The art of Landguaging across borders: Land-sensitive curriculum for imperial language teachers (by Rhonda Chung) 

Since 1492, any European-based language thriving outside of its territory of origin is likely the consequence of some form of imperialism. How long linguistic occupation lasts outside that mother colony depends on how willing those settlers are to continue to toe the imperial line. When will enough be enough?

In the settler colonial territory currently named Canada, French began its long-term linguistic occupation of Turtle Island (North America) in 1608, making its way downwards into the islands of the Antilles, all the way to Abya Yala (South America).

Shortly after, English began its occupation of a territory unironically named: Newfoundland, establishing the second of what would later be tens of thousands of plantations across both Turtle Island and Abya Yala. Wide-scale occupation followed for the next few centuries, dispersing millions of European, African, and Asian settlers across what is now colonially-called the Americas. Many of these settlers now feel that this territory is their home and “native” land. 

The extractive practices of imperialism characteristic of early colonial life remain an economic engine in our modern times. For example, although slavery, a practice which occurred in both English and French Canada, was officially abolished by the British empire in 1833, the debt incurred by paying reparations to plantation owners—not the enslaved labourers or their descendants—were only settled in 2015.

This funneling of resources and financial favour between supposed “ex” colonies and the mother colony continue to this day under many monikers, like bilateral agreements, and occur in higher education circles.

For example, it was also in 2015 that the Quebec government revisited their 1965 agreement with France, which had previously allowed French university students to enjoy Quebec tuition rates–the lowest in Canada–because of their “relation directe et privilégiée”.

Suzanne Fortier, McGill University’s then principal and vice-chancellor, stated that “it was increasingly difficult to explain to Canadian students from outside Quebec why their fee level was quite a bit higher than students from France.” Following an amendment, undergraduate French students are now obligated to pay not the international rate, but the Canadian tuition rate. Graduate-level (MA and PhD) students from France are still able to access the ‘privileged’ Quebec tuition rate. No other francophone nation enjoys this tuition benefit.

When the former French and British colonies transformed into “Canada”, this process equally transformed the settlers within these borders into citizens of a settler colonial nation, whose structural aim has been to eliminate the people indigenous to the territory and replace them with settlers in perpetuity (Wolfe, 2016). Given that Canada has acknowledged its genocidal actions, the question facing imperial language instructors is: when will enough be enough? 

De/colonizing settler education and L2 pedagogies

By vying for linguistic recognition in spaces to which they are clearly allochthonous (originating from another territory), Canadian L2 teacher training programs enable non-Indigenous languages, like French and English, to plant flags instead of seeds. 

Time and time again, Indigenous scholars explain that land operates in a time of its own, communicating itself in billion-year-old cycles. Each Indigenous nation across the globe uniquely interprets these cycles according to their geographic vantage point. Imperial languages are territorial interruptions, causing communication breakdown between the land and its autochthonous inhabitants, which have led us into ecological crisis because of their extractive processes.

Marie Battiste’s (2013) Decolonizing Education poses Franz Fanon’s critical question to Canadian educators (p.206): 

For educators of imperial languages, that question can be reformulated as: will language teachers fulfill the ongoing mission of endangering Indigenous languages by promoting allochthonous languages in the classrooms, or will they betray this agenda and centre Indigenous voices? 

Indigenists, as Battiste (2013) describes, are educators who subordinate their allochthonous positionality to promote scholarship/literature/art that is autochthonous to the territory of their classrooms. In the same way that men can subordinate their positionality to act in allyship with feminists, so too, Battiste explains, can allochthonous people show solidarity with the people Indigenous to their region by de/colonizing their classrooms through centering Indigenous perspectives. However, Indigenizing a settler space, she is clear, can only be effectuated by Indigenous people.

For Kakali Bhattacharya (2021), “de/colonizing” education involves critique at multiple local and global levels, precisely because colonialism operates across borders and over generations. Locally, many universities offer second language (L2) teacher certification programs for imperial language teaching (e.g., FSL/ESL), with each institution often committing to decolonizing their classrooms. However, as Macedo (2019) critiques, decolonizing imperial language classrooms is an impossibility because French and English are the colonizers. 

What may, however, be possible in the L2 classroom are de/colonizing efforts, which critically analyze the local and global sprawl of French and English, sensitizing language learners to the socioecological toll that colonialism has brought to the land they currently reside on. 

Landguaging towards socioecological repair

Reconciling with the people indigenous to the land we reside on, and often travel to, is not merely an intellectual exercise and cannot be a human-centric endeavour; it must involve reparation of the exploitative ecological relationship settlers have wrought on these lands and active support of Land Back movements. Pennycook (2022) calls on L2 teachers to create inclusive pedagogies, which confront the history of colonialism in the field with the aim of repairing these relationships.

Landguaging is a series of arts-based teacher-reflection activities designed to support instructors of imperial languages in becoming sensitive to the land by connecting their language-teaching and learning experiences to the territories they occurred on. Using externalization techniques and arts-based portraiture, instructors are guided to reflect upon and confront the allochthonous nature of their French and English-teaching in Canada (and elsewhere), and commit to creating inclusive, plurilingual pedagogies (Chung & Chung Arsenault, in press). 

Piloted with instructors and professors from two university teaching programs, Landguaging exercises were refined and paired with plurilingual activities and then conducted in an online workshop with current ESL instructors. Results showed that instructors with experience travelling abroad were better able to articulate the imperial nature of English during externalization sessions, and held positive views of teaching plurilingually. However, in the context of Quebec, concerns were raised about inviting backlash from administrators who enforce English-only policies in the ESL classroom (Chung & dela Cruz, forthcoming).

Current research in land-based language-teacher education has focused on the semiotic aspects of the linguistic landscape, which include noticing the visible and audible stimuli of imperial languages on the landscape (Sterzuk, 2020). Landguaging, however, views language as flowing from and in relationship with the land, producing autochthonous, allochthonous, or parautochthonous (intermediate between autochthonous and allochthonous) linguistic relationships. It situates itself within a larger movement in critical education scholarship that is land-centered and focused on repairing the socioecological damage of imperialism through localized and global community efforts (Calderon, 2014; Bhattacharya, 2021). 

Landguaging must start from within

“De/colonizing” education is a holistic endeavour involving an intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and physical critique of the self, meaning that research is an intrinsically subjective endeavour (Bhattacharya, 2021). Inclusive pedagogies, therefore, must start from within. Instructors who continue to disperse imperial languages should be able to articulate their relationship with the ongoing settler colonial linguistic policies in their territory. In doing so, Canadian instructors enact what Tanchuk and colleagues (2018) describe as an engaged “liberal democratic citizenship”.

Landguaging was co-created from multiple intergenerational interactions with my child, parents, and grandparentsregarding the circumstances of our mixed heritage. It became the basis of my son’s project-based curriculum, created to satisfy Cycle 1 of Quebec’s Education (QEP) plan, specifically the domaine de l’univers social and its requirement to “build social awareness and act as a responsible, informed, and enlightened citizen”. Because of COVID-19, I homeschooled my son from March 2020 until August 2022, which enabled me to refine the Landguaging tasks with him over multiple arts-based projects, as this was the pedagogical tool my then eight-year-old responded to best. Art provokes and invites audience response and, as a form of inquiry, counters the overly positivist nature of applied linguistics which has historically focused on learner mistakes, pathologizing language learning (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 2016). Additionally, arts-based inquiry can be used by learners of all proficiencies, enabling users to cross linguistic lines.

Artist: Willem-Loup Chung Arsenault (2022)

Using plurilingual methodologies (see Galante et al., 2022 for an overview of five plurilingual teaching strategies), like cross-linguistic and cross-cultural analyses, my son and I sensitized ourselves to the flora and fauna found during our daily neighbourhood walks in Tiohtià:ke. We discussed, for example, that tulips are often used to represent spring in Canada, but those perennial bulbs were brought over by the Europeans, meaning that our concept of the seasons has been whitewashed by settler colonialism. Externalizing our understanding between indigenous/autochthonous and non-indigenous/allochthonous species to the territory facilitated later conversations about which lands we are autochthonous to, and what circumstances made our family allochthonous to the region we now live in.

The Guianas

Like many people whose ancestry is linked to extractive and planter colonial processes in the Global South, I have a parautochthonous relationship to the Americas. Although born in Canada, I am connected to six ethnic groups indigenous to Asia, Europe, Africa, and Abya Yala—an identity made possible by the re-locating actions of British imperialists in the territory colonially-called Guyana. I come from many people who’ve consumed and crossed many waters in many continents. I have always known that I am connected to many people, but have only recently started to understand the responsibility and gratitude I have to five of the seven continents that made me.

Landguaging Portrait (August 2022)

After creating a physical collage of maps, I re-created the above Landguaging portrait using photo collage. To the left are the ancestral lands that I carry, and which have formed my body. Despite never having visited Guyana, I carry inside of me memories of the contact land through conversations with my family, and foods that originated in that territory. To the right, occupying space in my head, are the lands (England and France) that tried to conquer me and my ancestors, and whose languages I now speak. My mixed identity is expressed in English and French in the Americas; however, many other mixed identities can be translated into all the imperial languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch), because of course it can—that was the whole point of the enterprise: to live one’s life forever in translation to imperial norms. Well, pardon my French, but fuck that. 

While producing different Landguaging projects, I came to an important realization about my arts-based practices: I was finally creating meaning that did not depend on imperial languages; in fact, it operated beyond words altogether. Everything I produced came from interaction with my child—the future generation, while using my hands, which were formed by my ancestors. Art had enabled me to usurp the colonizer, and celebrate my family.

My mixed identity has always enabled me to view myself as connected to many people and histories, and my Landguaging portrait extended this reflection into land, where I view myself as the embodiment of many interconnected geographies. Because rocks are our oldest teachers, the land has specifically taught me how my ancestors divergedconverged, and transformed over time to make me, moving in ways that rocks don’t. Developing a socioecological sensitivity to the flora and fauna of the region with my son enabled us to discuss how imperial processes have created a collision and mix that often go unnoticed and seldom discussed in daily settler colonial life; however, we can change that. 

Since Canada specifically attempted to erase Indigenous people under the guise of education (residential schools), unsettling this tightly-controlled hierarchy will require an equally strategic collusion of stakeholders at multiple levels of education. The act of sensitizing ourselves to the land and creating art provides an avenue that allows us to avoid putting colonial languages at the centre of discourse, thereby enacting de/colonizing methodologies. 

Moving forward

Place has power (Deloria & Wildcat, 2001), and the land speaks (Armstrong, 2017). Are settlers listening?

When we sensitize ourselves to the land, we learn things like: the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, North America surfaced as a continent 2 billion years ago, and modern man is only about 200,000 years old— by comparison, the common cockroach is 280 million years old. As one of the youngest creations on the planet, we should be in a position of humility in both our conduct on this planet and our understanding of our place on this territory. We all carry land inside of us and are therefore implicated in caring for all these lands—our mutual survival depends on it.

Jeanette Armstrong (2002).


Armstrong, J. (2017). Land Speaking. In S. McCall, D., Gaertner, D. Reder, & G. Hill (Eds.) Read, listen, tell: Indigenous stories from Turtle Island (pp. 141-155). Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Battiste, M. (2013). Decolonizing education: Nourishing the learning spirit. Purich Publishing Limited.

Bhattacharya, K. (2021). De/colonizing educational research. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Oxford University Press.

Calderon, D. (2014). Speaking back to manifest destinies: A land education-based approach to critical curriculum inquiry. Environmental Education Research, 20(1), 24-36.

Chung, R., & Chung Arsenault, W. (in press). ‘Landguaging’ the L2 classroom: Inclusive pedagogies & land-sensitive curriculum through teacher reflection art. Concordia University Working Papers in Applied Linguistics.

Chung, R. & dela Cruz, J. (forthcoming). Pedagogies of inclusion must start from within: Teacher reflection, Landguaging, and plurilingualism in the “L2” classroom. In A. Charity Hudley, C. Mallinson, & M. Bucholtz (Eds.), Inclusion in Linguistics. Oxford University Press.

Deloria Jr, V., & Wildcat, D. R. (2001). Power and place: Indian education in America. Fulcrum Publishing. 

Galante, A., Chiras, M., dela Cruz, J. W. N., & Zeaiter, L. F. (2022). Plurilingual guide: Implementing critical plurilingual pedagogy in language education. Plurilingual Lab Publishing. 

Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. (2016). Commentary: Portraiture methodology: Blending art and science. LEARNing Landscapes, 9(2), 19-27.

Macedo, D. (2019). Rupturing the yoke of colonialism in foreign language education: An introduction. In D. Macedo (Ed.) Decolonizing foreign language education (pp. 1-49). Routledge. 

Pennycook, A. (2022). Critical applied linguistics in the 2020s. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies19(1), 1-21.

Sterzuk, A. (2020). Building language teacher awareness of colonial histories and imperialistic oppression through the linguistic landscape. In D. Malinowski, H. H. Maxim & S. Dubreil (Eds.), Language teaching in the linguistic landscape (pp. 145-162). Springer.

Tanchuk, N., Kruse, M., & McDonough, K. (2018). Indigenous course requirements: A liberal-democratic justification. Philosophical Inquiry in Education, 25(2), 134-153. 

Wolfe, P. (2006). Settler colonialism and the elimination of the native. Journal of Genocide Research, 8(4), 387-409.

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