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Key concepts: learning languages

Key concepts are the big ideas and understandings that we hope will remain with our students long after they have left school.

The following are key concepts/big ideas in learning languages:


'An intercultural speaker is someone who can operate their linguistic competence and their sociolinguistic awareness of the relationship between language and the context in which it is used, in order to manage interaction across cultural boundaries, to anticipate misunderstandings caused by differences in values, meanings and beliefs, and thirdly, to cope with the affective as well as cognitive demands and engagement with otherness.'

Byram, M. (1995). Intercultural Competence and Mobility in Multinational Contexts: A European View. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Learning another language, students:

  • extend their linguistic and cultural knowledge
  • discover new ways of thinking and doing
  • develop the ability to interact appropriately with speakers of other languages
  • anticipate and respond to misunderstandings caused by differences in values, meanings, and beliefs
  • negotiate meaning across cultural boundaries.


'In a dynamic view of culture, cultural competence is seen, therefore as intercultural behaviour. It is the ability to negotiate meaning across cultural boundaries and to establish one’s own identity as a user of another language.'

(Kramsch, C. (1993) Language study as border study: Experiencing difference. European Journal of Education, 28(3), pp. 349–358.)

Learning another language, students:

  • explore, reflect on, and appreciate different world views and values in relation to their own
  • access new concepts and ideas
  • establish their own identity as a user of another language.


'Learning languages in a school setting involves developing learners’ capabilities for both using language and learning language. Learners need to learn how to learn and how to learn a language. Even more important is that they develop higher order thinking skills and that they perceive the important relationship between thought, language and knowledge.'

(Scarino, A. (2000). The Neglected Goals of Language Learning. Babel, 34(3), (Summer 1999-2000), pp. 4–11.)

Learning another language, students:

  • develop their capacity to learn and use language
  • strengthen understanding of their own linguistic and cultural backgrounds through connections and comparisons
  • apply the visual, linguistic, and cognitive strategies learned in a first language to a new language
  • decode and make meaning of different text types
  • apply and adapt language conventions to create meaning in a range of text types and media.

Last updated January 28, 2011