I thought we weren't in Spain : the emergence of authenticity in a foreign language classroom



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This study is based upon the idea that foreign language (FL) classrooms exist apart from their target language communities. While historically, this has been a geographic truth, divides between FL learners and native speakers may also reflect symbolic social distance. Given the symbolic, if not geographic, isolation of the FL classroom from the real world, this study presumes that a challenge inherent to the endeavor of FL education is that the authentic, real-world language and culture under study are, by definition, not naturally present in the FL classroom. This study considers how this challenge, referred to as the challenge of authenticity, is managed in one FL classroom. Seven eighth-grade students and their teacher comprise Classroom 204, a beginning Spanish FL classroom at a private school in the southwest U.S. This qualitative case study uses classroom observations, audio-recordings, classroom artifacts, and participant interviews as data to consider not only how authenticity is imported, imagined, and conjured by participants in Classroom 204, but how authenticity is assigned value therein. Data is analyzed largely with discourse analysis of transcripts of classroom talk about (and classroom talk that constituted) various facets of authenticity, value, and the real world. Ecology theory serves as a broad theoretical lens through which to understand (and accept) the complexity inherent to the social phenomena being researched. Benedict Anderson's (1991) theory of imagined communities is adopted to understand the boundaries that delineate the inside of the FL classroom from the outside, and Bourdieu's (1992) notion of symbolic capital is used to understand the ways by which authenticity becomes valuable (and, conversely, how that which is valuable becomes authentic). Findings suggest that, while participants are largely oriented to real-world manifestations of Spanish language and culture, authenticity is not most present in Classroom 204 in the form of stuff imported from elsewhere. Rather, authenticity emerges out of the highly local, socially-immediate interactions and value systems unique to Classroom 204. Suggestions for both pedagogy and future research focus on approaches that acknowledge and capitalize on the power of local authenticity in the FL classroom, as cultivated by local social actors.