Community-based Language Learning as Social Justice Pedagogy

We look forward to seeing on Wed, Sept 18 at 3.30 pm at the Language Commons. Please see below for further info.


Language is central to the work of democracy and social justice. As Henry Giroux writes (2011), "the force of [language's] importance has to be tied to its relevance as an empowering, emancipatory, and democratic function" (179). Giroux reminds us that we cannot treat language learning as simply a "technical issue" -- studying linguistic patterns and memorizing vocabulary -- but rather, we must envision it as a site of struggle and resistance where our very identities are at stake. This vision of language learning aligns with the ACTFL World Language Readiness Standards that declare that "language and communication are at the heart of the human experience" ("World Readiness").

On the surface, critical service-learning in the L2 (Community-based Language Learning, or CBLL) offers a clear path to integrating social justice pedagogies into the language classroom. Students who partner with local native speakers, volunteering in schools or immigration centers, for instance, show increased empathy and tolerance for ambiguity (Giles et al. 2001). Their work with newcomer communities also reveals how language reinforces social and economic disparities (Petrov 2013). Unfortunately, however, research shows that despite the good intentions of many language educators, these community partnerships often have the opposite of their intended effect, perpetuating a charity model of volunteerism that reinforces stereotypes, privilege, and power (Mitchell 2008; Butin 2008; Himley 2004). This talk will explore how language educators can use critical pedagogy to support students in their discovery that service can both alleviate and perpetuate systems of inequity.

About the speaker: 

Deb Reisinger is Associate Professor of the Practice in the Department of Romance Studies and affiliate faculty in the Global Health Institute at Duke University. She directs the Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum (CLAC) program at Duke, an initiative that helps students explore culturally-specific solutions to real-world problems. Deb’s work examines the impact of language and culture on identity, inclusion, and community; her recent work focuses on a project, Bienvenue à Durham: Welcoming French Speaking Refugees to North Carolina - that provides French students with the opportunity to work with recently resettled refugees from Central Africa. Deb is the author of Crime and Media in France (Purdue 2007) and co-author of the recent book,Community-based Language Learning (2019). She has published numerous articles on language pedagogy, French for the Professions, and intercultural competence and is currently completing a textbook on French for Professional Purposes. She chairs the World Languages Advisory Committee to the College Board and is co-chair of the AP French Language and Culture Exam development committee.

Language Commons
Academic Year: 
Event Date: 
Wednesday, September 18, 2019 3:30 AM to 5:00 AM