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Foreign Language Learning as Intercultural Experience

The Subjective Dimension


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 Most Frustrating Experience in Foreign Language Learning: Listening Intently and Still Not Understanding


One’s first and most fundamental impression when confronted with spoken foreign language is that of an unstructured torrent of sounds, a notion reflected in the onomatopoeic term ‘barbarians’, meaning those who make bababa when they open their mouths, instead of speaking a ‘proper’ language, in this case, Greek.1

Today’s foreign language learners are, of course, more enlightened. They know that the sounds they are hearing are language sounds, and they also know that one of their tasks is to make them meaningful.

Listening comprehension is one of the four established skills in second and foreign language learning. It does not, however, receive the kind of attention that, for example, speaking or even reading get (cf. Osada 2001; 2004), either in foreign and second language research or in the classroom. If at all, the efforts made in both areas are geared to enhancing strategies (cf. e.g. Mendelsohn 1994; McDonough 1995; Morley 2001). But how far can these exercises take the learner? After all, introducing teaching and learning strategies means using carefully processed materials (cf. O’Malley et al. 1989) and a number of didactic procedures which are genuinely alien to listening, a process by and large determined by the fact that the listener is held hostage by the speaker. ← 95 | 96 →

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