Situated Learning: Language and Cultural Immersion
Our Learning Model
The Concordia Langauge Villages intensive immersion experiences are based on the CLVway of learning language and culture, based on the Asian concept of 道 meaning the “way” to excellence through practice, and six guiding pedagogical principles. Programs employ a situated practice that encourages learners to apply language to unscripted, predictable and unpredictable interpersonal communication. The objective is to expedite language acquisition in a context that simulates realistic scenarios they might encounter when interacting with communities in which the target language is spoken.
Six Guiding Principles
Like in other Village immersion experiences, learning at the Language Training Center is based on the six guiding principles outlined in Hamilton, et. al., Doing Foreign Language (2005).
- Giving learners courage: The LTC environment is designed to encourage learners to use the target language despite uncertainty. A friendly tone is set from the moment that participants arrive with a culturally authentic welcome in the Village, whether breaking bread and salt at the Russian Language Village, or a cup of tea with sweets at the Arabic Village. LTC instructors push students toward fluency in speaking by modeling strategies for effective communication in the face of ambiguity, such as talking around unknown concepts, reinforcing meaning with synonyms and politely asking for clarification.
- Learner investment: Activities at the LTC are based on the principle that students learn fastest and best when they are intrinsically motivated by interesting content. Student-centered activities in the LTC are threefold. First, instructors take the time to get to know each student and tailor the content to their interests and expertise. Second, students take the lead, sharing rotating responsibility for research and presentation of socio-cultural topics or current events to the group, with staff available to help them prepare. Each student completes a final project involving self-directed research and a variety of creative choices. Finally, students try new things that nudge them out of their comfort zone. This can be anything from sampling authentic cuisine, practicing contextually-specific interactions or solving a puzzle or challenge in the target language. Learners are encouraged to engage in self-reflection through journaling and intermittent check-ins with instructional staff.
- Linguistic and cultural authenticity: The LTC is designed to surround learners with authentic language and culture. In language-focused sessions, students engage with contemporary social issues by listening to and reading the voices of people living those issues. At other times of the day, they may learn to make an ethnic dessert, visit a simulated cafe or participate in a session in the banya (sauna), all in the target language. Mealtimes at the Village are not just for nutrition. Participants learn about ways of setting the table, differences in the order in which dishes are served and eaten in different communities, as well as culture-specific use of utensils. In the times between structured activities, students talk about these experiences with native speakers. Students can also observe interactions among the diverse native speakers that make up the staff. Students have mentioned the depth of cultural understanding they develop from hearing different regional dialects of their target language, and from observing how their teachers navigate differences of age, religion, ethnicity and experience within the teaching team.
- Creating a need to communicate: Needs-driven interactions occur naturally in the LTC. They must figure out how to express any question or need they have in the target language. This heightens learner interest in designing an utterance that will serve its purpose and provides an incentive for the student to listen very carefully to the response. This move from unnecessary to purposeful communication can be enough to get even the most reticent learners to focus and learn.
- Experiencing the language: Instructional team members use the target language at all times, and the same is expected of participants. We hear from many of the learners at the LTC that the language they learn through experiences in the Village sticks in a way that knowledge acquired for pen-and-paper tests does not.
- Learning within extended projects: LTC Students take part in creative, learner-designed projects using the target language. Whether preparing for a mock parliamentary debate, pitching a business idea, recording and editing voices for a podcast, or producing a poem in Persian, working on a project provides a coherent focus for learners, as they work consistently and repeatedly with a manageable range of vocabulary and language functions. Projects also link the use of the target language to other skills. Finally, participating in such projects creates a sense of community rooted in fun, creativity, adventure and excitement about learning.