Photo: Cheryl Woelk talks about the intersections of language and peace during a seminar. MMN photo.
Language educators are exploring the theological and pedagogical implications of teaching English from an Anabaptist perspective.
The process of learning a language can actually break down barriers between people, since language and culture are intimately connected in influencing a person’s ability and way of thinking. How a person thinks and what they believe often determines how they behave toward others.
It’s been a year since the Language for Peace project website launched as a forum to explore ways to incorporate an Anabaptist perspective when teaching various languages.
Language4peace.org is generating interest.
The website is populated with various resources and ideas for language instructors. For example, an article titled “It Takes a (Global) Village” promotes that value and richness of diversity in languages and cultures. There are various classroom activities, such as one that explores the role of creative writing and poetry in peacebuilding. There is an article about the concept of active listening, where the listener, in their own words, tells the speaker what they heard.
When done successfully, active listening confirms that an understanding has been achieved between people. An article describes research showing that language learning can change a person’s worldview. German and English speakers described the same event differently based on the linguistic differences of the two languages.
Language4peace.org hosted a webinar, “Stories of Language Learning, Faith, and Building Peace,” on March 12 that drew 12 participants, and there have been an average of about 150 monthly visitors to the website, says Cheryl Woelk, formerly of Mennonite Mission Network and now coordinator of the project.
Speakers shared their experiences teaching and learning languages abroad. Among various topics, they discussed why language learning is often unsuccessful, like when you forget high-school Spanish shortly after the course ends because the emphasis was on mastering grammar rules.
Rules are important, but when people focus on developing real relationships with other people, retention increases as the language is spoken regularly in real-life natural situations. Integrating faith experiences and stories when interacting with other people also increases language learning.
“The goal of the webinar was to share specific examples of how three educators are integrating peacebuilding and language learning in their contexts,” Woelk says. “It’s giving participants ideas of how they could do this in their settings.”
Abigail Long, a former teacher at Connexus Language Institute in South Korea, discovered the website after she began a self-guided research project on thinking more deeply about peacebuilding as a language teacher. She is now a contributor to the website.
“When I found the site, I was so excited to find such a treasure trove of resources to look into,” Long said. She watched the webinar, which included Karen Spicher Lee, the head teacher at Connexus, a former Mission Network worker and now also working with an international peacebuilding program supported by the Network.
“As I listened to her (Spicher Lee) and the other guests speak about language teaching, they really kept coming back to the importance of community in language learning,” Long says. “I realized that I was also looking for a learning community to help me not only be accountable to study but to bounce ideas off of and learn from.”
The website project is coordinated by Mennonite Partners in China, which is experienced in developing theory and practice for English-language teaching in China and in North America. Mennonite Mission Network is a supporting partner. Other supporting agencies are Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Eastern Mennonite Missions.
Since the website’s May 2014 launch, Woelk has been promoting it the via Mennonite publications, institutions and conferences. She plans to offer a presentation at the Mennonite Church USA Convention this month.