Teaching Awareness for the Didactic Potential of the Linguistic Landscape in Academic Context

Prof. Camilla Badstübner-Kizik, Adam Mickiewicz University Poznan, Poland
Institute of Applied Linguistics

Lived experiences with Linguistic Landscapes

The majority of my students in Poland, Germany and beyond are enrolled in courses that prepare them to become language teachers as well as translators or interpreters. However I may presuppose certain linguistic and didactic tools being at their disposal, many of them do lack a general awareness as to the enormous didactic potential the linguistic and semiotic landscape can provide for language- and culture-related learning processes. To draw students’ attention to the variety of languages, linguistic forms and functions displayed in public space and to introduce them to selected means and tools which help establish the Linguistic Landscape as a place where motivating and sustainable long-life learning processes can be initiated and conducted with success, I established a three-step scenario which has been proven itself fit against the backdrop of the usual one-term-courses:

  • Firstly, I focus on students’ personal experience with ‘landscaping’ on the spot. As the most promising methods I draw on their ‘scanning’ of certain segments of the public space (e.g., the marketplace, a bus stop) and a variety of ‘spotting’ activities (e.g., spot language diversity, spot forms of commemoration). Students would take photographs, discuss them and make choices justified by their own criteria.
  • We then pass on to a discussion of selected findings in detail in class. It would be my task to make sure that different types of signs, design elements, functions, target groups and, of course, languages or language combinations are present, ranging from typical ‘top-down signs’ (e.g., street signs) to temporary (e.g., protest posters) to ‘transgressional signs’ (e.g., stickers).
  • Against this background students would then work in small groups on didactic scenarios for different target groups, ranging from children to adults, from beginners to intermediate or advanced language learners alike and based on their findings discussed. As they tend to plan activities focused on language learning, it always proves worthwhile to draw special attention to culture-related learning in its broadest sense (e.g., migration, advertising, climate change, political debates).

To sum up my experience in this field, the following aspects seem to be predominant and therefore worthwhile further reflecting:

  • Foreign and / or second languages learned at school or studied at university gain a highly welcome authentic dimension by means of short texts present in the linguistic landscape. The benefits here lie mainly in the verification and enlargement of an often purified and artificially graded language learners are presented with in class.
  • The greater the learners’ (physical and emotional) distance to the area where the studied language(s) is naturally present in public space, and the scarcer the findings of a given language in the learners’ natural surroundings, the greater the necessity of introducing it into the classroom by virtual or analogue means directly taken from its natural habitat (e.g., by means of photographs, leaflets, posters or city cards).
  • Students have to be strongly encouraged to understand that all languages displayed in public space, be it foreign, second or native language(s) and including linguistic variations, should be considered as means of conducting social discourse(s). Issues such as manipulation or linguistic empowerment prove to be crucial for the understanding of fundamental sociolinguistic insight that seems to be indispensable for prospective language teachers, translators and interpreters alike.
  • As a wide range of topics related to economy, environment, social politics or history are dominant among the issues addressed in every linguistic landscape, it is precisely they that lend themselves particularly well to culture-related learning processes. This opens up many options for interdisciplinary work. 

For an overview of similar experiences, see:

Camilla Badstübner-Kizik & Věra Janíková (eds.) (2019). «Linguistic Landscape» und Fremdsprachendidaktik. Perspektiven für die Sprach-, Kultur- und Literaturdidaktik. Peter Lang https://www.peterlang.com/document/1056444

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