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Engaging Multi-literacies Perspectives in Japan

NEAR Language Education Conference 2015, Niigata, Japan

“Learning and teaching languages in the North-East Asian Regional Context”

On the weekend I presented a paper at the University of Niigata Prefecture to engage multiliteracies perspectives. The title of my session was, Visual media literacy, foreign language teaching, and intercultural education. I make links between the fields of language teaching (from English as an International Language perspectives), cultural studies, and visual media studies to suggest that language teaching should be about much more than learning a linguistic code. Rather, it could be allied with more general ways of understanding our world.

Claire Kramsch (2014) writes that there “has never been a greater tension between what is taught in the classroom and what the students will need in the real world once they have left the classroom” (p. 296). A narrow focus on standards, benchmarks, and linguistic skills excludes other important goals for language teaching and learning.

Culture continues to be viewed as an “add-on” — especially in many of our university-level high-stakes academic language programs. I suggest broader roles for ESL/EFL in the era of globalization given English’s status as a Lingua Franca. The ability to negotiate difference is a crucial component of global citizenship. Media literacy (in its many manifestations) is now considered a life skill by many, and visual media literacy – critically reading and producing visual meanings related to the self and other – may enhance our ability to negotiate difference both in digital spaces and face-to-face. In this presentation I provided examples to demonstrate how visual media literacies can readily be integrated into ESL/EFL curricula.

Learning to position oneself in relation to the other is a key aspect of becoming a global citizen. This implies nurturing language learners who are not only interested in difference, but also who are willing and able to communicate in unfamiliar cultural contexts, whether in our multicultural classrooms in Canada or foreign language classrooms in Asia and elsewhere.

Kramsch, C. (2014). Teaching foreign languages in an era of globalization: Introduction. The Modern Language Journal, 98(1), 296–311.

Niigata presentation

Presenting at Niigata University. Thank you to the outstanding audience of professors and educators from Japan and the North-East Asia Region, who were engaged and had many great questions.


Visual media literacy, foreign language teaching, and intercultural education

Language teachers are well aware that learning a language also entails learning how to negotiate with people from different cultures. Given the realities of globalization and English’s status as an International Language, we cannot predict with whom our students will need to communicate in the future. This implies that learning intercultural negotiation may be more beneficial for many students than focusing on knowledge about a particular target culture. In our technological age we learn more about difference through the visually dominated mass media than from all other sources of information, including school curricula. Media images depicting cultures different from one’s own therefore offer compelling opportunities for intercultural encounters that otherwise might not take place in the foreign language context. This paper considers how teachers can use images from current news media in the classroom to foster language and culture learning. In this session participants will thus be introduced to practical strategies for integrating intercultural education and English language learning within a media literacies framework. Participants will be led through a series of activities focused on language and culture that they can use in their own classrooms.


With Melodie Cook, Professor at Niigata University and former teacher in the EIP at U Ottawa.

With Melodie Cook, Professor at Niigata University and former teacher in the EIP at U Ottawa.

Fukushimagata Wetlands, near Niigata. This is a beautiful area to visit!

Fukushimagata Wetlands, near Niigata. This is a beautiful area to visit!

The Sea of Japan, Niigata.

The Sea of Japan, Niigata.

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