Foreign Language Learning as Intercultural Experience: The Subjective Dimension



National University of Ireland MAYNOOTH, 30 & 31 AUGUST 2013


From the very beginning, the process of learning a foreign language is an increasingly intercultural experience. The foreign language classroom typically provides the first location in which learners are explicitly confronted with the complex interplay of language, thought and body. This experience is triggered by using another language (and its cultural context) as the medium of expression, something which might have an effect on the subjective mind, ranging from the unsettling to the inspirational. Learners are not only looking at the foreign (and, by extension, the first) language but they are also constructing and expressing themselves through language. Learners are constantly interpreting and analysing linguistic and intercultural constructs inside and outside of the foreign language classroom; they are making connections between linguistic and cultural patterns, and they are relating their discoveries to their subjective stances. The more the other cultural constructs come into play, the more the learner is developing a highly subjective space between the language and cultures involved. This space is ever-shifting and evolving but it is does not lend itself to the kind of testing and evaluation demanded in the selective framework of educational institutions such as schools because it is not constrained to the cognitive level of learning; on the contrary, it involves deep-seated habits, values and beliefs which were mediated in the process of socialisation by a myriad of acts of communication, action, reaction and construction. These habits, values and beliefs are in part socio-culturally shaped but they are also to a large extent a result of subjective experiences, reflections and feelings. Learners attach very personal meanings to certain linguistic and cultural constructs which can involve their own experiences, feelings, attitudes, behaviours and bodies. Therefore, the intercultural constructs of learners can only partially be verbalised and communicated. Foreign language learning is fundamentally an embodied process which needs to be carefully nurtured in the classroom by providing great scope for experiential learning and diverse modes of facilitating subjective learning.

The conference aims to critically address these issues with the following focal questions:

·         What are the subjective dimensions of second and foreign language acquisition?

·         How are language learners influenced by the symbolic power of the first, second and subsequent languages?

·         What is, in the learners’ subjective view, the ontological status of any language that is not their mother tongue?

·         How can highly subjective and subconscious associations, connotations and constructs be verbalised?

·         To what extent can subjective interculturual constructs be facilitated in the foreign language classroom?

·         Can highly subjective intercultural spaces be externalised by the learner?

·         How can the subjective dimension of intercultural foreign language learning be integrated and supported in the foreign language classroom?

·         What is the role of the body (or embodiment) in foreign language learning?

·         How can foreign language textbooks take the subjective dimension into consideration?

·         What are the subjective repercussions of foreign language learning, including the acquisition of intercultural competence?

·         Can one differentiate between subjective and collective dimensions in foreign language acquisition?

·         How are intercultural experiences processed by the learner?

·         What is the relationship between foreign language learning and the intercultural dimension in the minds of learners?

·         How do intercultural experts (and/or students) conceptualise and evaluate the subjective intercultural learning process?


Abstracts (up to 300 words in Word doc., including a short bibliographical note) for 20-minute papers should be sent to one of the contact persons to arrive no later than Friday, 29 March 2013.


Dr. Arnd Witte

Senior Lecturer

Head of School of Modern Languages, Literatures & Cultures

National University of Ireland Maynooth

Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland

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Prof. Dr. Theo Harden

Prof. Emeritus UCD


Universidade de Brasília

70 904 110 Brasília DF, Brazil

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