Educating the global citizen or the global consumer?

Blog post written by Claire Kramsch based on an article published in Language Teaching

My views on the impact that globalization has had on the learning and teaching of foreign languages have been very much influenced by my French upbringing. In the fifties in France I learned and then studied German not in order to find a job in Germany, nor to go and visit the country, nor even to make friends with Germans, but to enjoy German literature and to immerse myself in German poems and fairytales. The language for me was indissociable from texts on the page and the imaginary worlds they opened up for me.  Not that I had consciously intended it to be that way. The teaching of German in those days was pure grammar/translation, my teachers spoke German with an atrocious French accent, many of them has fought the  Germans and had just returned from POW camps, and Germany lay in ruins. And yet…not unlike many learners of English today, I embraced German as my ticket to freedom from what I perceived to be a stifling French educational system.

Later, once I got to know real Germans and discovered the thrills of real live conversation with native speakers of German (rather than textbook dialogues) I began to understand the potential of foreign language education to bring people together across national boundaries. But the language of international communication was increasingly English, not German. People were not learning English to study Shakespeare, but to adopt a more instrumental, commercially efficient mode of communication that became even more widespread with the invention of the Internet. I became fascinated by the extensive research conducted to improve the teaching of English as a global language. I benefitted tremendously from the insights of my colleagues in second language acquisition and applied linguistics, but I always missed the imaginary worlds of my youth, when I was a French citizen in love with German poetry.

So when the invitation came to reflect on “the global citizen” of the future, I couldn’t help thinking: What is a global citizen?  Isn’t globalization making us rather into global consumers? Isn’t globalization just another form of imperialism or colonialism?  As a French high school student, I had loved German precisely because it was not French nor English, because it was different and controversial. As a graduate student, I was seduced by the possibility of thinking and dreaming in different syntaxes, lexicons and metaphors. Now as a German professor in the United States I am happy to remain a French Germanist with a U.S. passport, resonating to different multilingual ecologies of being to which English, Latin, Greek and Russian were added later on.

Read the article ‘Educating the global citizen or the global consumer?’ published in Language Teaching

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