UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES)


Call for papers: The Politics of Teaching and Learning Languages

1 January 2017

From 2 October 2014

Conference on the Occasion of the SSEES Centenary 17-18 September 2015

Key Information

  • Abstracts should be a maximum 300 words for both papers and posters (in a Word file) and be sent to: langpolconf@ucl.ac.uk
  • A short professional biography (maximum 150 words) should be sent in a separate Word file.
  • Update: Deadline for submission: 23 February 2015
  • An email confirming your acceptance will be sent by 30 March 2015


The significance of the title ‘The Politics of Teaching and Learning Languages’ is twofold: first, it alludes to politics and foreign languages in education, and second, to the politics of teaching and learning languages. 

The first of these approaches focuses on political and historical developments that influence tendencies, and shape policy, in the area of foreign language learning and education. The second approach centres on the ideologically-governed attitudes that underlie language professionals’, teachers’, and textbook writers’ decisions when choosing a particular variety of a language, a particular methodological approach and resources in their teaching, writing, and syllabus-design practice.


The conference intends to address the historical perspectives and current key narratives surrounding the teaching of languages, linguistics, and area studies. Its aim is to explore language education in the context of an ever-changing and dynamic societal, political, and cultural landscape globally, and in the UK-context.


Papers will be 20 minutes in length with 10 minutes for questions. Posters will be showcased during the second day of the conference and presented (max. 5 minutes) in one of UCL’s public areas.

The conference programme includes key-note addresses by Nicholas Ostler, Foundation for Endangered Languages; Anne Pauwels, School of Oriental and African Studies; Nigel Vincent, FBA, University of Manchester.

Organising committee

  • Jelena Čalić, UCL SSEES
  • Eszter Tarsoly, UCL SSEES
  • Urszula Chowaniec, UCL SSEES
  • Riitta-Liisa Valijärvi, UCL SSEES, Uppsala University

We are planning to publish selected papers in a Conference Proceedings volume.

Rationale and Suggested Themes



The first theme of the conference – politics and language teaching – addresses the political and institutional factors that underpin the promotion, in education and beyond, of a certain language, languages, or a particular language variety in a community at various points in time. Papers are invited to explore these questions in three different contexts: at global (e.g. linguae francae and world languages), national (e.g. national curricula, planning, and foreign language education strategies), and local institutional (e.g. schools, universities) levels. The conference will also explore how the increased interest in a particular language or language variety affects the teaching and learning of other languages, primarily, but not exclusively, through the history of teaching and learning less-widely used languages (e.g. the languages of Central and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, minority languages of Russia and South-East Asia, etc.) in the UK context.


The second theme of the conference – the politics of teaching and learning languages – addresses the above themes in the context of language professionals’ primary concerns, which centre on language, method, and teaching technique. We welcome proposals with an approach that taps into a further dimension of the political: at the level of classroom practices and of the individual. In this regard, the conference seeks to explore the role of teachers and students as cultural mediators between the source and the target language-and-culture. It will investigate the dilemmas that the individual (teacher, learner, textbook writer, etc.) faces as a result of the mismatches between political agendas and ideological commitments in the communities associated with the source and the target languages-and-culture.

Possible questions include, but are not limited to, the following:

Theme one: Global, National, Institutional Politics and Language Teaching

  • Can the history of foreign language teaching be seen as a political debate?
  • In what ways is gender discourse relevant to foreign language teaching?
  • How does migration (e.g. the recent migration from Central and Eastern Europe to the UK) affect languages, speakers, and the contact between them? What are the possible responses in language education to migration in both the source and the target communities?
  • Enhancing interest in particular languages as a quick response to crises (e.g. languages of Central and Eastern Europe in the UK during the cold war, Russian in Eastern Europe, Serbian and Croatian in the 1990s, Arabic in the 2000s, and now perhaps Ukrainian in the UK-context) – does it work?
  • If ‘a language is a dialect with an army and a navy’ [a shprakh iz a dialekt mit an armey un flot; M. Weinreich] how, and to what extent, is language professionals’ work determined by linguistic constraints and choices (e.g. the grammatical and lexical apparatus of a language, the existence of a reified ‘standard’ variety, etc.), on the one hand, and, on the other, by national and political agendas?
  • How and to what extent is the planned or unplanned spreading of languages – and educational organisations’ and educators’ interest in them – influenced by language-internal (e.g. typological features and relatedness to other languages) and language-external (e.g. military, political, administrative, power-related, etc.) factors historically and at present?

Theme two: The Politics of Teaching and Learning Languages

  • How do linguistic purism and standardisation shape classroom practices in the foreign language classroom? Is language teaching and textbook writing an inherently purist and normative undertaking?
  • What to do with contact varieties of languages which came about as a result of migration (e.g. Spanglish, Ponglish, franglais, Hunglish, Somali in Finland, etc.) in language education?
  • Can the example of teaching and learning diaspora languages (e.g. Yiddish, Romani), minority languages (e.g. Sami in Finland, Sweden, and Norway, Udmurt in the Russian Federation, Hungarian in Romania, German in Belgium), pluricentric languages (e.g. German, Spanish, South-Slavic languages) influence the teaching of languages with strong normative tendencies?
  • Language revitalisation and language activism through language education: a pitfall or a possibility?
  • Language variety and the individual: how are speakers and learners affected by a lack of overlap between the linguistic and civic communities that they belong to (e.g. speakers of Romanian in Moldova, of Finnish in Sweden, of Hungarian in Slovakia, of Polish in the UK)? In what way does foreign language learning and competence influence the learners’ sense of belonging to one or a number of communities?
  • Foreign language textbooks as representations of communities: what do textbooks reveal about the way in which national or other native-speaking communities would like others to see them? In this respect, what are the differences between ‘internal’ textbooks, written by native-speaking authors and published in the country of origin of the language, and ‘external’ ones, published abroad, often by non-native authors (e.g. Routldge’s Colloquial series)?
  • Claims of ownership over language: native-speaking v. non-native teachers of language.