Reflecting on the Talk on the ‘Critical’ in Language Education

Ashok Raj Khati

I attended a guest lecture on The ‘Critical’ in Language Education delivered by Bal Krishna Sharma on the 3rd of July 2013 at the School of Education, Kathmandu University. Bal Krishna is a one of the past editors of the Journal of NELTA and a doctoral candidate in applied linguistics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA. There were 24 students of MPhil in English Language Education. In this brief reflective essay, I am going to share some key points of the lecture and discuss how the ‘critical’ aspect of language education is an important for language teachers and researchers.

I had come across the term ‘critical’ many times during different courses in MPhil and discourses of English language education; however the talk made me broaden my perspective particularly on how we can introduce ‘criticality’ in the classroom in Nepalese ELT settings. Before the class, he had assigned us to read an article on ‘the practicality and relevance of second language critical pedagogy’ by Graham Crookes (2009) so that we could have better perspective on the topic and better participated in the talk session. I found that the article (see appendix)  addresses eight different areas including EFL critical pedagogy and it also highlights the practical relevance of critical pedagogies of second language (L2) in several areas. This write up is very relevant and useful to see the practicality of critical pedagogy in EFL or ESL classroom.

The aim of his talk session was to introduce the ‘critical’ in language pedagogy. Nevertheless, his talk did not only introduce the term ‘critical’ but also illustrated with examples giving practical insights on how it can be integrated into language education. Bal Krishna’s talk mainly focused on four kinds of the ‘critical’ in language pedagogy. They were critical discourse analysis, critical pedagogy, critical language awareness and critical literacy organized together in the talk. He first presented the general overview of such terms and then the examples. Each of them contained an assignment or project work for the audience. Firstly, critical discourse analysis (CDA) takes place through an analysis of how power and inequality constructed through different discourse like naturally occurring interactions (e.g. classroom), photographs, images, media (movies, newspapers and documentaries), websites, textbooks, policy documents, etc. We critically observed the cultural and authenticity aspect in some examples of English textbooks. Finally, we attempted to explore possible critical discourse analysis through a list of assignments given as follows:

  • Collecting naturally occurring interaction data in a language classroom and analyze how the teacher and the fellow classmates treat a stuttering student.
  • Analysing how professional roles are represented in terms of gender in English textbooks of Grade 9 and 10.
  • Analysing how ‘Nepali’ culture is constructed in English textbooks.
  • Critically analyzing how VP Paramanda Jha’s oath in Hindi is constructed by media.

It was an exciting discussion in the sense that the instances taken in the talk were of Nepalese context.

Secondly, Bal Krishna discussed critical pedagogy. He defined, following Freire (1972), Giroux (1981) and Apple (1982), critical pedagogy is primarily concerned with critiquing existing educational institutions and practices, and subsequently transforming both education and society. I came to know that critical pedagogy has several names like radical pedagogy, feminist pedagogy, pedagogy of possibility, pedagogy of empowerment and transformative pedagogy. I understood that Social Responsibility Interest Section in TESOL and Global Issues Specific Interest Group in IATEFL are address the concerns of critical pedagogy. I realized that there are two important aspects of critical pedagogy—Give students voice and Critical analysis skills. At the end of the discussion on ‘critical pedagogy’, he introduced an example of the Tamang Project entitled ‘Privileging Indigenous Knowledges: Empowering Multilingual Education in Nepal’ led by two Nepalese and a foreign researchers. The major focuses of the project are on:

–          herbal medicines and healing practices,

–          traditional and modern knowledge and skills,

–          History, numerical systems, weights and measures,

–          Relations, belief systems and practices and

–          Life rituals, feasts and festivals, songs, lyrics and poems.

Thirdly, in his presentation he defined critical language awareness as it refers to importance of ‘noticing’, applicable to marginalized language speakers and it argues to deconstruct the standard language ideology. It covers dialect awareness, non-standard language awareness, pidgin and creole awareness native/heritage language awareness (think of internal migrants). The following assignment was given at the end.

–          Develop a lesson or activities which ask all of the students to discuss and present on their languages and cultures and how they make use of their languages in their lives, both in and out of school. The students can bring in an artifact from home which represents their home language(s)/culture(s), and they can be encouraged to teach the class some expressions in their home language. The Tharu language in Chitwan, for example. The students should also be encouraged to work with their parents.

I found the discussion on critical literacy was more useful from the perspective of global citizenship. I was highly interested in the issue. We came to know that critical literacy as an educational practice that focuses on the relationship between language, social practices, citizenship, intercultural relations and global/local issues, with several implications for our understanding of language, our pedagogical practices and the role of teachers. I occasionally used issue-based teaching in my class but came to know this time that it was critical literacy. To teach life skills to the learners through critical literacy was quite convincing to me. The inspiring examples for critical literacy like makingsmall scale interventions within the existing institutional constraints (Shin and Crookes, 2005), raising students’ consciousness on matters relevant to their lives (Konoeda and Watanabe, 2008) and connecting ESL pedagogical practices to issues of power, equity, and social justice (Ajayi, 2008) added value to the discussion.

The assignments based on different ‘critical’ in language pedagogy were so useful on the part of the students since they worked as clue to prepare theses, design project work, develop a lesson plan or activity and organize a workshop from critical perspective. Besides, I found his talk very relevant to Nepalese context where there is a need to look into such issues and bring a change in traditional chain of learning. It has really enabled all of us who attended the talk and made us really thoughtful on such issues with reference to multilingual context of Nepal. Following the talk, we some of our friends had larger discussion and interaction realising our concern to work together for this. I will largely incorporate such issues at different professional avenues in the days to come.

Before he concluded his two-hour talk, he shared with the audience his research project and opened the floor for question answer session.  At the end of the session Associate Prof. Laxman Gnawali, Kathmandu University, summarized the talk and appreciated Mr. Bal Krishna Sharma for his contribution to the M.Phil in ELE program of Kathmandu University.


Mr. Khati is a life member of NELTA and currently pursuing his MPhil in ELE from Kathmandu University, Nepal.


Here is the pdf version of Mr. Sharma’s presentation slides and the article by Crookes (2009).

1. Critical at KU for Choutari

2. Crookes, critical pedagogy

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