How Relevant is Relevance? Weighing the Relative Value of Relevance and Situatedness against Disciplinary Integrity in the Teaching of French in Australian Universities

By Alistair Rolls and Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan.

Published by The Learner Collection

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It is our aim in this paper to address the needs of French disciplines in the Australian Higher Education sector in the light of the ‘languages in crisis’ phenomenon and the demands being made on departments to establish the ‘real world’ relevance of their disciplines in a vocationally focused teaching environment. French departments have two fundamental options open to them: they can emphasise their communicative function by specialising in français de spécialité, types of French adapted to professional fields, and hence their potential value-added input into the programs of all university students; alternatively, they can seek to locate themselves as a broad-based academic discipline within Arts-based programs, in which, arguably, irrelevance lies at the very core of their importance. The negative aspects of these two scenarios are, respectively, the reduction of the discipline to the status of service provider and its disappearance due to dwindling numbers.

It is with the aim of negotiating the binary terms of this conundrum, and of locating the specific needs of the academic French department within those of the local Anglo-saxon community, that we propose to investigate the use of a specifically French approach to French language teaching (la didactique du Français Langue Etrangère) as an efficient and effective means of teaching French in Australia. In addition to using a methodology initiated in France, we shall consider the ramifications of extending the university context beyond its current parameters by going into local primary schools (taking the inside out) and using on-line student exchanges with French counterparts as well as on-line materials designed in France (bringing the outside in). We shall thus consider whether the solution to situation-specific exigencies is actively to decontextualise the teaching and disciplinary context.

Keywords: Disciplinary Integrity, Vocational Focus, Relevance, Situatedness / Situation, French Language, Didactics

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 15, Issue 7, pp.55-62. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 561.560KB).

Dr. Alistair Rolls

French Lecturer, Humanities and Social Science, The University of Newcastle, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Dr. Alistair Rolls lectures in French literature and language at the University of Newcastle (Australia). He has published widely in the area of twentieth-century French literature and is recognised internationally for his work on Boris Vian. In 2007 Drs Rolls and Vuaille-Barcan received national recognition for their teaching when they were awarded a Carrick Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning.

Dr. Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan

Lecturer, School of Humanities and Social Science, The University of Newcastle, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Dr. Marie-Laure Vuaille-Barcan (co-author of proposed paper) also lectures in French at Newcastle. Her areas of specialism are didactology and translation studies. In 2007 Drs Rolls and Vuaille-Barcan received national recognition for their teaching when they were awarded a Carrick Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning.

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