Transcultural Literacy: Connecting languages and cultures in EAL education
More than ever in human history, we live and work in times of the large-scale mobility and migration of people across the boundaries of nation-states. While the world is undergoing significant cultural and linguistic reconfigurations, education systems in nation-states continue to grapple with language and literacy as one of their priorities in preparing young people for life in multicultural conditions. This project is complex in so far as it demands, ideally, a convergence of the dominant language and literacy education and the everyday cultural and linguistic practices of diverse students.
There are many positive signs of this convergence that are visible in the curriculum politics of Australia and in school communities that put emphasis on the development of intercultural understanding and the ethical and social capabilities of students. EAL education has been at the forefront of this work, bridging mainstream education and the diversity of students’ cultural and linguistic practices. However, the challenges in building egalitarian approaches to language(s) and literacy education persist.
This presentation explores the current conditions of the EAL teachers’ work in the era of increased accountability for quality teaching, highlighting the detrimental, and often unintended, effects of standards-based reforms on the capacity of schools to recognise linguistic and cultural diversity as a resource for learning. Drawing on research into the literacy practices of young people in a diasporic community in Melbourne, the paper offers a conception of transcultural literacy that arises from ‘new geographies’ of student identity characterised by experiences of cultural and linguistic border-crossing. Transcultural literacy is a phenomenon of the contact zone which refers to the space where languages and cultures meet, often in contexts of asymmetrical relations of power.
Recognising the utility of transcultural literacy for schooling in Australia, the paper concludes with some practical implications for EAL teaching that are framed as a “pedagogy of Thirdspace” – pedagogy that can enable students to understand and negotiate differences, their connectedness and meaning dynamics in a dialogue of recognised differences, on the cultural and linguistic crossroads.