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What do language learners and the linguistic landscape have to teach each other?

Written By: daveski on March 7, 2012 2 Comments

As I began to write last time, waiting for my connecting flight back to California from the February 22-24 4th International Workshop on Linguistic Landscape, I had departed for this gathering in Addis Ababa with two conceptual questions and one applied question in mind. First, for the linguistic landscape workshop participants–a diverse group of researchers of social, political, and linguistic phenomena visible (and audible) in multilingual urban spaces–I aimed to ask what LL research might gain methodologically by considering the perspectives and stance of the language learner. At the same time, and looking forward to next month’s UCCLLT conference in San Diego, I wanted to raise the opposite question, that is, how classroom-based language learners might stand to benefit if the ‘target language’ were also studied as it is made present, visible, and local in the streets and neighborhoods of the communities surrounding language classrooms.

At the workshop, this pair of questions led to a handful of tantalizing beginnings-to-discussions, just enough to whet my appetite and motivate me to ask them again here, in a venue that doesn’t have to move so quickly to the next presentation topic: How might language learners benefit from studying (in) the linguistic landscape? And how might studies of the linguistic landscape benefit from language learners?

In some ways, these aren’t questions that I’ve wondered for the first time. In my BLC Fellowship project from waayyyyy back in 2005 I followed a UC Berkeley Korean language class and an English class at Suwon University in Korea as they used an online discussion forum to interpret LL images from each other’s cities. This language learning project later informed a paper I wrote on the politics of knowing the LL of other places through homogenizing street view technologies. And several posts [1, 2, 3, 4, 5] here on FIT have explored multimodal discourses on signs for their linguistic peculiarities, their ideological significance, their humor.

Yet, the occasion for asking now what language learners and the linguistic landscape have to teach each other is new: as debates progress as to how the 2007 MLA Report‘s ideals of translingual and transcultural competence and “operating between languages” can be realized in practice; as Berkeley joins other schools nationwide in inviting new initiatives in “engaged scholarship” and community-based learning; and as the linguistic diversity of the San Francisco Bay Area and other U.S. regions is the ongoing object of both pride and fear, the time seems right to ask how language learning in the linguistic landscape can best be realized in practice.

The centerpiece for my presentation at LL4 in Addis Ababa was a 2-page draft proposal for a semester-long learning project that I offered for the consideration of the participants there, in their capacity as educators as much as their role as researchers. Here on FIT, with its potential audience of language teachers at Berkeley and in the broader online language community, I’d like to offer it again–not through more paragraphs of text, but embedded in a modified Prezi from the linguistic landscape workshop a little over a week ago.

So, with all this, my last, most practical question, in light of the two big questions above, is a variant of the timeless question asked by language teachers everywhere: How could this work on Monday morning?

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2 Responses to “What do language learners and the linguistic landscape have to teach each other?”

  1. Selma Mooura on: 12 May 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Dear David,

    I’m a doctoral researcher in applied linguistics in Brazil, and it was great of read your post and feel some similarities with the questions I’ve been asking myself lately. I also wonder how people in urban multilingual neighborhoods as São Paulo (and others) take ownership of spaces and transform them to assert identity through languages, and how these languages contribute to their identities and performances. It will be great to read more about your work!

    My research takes place in an after-school program, with children from minority multicultural households. I’ll be at the 19th Sociolinguistics Symposium, in Berlin. Are you going to be there as well?

    Well, it was great to find your work, I’ll follow the blog to make sure I’m aware of what’s going on in Berkeley.

    Warm regards,


    daveski Reply:

    Thanks very much, Selma. I’d love to be able to meet you and hear about your work too. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get to SS19 in Berlin, though…will try! Who else do you follow in linguistic landscape and related areas of study? Are there other forums that you know of?

    In case you’re interested, there are occasional discussion topics on a Google group at http://groups.google.com/group/linguisticlandscape

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