Redefining Foreign Language Learning Goals in

Academic Director, Vanderbilt University
Center for Second Language Studies
Teacher Workshop
October 4, 2011
Confronting realities:
 Our students often study a foreign language for two years; soon
thereafter they seem to remember very little.
 In a class of 20 students, maybe only one has “real talent” in the target
language; few of them achieve advanced- or superior-level proficiency.
 FL teachers don’t always agree about curricular goals and approaches
What should we be doing for all students to prepare them
for life and work in our global community?
 double-talk vs. double talk
 Our future success as foreign / second language teachers in
the United States lies in adopting an approach to teaching
that empowers students to view themselves as
proficient L2 users rather than as deficient native
 My argument is based principally on Cook’s notion of
Defining “multicompetence”
This term was first coined by Vivian Cook
(Professor of Applied Linguistics, Newcastle University)
at least 20 years ago.
Multicompetence …
… accounts for an individual’s knowledge of
language, including both first language competence
and a developing understanding of a second
… is the knowledge of two languages in one mind.
Defining “multicompetence”
Cook’s notion of multicompetence is based on 3
principal ideas:
1. A dynamic understanding of bilingualism
2. The native speaker “problem”
3. The L2 user
Defining “bilingualism”
Balanced bilingual: mastery of two languages is roughly equivalent
Covert bilingual:
hides knowledge of another language because of an
attitudinal disposition
Dominant bilingual: greater proficiency in one of the two languages
Early bilingual:
acquired both languages in childhood
Late bilingual:
became bilingual later than childhood
Receptive bilingual: understands but does not read or write
Secondary bilingual: second language has been added to a first via
Incipient bilingual: someone at the early stages of bilingualism
(Wei, 2000)
Defining “bilingualism”
“The impasse reached can only be
overcome if bilingualism is no
longer regarded as something
inside the speaker’s head, but as
a displayed feature in
participants’ everyday behavior.
You cannot be bilingual in your
head, you have to use two or
more languages ‘on stage’, in
interaction, where you show
others that you are able to do so.”
(Auer, 1988, p. 167).
What do bilingual people do?
Bilingual people …
… stand between two languages (L1 and L2),
even when apparently only using one.
… have the resources of two languages (L1 and
L2) readily available whenever needed.
… code-switch.
Code-switching is …
Le prof,
elle est
 … the alternating use of two or
more languages in a single
Yeah … So, do
conversation event.
you want to go
prendre un
 … a natural, observable
verre now?
occurrence among people of all
ages who speak more than one
 … one indicator of whether a
person is bilingual.
 … is the norm for many
Code-switching indicates language skill
“There is a widespread impression that bilingual speakers codeswitch because they cannot express themselves adequately in one
language. This may be true to some extent when a bilingual is
momentarily lost for words in one of his or her languages.
However, code-switching is an extremely common practice
among bilinguals and takes many different forms…. It has been
demonstrated that code-switching involves skilled manipulation
of overlapping sections of two (or more) grammars, and that
there is virtually no instance of ungrammatical combination of
the two languages in code-switching, regardless of the bilingual
ability of the speaker.”
(Wei, 2000, p. 16-17)
Bilingualism as a dynamic system
Cook’s notion of multicompetence has served to frame recent
research on multilingualism:
“The multicompetence approach allows us to theorize the
interaction between multiple languages in the speaker’s mind
as a natural and ongoing process and to understand why
multilinguals may perform differently from monolinguals in
all of their languages, including the L1.” (Jarvis & Pavlenko, 2008, p.17)
Bilingualism as a dynamic system
Bilingualism is something a person does with both the first and second
A bilingual person is not two monolinguals in one body but rather a single
speaker-hearer with a unique and complete linguistic system.
(Grosjean, 1997/2000, 2001)
A Dynamic Systems Theory (DST) view offers new ways of thinking about
the terms monolingual, bilingual, and multilingual. Rather than
considering them each as distinct descriptions with particular sets of
attributes, they become variants of one language system.
(de Bot, 2008; de Bot, Verspoor, & Lowie, 2007; Cook 2003; Herdina & Jessner, 2002; Jarvis &
Pavlenko ,2008)
The native speaker “problem”
Second language use is not comparable to native-like speech.
Cook notes that “few second language users can pass for native speakers;
their grammar, their accent, their vocabulary give away that they are
non-native speakers, even after many years of learning the language or
many decades of living in a country” (2000, p. 5).
His sense that most people are unable
to achieve full mastery of a second language
is supported by research in neuro-linguistics.
The native speaker “problem”
“Given that maturation has [a] strong influence on
second language acquisition, it should come as no
surprise that native-like proficiency in a second
language is unattainable. More surprising … are the
miraculous levels of proficiency that second language
learners (at all ages) in fact can reach, despite the
constraints that are imposed by our biological
(Hyltenstam & Abrahamsson, 2003, p. 578)
The native speaker “problem”
“In recent times, the identity as well as the authority of the native speaker
have been put into question. The ‘native speaker’ of linguists and
language teachers is in fact an abstraction based on arbitrarily selected
features of pronunciation, grammar and lexicon, as well as on
stereotypical features of appearance and demeanor.... The native
speaker is, moreover, a monolingual, monocultural abstraction: he/she
is one who speaks only his/her (standardized) native tongue and lives
by one (standardized) national culture. In reality, most people partake
of various languages or language varieties and live by various cultures
and subcultures.” (Kramsch, 1998, pp. 79-80)
The L2 user
Cook proposed the term “L2 user” to describe a unique, individual
speaker-hearer of a target language who stands in stark contrast to an
idealized native speaker.
In his view, the L2 user …
uses a language other than his or her first language (L1).
exploits whatever linguistic resources he or she has for real-life purposes,
such as reporting symptoms to a doctor, negotiating a contract, or reading a
refers to a person who uses a second language at any level, however small or
L2 use = a paradigm shift
Defining pedagogical goals in terms of L2 use requires
that we rethink …
 the native speaker standard.
 our ideas about L1 and L2 use in the classroom.
 our goals for lower-level vs. upper-level language
 multicompetent L2 learner
Promoting multicompetent L2 learners
1. Eliminate a native-speaker
Promoting multicompetent L2 learners
2. Establish a pedagogically coherent understanding of L2 use that is
founded on literacy.
“What I mean by “literacy,” then, is more than reading and writing as skills or as prescribed
patterns of thinking. It is about relationships between readers, writers, texts, culture, and
language learning. It is about the variable cognitive and social practices of taking and
making textual meaning that provide students access to new communities outside the
classroom, across geographical and historical boundaries. It involves an awareness of
how acts of reading, writing, and conversation create and shape meanings, not merely
transfer them from one individual or group to another. It is precisely because literacy is
not monolithic, but variable and multiple, tied to the various sociocultural practices of a
given society, that is of key importance in our teaching of language and culture .”
(Kern 2003, p. 3).
Promoting multicompetent L2 learners
3. Design learning goals that are based on the notion of
a multicompetent L2 learner.
Traditional learning goals
1. Proficiency in
listening, speaking,
reading, writing
1. Target-language
1. Good language learners
2. Interaction about
topics of personal
interest related to
everyday life
2. 20% of students continue
study of target language
2. Grammatical
3. Knowledge about target
3. Focus on sentence
4. Discussion of culture in
target language
3. Rapid attrition of
grammatical knowledge
and verbal skills
4. Sense of self as deficient
language learner
Goals for promoting
multicompetent L2 learners
1. Growing ability to read
1. Target-language input
1. All learners identified as
(oral and written)
L2 users at some level
and interpret a variety of
representing diverse
target language texts
2. 50% of students continue
(oral and written) as well
study of target language
as pertinent texts in
2. Interaction in both target
language and English
3. Maintenance of reading /
interpretive abilities
2. Developing awareness of
bilingualism and L2 use 3. Focus on words and
utterances in oral and
4. Sense of self as L2 user
written texts
3. Increasing sensitivity to
the ways “culture” is
expressed and perceived 4. Discussion of bilingualism
and second language
in texts
The multicompetent L2 learner …
 recognizes acceptable uses of English (L1) in the classroom.
 familiarizes him/herself with features of bilingual and multilingual
language use, such as code-switching, and other cross-linguistic
 articulates ways that his/her multilingual identity is evolving.
 seeks out appropriate target-language texts (oral and written) that
contribute to classroom discussion.
 reflects critically about oral and written target-language texts.
 asks increasingly informed questions about the target language and
 exhibits traits of a multilingual, multi-cultural citizen, such as
appreciation of diversity, tolerance for ambiguity, awareness of human
rights issues, etc.
(Scott 2010, p. 163)
Suggested reading
Cook, V. (2002). Background to the L2 user. In Cook, V. (Ed.), Portraits of the L2 user (pp. 1-28).
Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Herdina, P., & Jessner, U. (2002). A dynamic model of multilingualism: Perspectives of change in
psycholinguistics. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Jarvis, S., & Pavlenko, A. (2008). Crosslinguistic influence in language and cognition. New York, NY:
Kern, R. G. (2003). Literacy and advanced foreign language learning: Rethinking the curriculum. In H.
Byrnes & H. H. Maxim (Eds.), Advanced foreign language learning: A challenge to college programs
(pp. 2-18). AAUSC Issues in Language Program Direction. Boston, MA: Heinle.
Kramsch, C. (2006). From communicative competence to symbolic competence. The Modern Language
Journal, 90, 249-252.
Scott, V. M. (2010). Double talk: Deconstructing monolingualism in classroom second language
learning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Swaffar, J., & Arens, K. (2005). Remapping the foreign language curriculum: An approach through
multiple literacies. New York, NY: The Modern Language Association.