The Language of Languages

So often in life, naming and identifying something makes things easier, more manageable.  Someone says, “Come see the new car” and no one looks in the pantry, but someone says, “This is an example of a robust culture”, and you may find people looking around wondering what exactly is meant by culture.

So, let’s run down a short list of words often used when discussing language and language classrooms:

  • culture (small ‘c’), refers to “shared patterns of behaviors and interactions”.  These behaviors and interactions then help the group share in an identity and distinguish between groups. (CARLA, 2020)
  • Culture (capital ‘C’), while this once referred to art and literature, now includes “a shared way of life” (Byram et al., 2002, p.5)
  • Linguistic identity is a person’s identity as a speaker of one or more languages. One’s identity is formed as we interact with other people, whether from the same culture as ours or different.

Culture, small ‘c’, and identity are not static entities, they are constantly being shaped and changing based on the experiences we, and our students, have.

What impact does this have on our teaching and our classrooms? This means that each one of our students has a linguistic identity, each one understands themselves as being part of a culture, and each student’s linguistic identity is constantly changing and growing based on what happens in and out of our classrooms. As teachers we do not need to be the centre and distributor of all information, but rather, our students are sharing and growing, with each other and with us. Even more beautiful is that each student brings with them a bounty of knowledge to share from their linguistic and cultural identities.

Gone are the static worksheets.  Here are the interactions, the discoveries, and the projects that encourage us to learn with our students and help them to grow in the skills they will use when they meet new people in new places.


Byram. M., Gribkova, B., & Starkey, H. (2002). Developing the Intercultural Dimension in

Language Teaching: A Practical Introduction for Teachers. Strasbourg: Council in


Centre for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition. (2019, April 9). What is Culture?

 The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA): Culture (

European Parliament. (2020, February 4). Linguistic Identity and Language Portrait. Terminology

Coordination. Linguistic Identity and Language Portrait | Terminology Coordination Unit (

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