Arts and Education: Creative Ways into Languages

On Saturday (7th May) I am presenting a paper at a conference Arts and Education: Creative Ways into Languages in Athens. This international conference is organised by the University of Athens (Department of Primary Education) and the Greek Association of Primary Music Education, a professional body which represents music education specialists that teach Art in the primary education system.

To provide some context, the theme of the conference is most likely influenced by the recent government decision to increase the provision for language learning in primary education. By exploring the interface between foreign languages and foreign cultures, Arts education is framed as supportive of foreign language education, rather than competing against it.

At any rate, my own contribution to the conference is not about exploring how languages can be taught more effectively through culture. I trust that there will be many teachers at the conference who are more creative than me and who can do this more competently and more confidently. What I want to do instead is to problematise on what culture might mean in the context of foreign language learning, and to raise awareness of the fact that the selection of cultural input and culturally-based activities for inclusion in the curriculum is a political act: it reflects ideology and it shapes identities. Singing an English pop song is different from discussing  the traditions of immigrants in Greece, both in terms of what the activity reveals and in terms of its likely outcomes.

The abstract of my talk can be found here, and I will add links to the presentation and paper in this space after the talk.

Richard’s input (and patience!) have been immensely helpful in shaping my thinking on MATE (Multicultural Awareness Through English), and I would like to thank him once more.



  • That’s great news, Richard. Congratulations! I am looking forward to reading it when it comes out 🙂

  • Richard Fay

    Achilleas, you might be interested in the progress with this chpater I ahve coming out which also addresses MATE:

    Sifakis, N. and Fay, R. (forthcoming 2011). Integrating an ELF pedagogy in a changing world: the case of Greek state schooling. In A. Archibald, A. Cogo and J. Jenkins (eds.), Latest trends in ELF research, Cambridge, Cambridge Scholars Press. (pp.??-??).

    The editors now say: “Dear contributors, Many of you asked about publication dates for our Latest Trends in ELF book. Thank you for your patience while we were waiting for the publishers to give us a time frame. We are happy to say that the book is going to be published by the end of the year or beginning of next year at the latest. We are also delighted to say that the book is looking great and this is thanks to all your contributions! In the meantime if you have any queries please let us know, and have a nice summer break! Best wishes, …… “

  • Richard Fay

    I have no issues with this 🙂

  • A couple of additional notes on this presentation:

    Firstly, I am happy to say that the paper is now included in the conference proceedings. The full citation is:
    Kostoulas, A. 2011. Developing Multicultural Awareness Through English: Reflections on Culture and Multiculturalism. In Argyriou, M. and Kampylis, P. (eds). Praktika Diethnous Synedriou Dimiougikoi Tropoi Ekmathisis ton Glosson [Creative Ways into Languages Conference Proceedings], Vol. A. (pp. 11-15). Athens: GAPMET and University of Athens.

    Secondly, it was recently suggested by a reader that I could have signposted the connections to Richard’s work more explicitly, lest it appear that I am trying to take credit for Richard and his associates’ ideas. Although I have cited Richard’s papers (Fay, Lytra & Ntavaliagkou 2010, Sifakis, Lytra & Fay 2010), and thanked him personally in the acknowledgements, I agree that this is a valid observation, and I feel compelled to explain my rationale more fully.

    When writing the paper, I was aware that it had the potential to generate controversy: The first part raises questions about an expensive (some would call it overpriced) government project, whereas the second part puts forward suggestions that could be viewed as heretical in the context of mainstream Greek education. Challenging pedagogical and political orthodoxy requires caution as much as it does courage, and for this reason I made a conscious effort to distance Richard from my problematising, even though there is -I believe- overlap in our thinking. The end result was a text which ‘draws heavily on the concept of MATE‘ (p. 13) without elaborating on the provenance of each and every idea, and which assigns the responsibility for specific comments to me. I believe that under the circumstances what I did was appropriate. If it wasn’t, then this exposition of my motives also doubles as an apology.

  • Magdalena De Stefani

    Wow, lots going on! Back to Magda’s question about whether the ‘liking’ approach works… Not sure. In Uruguay, we have a very prominent and powerful UK (English) community, and for a long time students were taught to look up to everything and anything British. Nowadays most students are not very interested in the UK in particular, but they do want to be part of the global English-medium internet community. In this sense, the integrative-instrumental distinction is not so useful anymore, as there is some overlap between the two.

    Of course, I realise that the situation in Uy is different from what Eljee and Magda describe because the impact of the English language is not as conflictive – it does not imply any moral conflicts or leaving aside any part of the Uy culture – not necessarily at least. But the issues of dominance and power associated with TESOL are still there…

  • Richard Fay

    A small point from me re BANA. Having spoken with Adrian a few times about this term, my sense if that it has become somehing of an albatross around his conceptual neck. All too often it gets used in a strictly geographical sense – to mean all TESOL activities in British Australasia and North America and to exclude all TESOL elsewhere. In actual fact, you could have a private EFL school in Madrid, Beijing, Athens etc which is, in many ways, informed by the TESOL culture emanating from the instrumental private sector in the Inner Circle contexts, and, equally, you can have TESEP TESOL in eg the UK. So, as I understand it from him the BANA / TESEP distinction is about ‘cultures’ of TESOL thinking rather geographic zones within TESOL. Sure, the cultures have informing origins but these cannot be reduced simply to the geographic. I can see why he now has mixed feelings about the term.

  • Hey everyone!

    Been lurking on the blog for a while and poking my nose here and there. Apologies for the following stream of consciousness, just some thoughts that came to mind.

    Thanks to Magda for that great article on Newsweek and, given the topic of the thread, I find myself feeling conflicted. Growing up with immigrant parents in Canada it was a conscious choice on their part to “integrate” and, I guess, “like” the dominant culture that they came into contact. The Philippines itself is westernised (generally speaking) in that BANA culture (again, in general terms) is recognised and sought out.

    Yet, this equating western culture with wealth involves, in my parent’s views, assimilating in order to gain wealth/opportunities/class/ etc. was seen as a necessity and at the expense of putting aspects of their culture as secondary. An example that I’ve written about was my parent’s insistence that I learnt French instead of Tagalog/Ilocano in order to fit into Canadian society. They felt that by adopting the official languages of Canada, English and French, I would (hopefully) stand a better chance at becoming “western” and therefore successful. This went beyond adopting “western” culture to actively seeking it out.

    Given the history that the Philippines has with the “west” and the dire socioeconomic situation that the entire country is mired in, “being English” = “being Western” = “being successful / wealthy / having a job / a house / something to eat”. For many immigrants, like my parents, this rings true.

  • Does it work, I wonder? The “liking” approach, I mean.

    Some loose thoughts below:

    Gardner (1985) thought that cultural beliefs influenced the development of an integrative orientation (a positive attitude towards the target language/community/culture). A negative attitude may contribute to learning failure.

    With an integrative orientation = the learner has the desire to belong to the community and acquire psychological characteristics + a desire for wider social contact with members of that community (McDonough, 1981). Rather doubtful here (with the exception of some rebellious individuals).

    On the other hand, it is also true that most young Qataris have access to latest technology, social media, music, films, etc (the western youth culture). ALL of my female students wear skinny jeans and tight tops under their abayas, and even some boys like to wear western clothes too. BUT: having adopted certain attributes of western culture, they also distance themselves from it for the sake of their families. In a way, they lead a double life.

    In the teaching context, some elements of the western ACADEMIC culture seem to be in almost direct opposition to cultural practices common here (e.g. in terms of academic integrity, citing sources, time management, independent learning, etc.), which breeds confusion, frustration, etc. on both sides. We don’t even try to make our students like it – they simply have to adopt it and adjust to it to succeed.

    So, lots of issues there…

  • Magdalena De Stefani

    Hi everyone!
    Very interesting discussion! Like Magda, I think the paper raises issues that are both complex and fascinating. I see Magda’s point about the washback effect this enhanced cultural awareness may bring… Will it result in students resenting English? In Uruguay, most teachers try to get their students to ‘like’ British (mostly) andAmerican cultures and explicitly teach features of these…

  • Magda Rostron


    I’ve been reading your and Richard’s posts here with great interest and I also enjoyed reading your paper – despite its apparent “simplicity” that you referred to in your email, it raises some very difficult and not-so-simple questions. Maybe that’s why I read it with mixed feelings. I struggle with similar issues (I think) which, broadly speaking, concern a western- or, more precisely, American-centred approach to education as delivered in Qatar to Arab and international students. I attempt to deal with just one aspect of it, teaching reading, in the paper that I’m going to present BRIEFLY in June.

    I work for what is basically an American institution preparing Arab (mainly Qatari) students for American and British universities. In order for them to succeed academically they need to “forget” their indigenous cultural and educational background and switch to a western (I really mean American-British, AB rather than full BANA as Holliday would have it) style of thinking, learning, writing, etc., through western materials and methodologies. What’s more, the American universities that have set up shop(s) here, have been PAID vast sums of money to provide the same style/standard of education as at home. But. But. I still don’t understand how it should work. In other words, should we shift our focus away from western methods and materials, or western culture in teaching and, if so, then, in which direction, and how do we do it? What adds to the difficulty is the fact that, due to local cultural/societal restrictions, certain local (“local” being an operative word here, meaning Arab-generated and related) texts and topics are simply forbidden, censored, excluded.

    So, I am, in fact, required to “westernise” (in a sterile, non-offensive kind of way) my students in whose home country I am allowed to reside (only temporarily – with no rights other than the very limited ones stipulated by my annually renewable contract – if I lose my job, I lose my accommodation, health insurance, school for my daughter, etc.). At the same time, through my MATE approach, my students are becoming increasingly aware of their own neglected culture exemplified in the struggle between Arabic and English as they are made to study in English at the expense of (classical) Arabic. Even the only national university in the country has switched to English as the medium of instruction! But it’s all done in the name of progress and modernisation – can it be bad then? Who knows? Here, we have the added value of religion with its strongly anti-western outlook and of course everything that follows that outlook. What a conundrum.

    In the LEIP course materials, Richard explains that MATE is aimed at increasing students’ “generic cultural awareness” – if it also means, rather paradoxically, that they become increasingly aware of their own educationally marginalised culture, then, will our teaching turn against itself, as it were?

    By the way, here is a link to a now seminal article which is in some ways related:

    Here, “white” equals “western” equals “academically successful”. Is that right?


  • Achilleas Kostoulas

    I just added the powerpoint and text to the blog post above.

    At the risk of sounding immodest, I think the presentation went quite well. It so happened that the speaker before me immediately before me was showing videos of a music lesson where a Thai teacher teaching students in Singapore how to play traditional Thai instruments. Unsurprisingly, she was using English. So when people asked me to clarify what I meant with MATE, I could use this as an example of people from different backgrounds who were involved in an exchange of cultural information through the means of English. I was quite pleased with myself for that answer 🙂

    On the whole, reactions to the paper seemed quite positive. I had expected that there would be at least some reaction from specialist English teachers, who would take offense by my suggestion that they are not necessarily well qualified to deliver a post-EFL education, but none seemed to object. Feedback, from members of the audience who approached me after the presentation, was very encouraging. Patricia Driscoll (from Canterbury Christ), who chaired the panel with impressive efficiency, was also kind enough to provide constructive feedback later in the day.

    In all, I am rather happy with myself at the moment…

  • Richard Fay

    … I see a role for us then 🙂

  • Achilleas Kostoulas

    My point exactly: dominant groups will appropriate and redefine discourse to suit their purpose in order ‘to be master’ and no-one will notice unless someone takes on Alice’s role to challenge them.

  • Richard Fay

    Terms and nuances, connotations and associations …. the gap between a novel and meaningful mission and an abominable vision. It’s tricky terrtory for sure. But I am reminded of the following:

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – – that’s all.”

    (Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6)

  • Achilleas Kostoulas

    That was interesting, Richard; I didn’t know the origins of the term.

    I am sure that I don’t have to remind you that with the credit of recognition comes a burden of responsibility, especially when this profoundly egalitarian concept is used as a pretext to preserve or promote inequality.

    I am using Greek education as an example, because I am most familiar with it and because it is the context in which MATE was originally introduced by you. In our professional discourse, ‘multicultural awareness’ is cited as a pretext for enhancing the status of English language education. We expect our children to attend English classes for three hours per week over 12 years, reading texts about the UK, listening to American pop and being taught by teachers who know more about Keats than about Kachru, and we justify this under the curricular mandate of ‘multiculturalism’. We penalise and marginalise those (predominantly minority) learners who cannot afford expensive extracurricular tuition in English, and then we blithely claim that English connects cultures. We withhold education in minority and immigrant languages (many immigrant children can’t even understand their grandparents), while we forcibly educate speakers of non-Greek languages in English, and French or German, i.e. ‘all the languages which are socially important’ in Greece, to quote one of my more memorable professors back at Athens.

    What I find most appealing about MATE is that it offers a novel and meaningful mission for ELT in such a context. However, useful though the concept is, I am very conscious of the terminological overlap between what you have proposed and a vision of ELT in Greece, which -at the risk of sounding unduly emotional- I find abominable. But then again, few natives mistook the Federal Republic of Germany for the ‘German Democratic Republic’, despite the fact that the names only differed in a single word.

  • Richard Fay

    Thanks Achilleas. To coin the term MATE – which Vally, Maria and I did back in 2008 – and to see it picked up by others (e.g. yourself, Nicos Sifakis) and worked by them in new ways, is a gratifyign thing to see. But, credit where creit is due, the original term we coined was the inelegant TEMA and it was through the colleagial suggestions in a RAW session back in 2008 that the refocused term MATE emerged as a better contender for capturing our ideas. Many thanks to my RAW colleagues 🙂

    And it is MATE which is now the published term (e.g. 2010 issue 6 of Intercultral Education journal) so it is good to see you taking the term and running further with it.

    Good look with the paper and it would be great to hear about this experience after the event.