My colloquium explored the roles English could play in an era of ever-intensifying globalization when learners with different linguistic, cultural, and national profiles learn English as a foreign or global language. The sociopolitical and cultural inequalities between English and other languages have long been critiqued in applied linguistics scholarship particularly after Robert Philipson introduced the notion of Linguistic Imperialism in 1992. My aim was to present how transformative English as a Foreign Language (EFL) pedagogies could be brought into productive conversation with hegemonic and linguistic-imperialist models in their critique of English as an oppressive language that encroaches on other languages and cultures. I argued that in some contexts, specifically in conflict-ridden contexts like Israel, English might offer an important discursive terrain for teachers and learners to negotiate conflicts and engage in justice-oriented dialogue. Two overarching principles guided this claim. First, the English curriculum in Israel is uniform across the entire population (including Palestinian-Arab learners). Second, scholarship in foreign language education in the last two decades has accentuated the transformative role language pedagogies must play in advancing global cultural consciousness and intercultural citizenship (Byram, 2008; Kumaravadivelu, 2008).
I began by outlining EFL education as a cultural discourse reproducing hegemonic and Anglo-centric ideologies, and then moved to a different understanding of EFL discourse, as offering an alternative transformative framework which serves to advance a cultural politics of peace, social justice, and equality. To illustrate the hegemonic tendency of EFL educational discourse, I presented a critical discourse analysis of six EFL textbooks used in Israeli high schools. I mainly focused on the dynamic between Palestinian Arab learners, and the cultural content of the EFL textbooks, where I identified the recurrence of seven discursive devices that might possibly serve as a means for shaping or (re)producing ideological values. I have shown how through the reoccurrence of Western and basically American and Jewish culturally based issues, the textbooks interpellate (i.e. discursively produce the ideological position of) English learners as Western oriented Jewish-Zionist subjects, thus contributing to the reproduction and perpetuation of Western and Jewish hegemony. Besides serving as a tool for reproducing dominant hegemonic ideas, English textbooks in Israel reinforce the marginalization of the Palestinian Arab minority.
To demonstrate how the move from ideological reproduction to social transformation could be facilitated, I presented a one-year ethnographic case study of Palestinian-Arab EFL pre-service teachers in an Arab middle school in Northern Israel (Awayed-Bishara, 2021). Drawing upon Christopher Stroud’s (2018) notion of linguistic citizenship, I examined the dynamics surrounding the way these teachers respond to imposed linguistic and educational policies, and their political agency in contesting unequal EFL policies. Linguistic citizenship “refers to what people do with and around language(s) in order to position themselves agentively, and to craft new emergent subjectivities of political speakerhood, often outside of those prescribed or legitimated in institutional frameworks of the state” (Stroud, 2018: 4). My findings show that through contesting imposed educational subjectivities and exclusionary ideologies in EFL textbooks, teachers have better chances for sculpting alternative educational realities. What I tried to show is that English could indeed grant marginalized populations a voice through which they could become more appreciative of their own local positionality yet also acceptable of the need to learn about global and intercultural matters.