culture in this sense can be seen as distributed tacit knowledge which provides a generative matrix for cognitive and affective construal that serves as a template for a subjective and social existence. Thus culture is not static but is constantly constructed, de- and reconstructed by the members of a cultural community through processes of dissension and inherent cultural difference. Culture is not an object ← 19 | 20 → (although it produces tangible manifestations such as buildings, books, paintings, technical apparatus, etc...

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