In this chapter, I have traced the two paradigms which have influenced language teaching at universities in Britain. I have argued that neither of these provides the framework for language teaching that takes account of our complex society and the complex needs of learners. Since this study took place, the instrumental paradigm has, as a response to the perceived crisis in language learning, grown still stronger and the liberal language classroom has become the ‘dinosaur’ of language learning. Clearly, instrumental aims are important but even more important is, I feel, the developmental role of education. One of the key elements of the liberal paradigm, which is worth re-articulating, I argued, is that of the intellectual and critical aspect of language learning. However, I have also argued that the notion of criticality adhered to in the liberal paradigm itself with its assumption of objectivity, cannot solely provide the critical skills students need to engage with the complex social and cultural world. This engagement is more likely to be occasioned using a problematizing approach of criticality towards texts by ‘mapping’ discourses; recognizing the ways texts construct in culturally routinized ways the world and ‘make sense of the reality to which it belongs’ (O’Regan, 2006: 118).
Learning a foreign language is not just learning a useful skill; it has the potential to empower the students in enabling them to participate in a critical way in a foreign culture and to understand more about the nature and motives which lie behind communication. In order to address this question, I will look in the next chapter in greater detail at the relationship between language, meaning, and culture and how these have impacts on language teaching.
Some parts of this chapter were previously published in Quist, G. (2000) Language Teaching at University: A Clash of Cultures, Language and Education (14), 2.