Kari Sajavaara memorial lecture 18.1.2013

Teaching the ‘target’ language: questions of competence, legitimacy and proficiency in the community language classroom

Angela Creese

MOSAIC Centre for Research on Multilingualism
School of Education, University of Birmingham


Assumptions about groups, communities and languages are being questioned as the large scale circulation of people, ideas, objects and images give rise to new local dispositions and social practices.  The investigation of community language classrooms as sites where benchmarks of competence and proficiency are constantly negotiated make clear the dangers of settling on definitions of a ‘target’ language as a clearly definable and socially recognizable standard. Rather than imposing absolute notions of linguistic correctness, participants in these language classrooms are shown negotiating benchmarks of expertise through recourse to linguistic repertoires which point far beyond the classroom with its usual insistence on the standard variety.

The talk describes how participants establish their legitimacy as speakers of the community language through negotiating locally acceptable definitions of competence, expertise and proficiency which point to wider relevancies and arenas.  This involves understanding how particular signs come to index a socially and historically contingent knowledge relevant to the multilingualism in their ‘glocal’ lives.  Through processes of signification, particular features become salient as markers of authenticity in the Panjabi language classroom.  Young people and teachers draw on their multiple social, linguistic and cultural resources, as authenticity and legitimacy are fleetingly negotiated but iteratively established through repeated pedagogic practice. Using ethnographic research of language use in language classrooms the paper describes a multilingual pedagogy predicated on notions of linguistic repertoire rather than language boundaries. It calls into question constructions of proficiency and competence in language education and recasts the discussion to one of authenticity and legitimacy. 


Short Bio

Angela Creese is Professor of Educational Linguistics at the School of Education, University of Birmingham.  Her research and teaching cross references anthropology, linguistics and education. She uses ethnography to investigate ideologies and interactions in educational and other social settings. She is co-author of Multilingualism: A Critical Perspective (Continuum, 2010) with Adrian Blackledge.  She is co-editor of the recently published collection Routledge Handbook of Multilingualism (2012) with Marilyn Martin-Jones and Adrian Blackledge.