Social Activism Italian Style: Building a Community of Practice Through Language Immersion and Civic Engagement While Studying Abroad

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Italian Studies



Publication Title

Project-Based Learning in Second Language Acquisition: Building Communities of Practice in Higher Education


Language development is an interactional rather than unilateral process, that is, language learners participate as agents in the formation of their own linguistic competence, as much as others they interact with. This approach resonates with Ochs and Schiefflin's idea (although applied to children's language development) that learning is fundamentally "collaborative and development is a dynamic outcome of (learners') involvement in activities with others who guide their participation" (Ochs and Schiefflin 6). This is especially true when learners are placed in the context of the country where the foreign language is spoken, that is, in a context where students must function in the foreign language in order to achieve specific goals.

As learners progress and become better communicators, they also become members of communities as their communicative efficacy "depends upon their grasp of shifting and enduring perspectives that give meaning to an array of relationships, institutions, moral worlds, and knowledge domains" (7). In the present article, I use the concept of community of practice as a conceptual framework for language acquisition, and social justice participation as a lens for creating a common goal in a community of practice, where project-based learning methodology represents the link between the two components. This approach relies on the belief that the success of language learning in a study-abroad context cannot be isolated from the growth and development of learners' identity while abroad and must be situated in the larger community context. By expanding students' capacity to incorporate and practice the Italian language away from the classroom setting - that is, away from the traditional teaching-assessment cycle- and by facilitating cooperative work toward a shared interest, the academic course in which such an approach was adopted supported students' spontaneous interaction with locals in the target language and promoted the intercultural growth of the students.


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