This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Project weaves peacemaking into language learning

Words are powerful, which is why the Language for Peace project aims to explore how Anabaptist and other philosophies of peacemaking are incorporated into various language courses — Spanish, German, Korean, French, English — in North America and around the world.

Language for Peace recently launched the website to be an online community forum where language educators can explore ideas and use resources about how to incorporate an Anabaptist perspective into language instruction.

Language instructors are already incorporating faith as part of courses. The website will provide a space for conversation and sharing ideas.

The project is coordinated by Mennonite Partners in China, an agency with long experience in developing theory and practice for English-language teaching in China and in North America. One of MPC’s supporting partners is Mennonite Mission Network. Other supporting agencies are Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Eastern Mennonite Missions.

MPC director Myrrl Byler was among those who got the project up and running.

“Just as Anabaptists have been at the forefront of developing ministries focused on peacebuilding, so, too, they can offer their gifts to the broader language teaching profession,” Byler said. “Anabaptists have a unique opportunity to help create a larger vision for language education that broadens perspectives, builds understanding and encourages the development and practice of peacemaking skills.”

Byler said language educators are beginning to work through the theological and pedagogical implications of teaching English from an Anabaptist perspective. Language learning and teaching is not simply a tool for peace education. The process itself can begin to break down barriers.

Language shapes us

Cheryl Woelk, project coordinator, hopes the website will engage educators in discussions that lead to new ways of thinking about an old idea — how to incorporate peace in the classroom.

The project aims to engage participation from language educators — including linguists, active language instructors and peacemaking professionals — who identify with Anabaptism. Especially welcomed will be international workers with Mennonite agencies who serve abroad, as well as English Language Learner teachers who are active in North America.

Language is “deeply connected to who we are,” said Woelk, literacy program coordinator for the Saskatchewan Intercultural Association in Saskatoon. “How we deal with conflicts and how we deal with relationships reflects the kind of language we use in society and how we interact with people who use other languages. We’re teaching more than just grammar.”

Misuse of language can have dire consequences. In war, propaganda and epithets dehumanize and create enemies. Dehumanization makes it easier for people to commit acts of violence.

Woelk uses standard language textbooks when teaching courses. These may contain passages about global issues such as conflicts in the Middle East, which create opportunities to talk about peacemaking.

As students are exposed to different cultural ideas, they end up expressing these ideas through their new language. They ponder the issues as they learn. Sometimes they discover that certain concepts in another language do not exist in their native tongues.

This exposure to different cultural concepts by way of language learning opens educational possibilities and the potential for reconciliation between people and with God.

“It’s not a new concept,” Woelk said of discussions of faith in the classroom. “The classroom is where we have to integrate who we are from a spiritual perspective. Good educators are trying to be intentional about how we are acting out our faith in the classroom as teachers and learners. The project’s vision is to have more conversation about it.”

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