Intercultural challenge to language learning

Main Article Content

Luz María Muñoz de Cote
Sylvia van Dijk


This paper presents the findings of a qualitative research project set to investigate the piloting process of an innovative language program for university students. It challenges traditional English language teaching courses celebrating a view centered on learning; classes become spaces for students to understand the language they are learning through the development of small projects. The approach moves from a teaching transmission paradigm to one where the most important agent is each student who has to engage with a topic of his or her interest. Students are seen as individuals whose knowledge and understanding of the world is valued and not as people whose lack of language skills prevents themfrom engaging in discussions of complex topics. The objective of this innovation is to enhance students’ understanding and use of academic English in their field of interest. In this project, we argue that knowledge and understanding of the mother tongue and culture play key roles in the development of a second language. A number of studies suggest that students who had strong first language literacy skills achieved higher proficiency levels in their second language. Based on this argument and Vygotsky’s sociocultural learning theory, we designed disciplinary content language learning workshops for first-degree students. The main tenet is that students can develop academic English given that they know about their discipline. Findings so far reveal the difficulty of students to take distance from their previous learning experiences. They also show that students’ ideas expressed in English are far more complex than what would be expected of them given their second language skills. The complexity is not only related to thecontent, but to the way they construct their paragraphs and the understanding of how the register of their field  may be used.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Muñoz de Cote, L. M., & van Dijk, S. (2012). Intercultural challenge to language learning. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching, 2(4), 543-560.
Author Biographies

Luz María Muñoz de Cote, University of Guanajuato

Luz María Muñoz de Cote is professor at the Language Department at the University of Guanajuato, Mexico. She is particularly interested in research related to dialogical approaches to teaching and learning as well as teacher development. She has been a teacher trainer for over 15 years. She is currently the director of the Language Department at the University of Guanajuato after a year coordinating the TESOL BA program.

Sylvia van Dijk, University of Guanajuato

Sylvia van Dijk is professor at the Education Department at the University of Guanajuato, Mexico. Her main research interest is children’s rights and within this field she has published extensively. She is currently coordinating the Educational Research Master Program.


  1. Bakhtin, M. (1981) The dialogic imagination (C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Transl.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
  2. Byun, K. Y., Chu, H. J., Kim, M. J., Park, I., Kim, S. H., & Jung, J. Y. (2011). English-medium teaching in Korean higher education: Policy debates and reality. Higher Education, 62, 4, 431-449. doi: 10.1007/s10734-010-9397-4
  3. Chen, Z., & Goh, C. (2011). Teaching oral English in higher education: Challenges to EFL teachers. Teaching in Higher Education, 16, 333-345. doi: 10.1080/13562517.2010.546527
  4. Cummins, J. (1979). Linguistic interdependence and the educational development of bilingual children. Review of Educational Research, 49(2), 222-251. doi: 10.2307/1169960
  5. Cummins, J. (1984). Bilingualism and special education: Issues in assessment and pedagogy. Clevendon: Multilingual Matters.
  6. Davies, P. (2008). ELT in Mexican higher education should be mainly ESP, not EGP. Mextesol Journal, 32(1), 80-89.
  7. Davies, P. (2009). Strategic management of ELT in public educational systems: Trying to reduce failure, increase success. TESL-EJ, 13(3). Retrieved from
  8. Dixon, L. Q., Zhao, J., Shin, J., Wu, S., Su, J., Burgess-Brigham, R., Unal Gezer, M., & Snow, C. (2012). What we know about second language acquisition: A synthesis from four perspectives. Review of Educational Research, 82(1), 5-60. doi: 10.3102/034654311433587
  9. Doecke, B., Kostogriz, A., & Charles, C. (2004). Heteroglossia: A space for developing critical language awareness? English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 3(3), 29-42.
  10. Dufva, M., & Voeten, M. (1999). Native language literacy and phonological memory are prerequisites for learning English as a foreign language. Applied Psycholinguistics, 20, 329-348.
  11. Durgunoglu, A., Nagy, W., & Hancin-Bhatt, B. (1993). Cross-language transfer of phonological awareness. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85, 453-465. doi: 10.1037/0022-663.85.3.453
  12. Ganschow, L., & Sparks, R. (2001). Learning difficulties and foreign language learning: A review of research and instruction. Language Teaching, 34, 79-98. doi: 10.1017/S0261444800015895
  13. Greenfield, P. (1984). A theory of the teacher in the learning activities of everyday life. In B. Rogoff & J. Lave (Eds.), Everyday cognition: Its development in social context (pp. 17-138). London: Harvard University Press.
  14. Holliday, A. (2007) Doing and writing qualitative research. London: Sage.
  15. Holm, A., & Dodd, B. (1996). The effect of first written language on the acquisition of English literacy. Cognition, 59, 119-147. doi: 10.1016/0010-0277(95)00691-5
  16. Meschyan, G., & Hernandez, A. (2002). Is native-language decoding skill related to second-language learning? Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 14-22. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.94.1.14
  17. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994) Qualitative data analysis (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  18. Lantolf, J. P., & Thorne, S. L. (2007). Sociocultural theory and second language learning. In B. VanPatten & J. Williams (Eds.), Theories in second language acquisition: An introduction (pp. 201-224). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  19. Lemke, J. (1993). Discourse, dynamics, and social change. Cultural Dynamics, 6(1), 243-275. doi: 10.1177/092137409300600107
  20. Olshtain, E., Shohamy, E., Kemp, J., & Chatow, R. (1990). Factors predicting success in EFL among culturally different learners. Language Learning, 40, 23-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-1770.1990.tb0953.x
  21. Pang, E.S., & Kamil, M.L. (2004). Second-language issues in early literacy and instruction. Institute for Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education. Temple University Center for Research in Human Development and Education. Retrieved from
  22. Proctor, C., August, D., Carlo, M., & Snow, C. (2006). The intriguing role of Spanish language vocabulary in predicting English reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 159-169. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.98.1.159
  23. Robinson, J. P., Rivers, W. P., & Brecht, R. D. (2006). Speaking foreign languages in the United States: Correlates, trends, and possible consequences. Modern Language Journal, 90, 457-472. doi: 10-1111/j.1540-4781.2006.00462.x
  24. Sparks, R. (2001). Foreign language learning problems of students classified as learning disabled and non-learning disabled: Is there a difference? Topics in Language Disorders, 21(2), 38-54. doi: 10.1097/00011363-200102000-00006
  25. Sparks, R., Ganschow, L., & Humbach, N. (2009). Long-term crosslinguistic transfer of skills from L1 to L2. Language Learning, 59(1), 203-243. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9922.2009.00504.x
  26. Sparks, R., Patton, J., Ganschow, L., Humbach, N., & Javorsky, J. (2006). Early first-language reading and spelling skills predict later second-language reading and spelling skills. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 162-174. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.100.1.162
  27. Street, B. (1997). The implications of the “New Literacy Studies” for literacy education. English in Education, 31(3), 45-59. doi: 10.1111/j.1754-8845.1997.tb00133.x
  28. Street, B. (2003). What is “new” in new literacy studies?. Current Issues in Comparative Education, 5(2), 77-92.
  29. Wertsch, J. V. (1985) Vygotsky and the social formation of the mind. London: Harvard University Press.