Why awareness of language ideologies is important

“Ideology” can be a dismissive turn people use to critique or undermine certain ideas or practices by contrasting this “ideology” with facts, or science, or reality.  On the one hand, the dismissers are right—these are “just ideologies.”  On the other hand, it’s also not the case that there is  a reality free of ideologies.  Ideologies may simply be a collection of beliefs, but these beliefs shape our perceptions and experiences of what we call “reality.”  Thus, the problem is not the existence of ideologies, but rather our lack of awareness of how ideologies are always shaping our world.  Below, I’ll address some reasons I think it’s critical to be aware of language ideologies in the language classroom.  

Ideologies inform our expectations

Real life consequences

Thus, while ideologies are imagined, they are certainly very real in the way they shape our expectations for the language classroom.  In a program where the curriculum, teacher, and students all subscribe to differing language ideologies, but these ideologies are not explicitly recognized, there can be frustration and even conflict—why is the teacher speaking so much Arabic? Or why is she speaking so much English? Why does she mix language? Why are there so many grammar activities? We need more grammar activities! Why won’t the students use the target language? Why don’t they study the vocabulary? Why can’t they conjugate verbs, we learned this two years ago! Why does the textbook teach such pointless vocabulary? Why does the textbook teach non-standard language? Why does the textbook only teach the language of the most powerful speakers of this language? 

Open to reimagination

It can certainly be disconcerting to discover that beliefs and practices you assume are natural are actually imagined.  However, this realization is also quite powerful, because it means that there is the potential for reimagining a better world (or language classroom).   For example, if we are aware that an expectation of learning vocabulary, then grammar, and then putting it together comes from a particular ideology of language, we can consider what other options there are, and whether these are more appealing for our language learning (or not!).  If we’re aware that our desire to achieve a certain “native-like” pronunciation has it’s roots in nationalism, perhaps we’ll question this goal, or even stop judging and categorizing accents generally.  

Language learning for real social change



One response to “Why awareness of language ideologies is important”

  1. Reid Avatar

    Thank you for sharing

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