- Remapping the Foreign Language Curriculum: An Approach through Multiple Literacies
For a scholar working in the developing field of multiliteracies, it is illuminating to read how multiple literacies are conceptualized in research and pedagogical practice. Swaffar and Aren's approach in Remapping the Foreign Language Curriculum: An Approach though Multiple Literacies is grounded in literary theory and cultural studies, developed as a plea - and a plan - for a culturally embedded genre-based approach to the study of 'foreign' languages in response to the assumed superficial linguistic understanding of what is to be accomplished in the traditional foreign language (FL) classroom. It is an invitation to rewrite the canon that is refreshingly inclusive of minority language study. The book provides stepping stones for understanding and including in the FL curriculum theories and methodological approaches that are typically packaged, within the social sciences and humanities, as 'literature,' 'literary theory,' 'sociolinguistics,' and 'cultural studies.'
The volume is, at its core, a how-to book, and a very good one, though focused rather narrowly on what the authors judge to be traditional post-secondary FL classroom teaching in the US context. This is consequential for a Canadian readership, given different political orientations to the study and use of multiple languages in the United States and Canada.
The term 'foreign language' has been discarded in many national contexts. In Australia, the notion of a 'foreign language' has been rejected, given the country's policy of multiculturalism, and exchanged for the more inward-looking term 'community languages' (Clyne, 1991). At the large urban university where I work in Canada, the department is called, simply, Languages, Literatures and Linguistics. The terms used [End Page 429] in the secondary school system in Ontario, however, are less inclusive: 'heritage' languages, referring to inter-generational maintenance rather than to acquisition by a more multicultural student body; and 'international' languages, denoting a global vista rather than a community focus.
In chapter 1, which addresses the need for an institutional rethinking of language teaching, the authors define language as 'a set of culture-based performances, situated in various public, private, and disciplinary contexts' (p. 20), and ask readers to consider the fact that foreign language centres 'often reify, or at least exacerbate, the language/context schizophrenia that language-acquisition research has found to be undesirable' (p. 24). Chapter 2 stresses the need to reinterpret language fundamentals as 'social and linguistic negotiations within and across cultures' (p. 28) and to rearticulate the traditional notions of beginner-, intermediate-, and advanced-level learners. This chapter, together with chapter 3, which probes readability, charts out activities and approaches for less advanced language learners that do not forgo cognitively challenging literacy materials. In general, however, the book addresses more advanced learners.
In chapter 4, the authors offer new ways of understanding top-down and bottom-up reading, centered on literature. Chapter 5, on genre, includes both physical and digital genres, though the focus is on the textual products rather than the metaliteracies needed in order to access digital texts and genres (see Lotherington, 2004). Chapter 6, a convincing chapter also dealing with genre, stresses that the goal of the FL classroom is "multiple cultural literacies" (p. 139), which chapter 7 imagines by linking cultural studies, cultural literacies, and the study of literature. The final coda chapter brings the volume back to earth with questions of how to start making substantial changes in FL classrooms. It is here that Swaffar and Arens critically note that the penetration of a multiple literacies approach has been limited in both secondary school and teacher education programs.
Literary examples are used in each chapter, starting with classic English literature and moving into other literatures, such as, in chapter 5, a detailed discussion of Laura Esquivel's popular novel Como agua para chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate), which includes a comparison with the film. To their credit, the authors take on the study of pre-modern language teaching, such as Latin and Old Church Slavonic, as well as postmodern genres and contexts.