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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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Cognitive Dissonance and the Subjective Mind in Foreign Language Learning: The Use of Structured Academic Controversy in the German Language Classroom


Introduction: Structured Academic Controversy (SAC), engagement and cognitive dissonance

SAC, also known as ‘Structured Controversial Dialogue’ (Zainuddin/Moore 2003) or ‘Co-operative Controversy’ (D’Eon/Proctor 2001), is a pedagogical technique designed to scaffold informed, constructive debate by learners on controversial issues or issues about which reasonable people are likely to disagree. To date, SAC has been most closely associated with the teaching of political education in schools (cf. Hahn 2009) and with classrooms in which the primary objective has been to develop critical thinking skills (cf. D’Eon/Proctor 2001).

In its simplest form, SAC involves giving or directing students towards materials which argue polarised positions on a controversial issue. As a result, it can function both as part of a course based solely on face-to-face interaction or as part of a blended learning approach which integrates face-to-face with online learning (see for example Garrison/Kanuka 2004), in that teams of learners can be required to source, share and reflect online on relevant material in advance. It can also be usefully associated with the notion of a ‘flipped classroom’ (Berrett 2012; Teaching Methods 2011) in which class contact hours can be devoted to interactive engagement while the absorption of content takes place outside of the classroom, usually in advance in the learners’ own time. When using the SAC approach, learners ← 187 | 188 → are divided into groups of four and two of the group members present their position on the controversial topic to the other two. The objective is not to...

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