Learning to look beyond the garden gate

19 Mar 2019

Does the advent of globalization and digitalization automatically mean that we are all now citizens of the world? Indeed, what makes one a global citizen? Professor Christiane Lütge is Chair of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) at LMU, Dir...

What do you mean by the term ‘global citizen’?

Professor Christiane Lütge : It is a multifaceted term, which can have a variety of connotations in different contexts – politics and education, for example. I view it not so much as a normative precept, but as a regulative idea that encompasses things like learning democratic values, and developing a sensibility for ecological and economic sustainability. Seen in such a light, the concept extends far beyond the teaching of English and becomes a challenge addressed to all subject areas. This explains why experts in teaching methodologies specific to subjects such as political science, philosophy, literature and cultural studies will give presentations at our international conference on “Educating the Global Citizen”.

The digital transformation has brought the world closer together. What effects has this had on the teaching of foreign languages?

Thanks to digital media, young people today have far more points of contact with globalization – certainly more than most of their predecessors ever had. However, this does not automatically make them either ‘digital natives’ or ‘global citizens’. And that is an issue that we must confront in the context of teacher training. Digitalization itself also has an impact on how democratic values are acquired nowadays. On the one hand, we have the exchange of international information on an unprecedented scale via news platforms and social media, while students at all levels are also confronted with masses of fake news. How should young people be trained to cope with this situation? What implications does it have for teacher training and for research in teaching methodologies at our universities? These are the sorts of questions we need to ask. Concepts of citizenship that ignore the factor digitalization have become untenable. And research designed to develop better ones is becoming increasingly important in the area of foreign language teaching. We in Germany must make greater efforts to respond effectively to these changes.

What kind of role does language teaching have to play in the shaping of global citizens?

Learning a foreign language always involves pitching students into a cultural matrix that differs from the one with which they are familiar. However, the special status of English means that it must be seen in a much broader, global context, because not everyone learns it as a first language. In the German educational system, the concept of global citizenship is still underdeveloped. We have a very strong tradition of intercultural learning. But cultures are becoming more heterogeneous and more diverse – in a word, more global. Intrinsically international issues such as migration, sustainability or a greater awareness of one’s own digital footprint have a great deal more in common than many people realize. Many young people are familiar with English-language posts and podcasts uploaded by users with very different cultural backgrounds. This is a resource that language classes can draw on for examples of usage in linguistic, literary, cultural and media contexts. One day of our upcoming conference, the TEFL Day, will include an session on professional development. In practical workshops, teachers as well as academics will be given concrete suggestions as to how concepts of citizenship can be incorporated into language courses. In this way, we hope to forge links between the research findings reported by many of our LMU colleagues and their translation into the classroom.

Does all this mean that cultural differences are destined to disappear in the longer term?

That is one of the issues which often leads to misunderstandings and other problems. It’s not a question of trying to negate or assimilate distinctive cultural traits. On the contrary, the aim is to cultivate an awareness of our embeddedness in a globalized context, which is made up of a plethora of dynamic and competing processes. It is of course impossible to separate this wider context from our regional or local affiliations. What I believe to be important is the ability to see our own actions against the background of our own group identity – which is itself subject to change – and in a global perspective. The tag ‘think globally, act locally’ puts it in a nutshell. That the digital transformation we are experiencing is acting as an additional catalyst is something that will concern us in a multitude of ways for decades to come. Global access to educational programs and educational media is far from being an accomplished fact. And a reflective awareness of this deficit, and other differences, is an integral part of becoming a global citizen.

The role of the USA, and the UK, in world politics is currently undergoing a profound change. Is this likely to be accompanied by alterations in the status of foreign language teaching?

The field of foreign language teaching abandoned its exclusive focus on the target countries some time ago. The aim is not just to teach the ability to speak a new language, but to impart a diverse range of linguistic, literary and cultural skills – including a knowledge of political processes, and of course European and global perspectives. Brexit is the obvious reference here. Emanuel Macron recently formulated his own concept of the European citizen. Indeed, many people in Europe are more comfortable with such a European perspective than with the notion of global citizenship. But we are still left with the question of what constitutes the European idea and how it can be developed further. That must also be thrashed out in the context of our school systems, not just in terms of day-to-day politics, but against the background of ecological and economic considerations, and from the perspective of cultural differences, diversity and the values common to democratic societies. Explicit references to current affairs are important, but education is a much more comprehensive concept. Diverse approaches open up a wider variety of perspectives and enable us to look beyond the garden gate. If young people, educators and politicians learn to broaden their horizons in this manner, then we will be well on our way to viewing globalization and digitalization not solely as threats.

Professor Christiane Lütge holds the Chair of TEFL in the Faculty of Languages and Literatures at LMU and is the Director of the Munich Center for Teacher Training.

The international conference on “Educating the Global Citizen: International Perspectives on Foreign Language Teaching in the Digital Age” will be held in LMU’s Main Building on March 25-28, 2019. Over 400 participants from more than 35 countries are expected to attend. Further information on the Program and the speakers can be found here .

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