The Immanent Presence of the Home Language in the Foreign Language Classroom Under the Transformative-Holistic Pedagogical Paradigm: A Reflective and Experiential Note

The Immanent Presence of the Home Language in the Foreign Language Classroom Under the Transformative-Holistic Pedagogical Paradigm: A Reflective and Experiential Note

Rosana Herrero-Martín (The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4075-6.ch002


The purpose of this chapter is to advocate for the integrated use of the home language/culture in the foreign language/culture classroom. This recommendation is made with the support and application of transformative-holistic pedagogical principles. The chapter uses reflection and experiential methods to engage with the selected area and paradigm of inquiry from several multidisciplinary analytical and critical perspectives. These frames of reference include the cognitive, cross-cultural, affective, neuroscientific, metalinguistic, and literacy approaches.
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As a progressive educational approach, transformative pedagogy empowers learners to engage in dialogue to evolve their own purposes, values, and meanings from educational and personal materials, processes, and experiences through an inquiry-based perspective (Yildiz & Keengwe, 2016). A logical and simple application of transformative pedagogy to a foreign language (FL) classroom may lead to a propitious scenario in which the students’ literacy and life experiences in their home language (HL) are familiar, solid, foundational bricks on which to build new knowledge in the FL. Further, the transformative pedagogical paradigm also invites educators to reflect on the detrimental learning effects involved in “coercive relations of power” (Cummins, 2001, p. 20). In the context of FL teaching and learning, how much of the HL the teacher should use is, to date, controversial. The pervasive, long-lasting principle assumes that all efforts should be made for both teachers and learners to use only the target language in class, while the mother tongue should be used only be a last resort (Littlewood & Yu, 2011, p. 64).

When learning an FL, it frequently occurs that through the observation, study, and interaction with others and their a-priori different and remote texts and contexts, we achieve a deeper understanding of ourselves, our language, our society, and our culture. Thus, a transformative-holistic FL class will promote learning processes and materials via constant dialogue between the student’s native socio-cultural and linguistic background and the socio-cultural and linguistic contexts of the target language. In fact, neuroscience aligns with this holistic-holographic view of the learner-learning interconnection, offering several empowering lessons to educators about the brain—a complex network of parts itself—such as, if one part of the brain is selectively engaged or compromised, there will be a knock-on effect on the other parts (Bertolero & Bassett, 2019). So, while specific parts of the brain regulate attention, the capacity to pay attention does not involve just those brain parts alone, but other parts as well. Also, and central to this chapter’s core focus, recent neurocognitive studies indicate that the same neural structures are responsible for acquiring both the home language and the second language (Abutalebi & Della Rosa, 2012; Bertolero, & Bassett,2019). It thus seems reasonable in our FL classes to engage—not compromise by discrimination and displacement—our students’ stored L1 information, experience, and resources in order to effectuate FL learning.

The transformative-holistic teaching and learning approach ultimately focuses on education as an enabling platform for responsible and autonomous change, both at the individual and social consciousness level (Mezirow, 2012). The FL classroom is a change tank. In this kind of learning environment, oscillations, refinements, negotiations, and profound shifts may indeed occur, both in the perception of one’s own culture and that of the target culture. As students are invited to activate their observing and critical minds, they are also welcomed to grasp a new culture, that of the L2 or FL, and also perhaps to unlearn and/or relearn their own.

My 25 years of experience as an instructor of Spanish (my HL) as a second language and as a foreign language in non-immersion contexts (in which my students’ HL was my FL) has been that when in-class learners are invited to communicate both in their HL and in the FL—even to codeswitch between them—exciting and two-way learning is likely to surface. Demanding the exclusive use of the FL for learners discriminates and displaces the invaluable asset of their HL knowledge from the classroom. For this reason, in this paper, I will:

  • 1.

    Demonstrate how having both HL and FL operative in the class could offer a more holistic and integrative scope of learning possibilities.

  • 2.

    Argue for the inclusion of the HL in the FL class under the related holistic and holographic model of cognition and inquiry, which fosters an inherent interconnection between learner and object.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cross-Culturality: A field of study that investigates the contact and communication between peoples of different ethnic differences.

Code-Switching: The practice of shifting between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation.

Universal Grammar: Theoretical or hypothetical matrix of categories, operations, and principles shared by all human languages and considered to be intuitive and innate.

Switch-Points: Shifting between L1 and L2 in a bilingual class at strategic moments chosen by topic, function, rapport, etc., which evoke the patterns in real-life code-switching.

Progressive Pedagogy: An educational movement that embraces the development of the student’s potential talents and values experiential learning over formal learning.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging(fMRI): A technique for measuring brain activity.

Holistic-Holographic Learning: An approach to knowledge advancement, emerging from conscious exposure to multi-dimensional, interconnected, and systemic realities.

Meta-Cognitive Learning: The development of critical skills to plan, monitor and assess one’s own understanding and performance.

Additive bilingualism: The process involving the acquisition of fluency and proficiency in a second language, while maintaining an active development of the first.

Learning-to-Be Pillar of Education: To develop one's individuality and self-respect and to be able to act with growing autonomy, judgment and personal responsibility.

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