Renown peace studies specialist Johan Galtung speaks of language, peace education, culture and language learning in this interview with Donna J. McInnis for the Japan Association for Language Teaching. He emphasizes the connection of language learning with relationships and cultural understanding.
Language learning, according to Galtung, can never be done in isolation. The nature of language requires relationship. From his perspective, “for each language, a deep bond — a parent, a friend, a beloved teacher — is needed. Languages flow along the bonding, making learning from significant others easier than school learning, except when there is bonding with the teacher or classmates of that language. The language is part of that person.” These relationships are bound to the language learning and healthy relationships make for successful language acquisition.
Also, Galtung points out that language education is a unique setting to learn about culture, not just in order to tolerate other cultures, but to start to look deeply at cultural values and expressions from a peace perspective. He reminds us that tolerance seems a worthy goal, but that “not all aspects of all cultures are worth learning. Rationalizations of violence, repression, and exploitation are also parts of cultures. Maybe those who dwell in these cultures have become so used to these aspects that they no longer sense them? And, maybe the foreigner with a fresh look may have an important task in asking questions unasked in and by the culture itself?” Language learners have a role in building peace within and between their multiple cultures. Peace educators have the opportunity to help learners along this path.
I really loved this article. One of the parts that got me thinking was the part about language success being very much tied to a “beloved person” with which a student interacts. When I worked at Connexus, we often talked about giving students a “positive experience” with English, so that they would not be turned off to the language because of negative feelings associated with it. I thought that was about doing fun activities and that sort of thing, but now I am seeing that I should have also been working equally hard in creating opportunities for them to find those “beloved people” with whom to interact with–teachers, fellow classmates, etc. I wonder now if my students would have improved more if I had focused more on relationship than on making sure we got through all of the material… How I would like to try again with a little more wisdom!
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