The Chinese language classroom as a pedagogic emancipatory space: cultural capital in multilingual Australia

Research highlighted:

Xu, W., & Knijnik, J. (2021). Critical Chinese as an Additional Language education in Australia: A journey to voices, courage and hope. British Educational Research Journal, 1-17. doi:10.1002/berj.3747

Languages education plays a central role in constructing hegemony and boundaries, while also being commodified as a technical skill with symbolic added value in the globalised new economy (Heller & Duchêne, 2012). In spite of the continuous politicisation of the Chinese language in New South Wales (NSW) Australia and internationally in the western countries, Chinese is still being recognised as a central language for Australian students (Weinmann, Arber, & Neilsen, 2021); hence, in 2019, the NSW Department of Education invested substantially in a substitutional program and is committed to delivering ‘first-class Chinese-language and cultural programs’ in NSW public schools (Baker & Chung, 2019). This ambiguous discourse has paralleled with the status of foreign language education in China.

In our paper ‘Critical Chinese as an Additional Language education in Australia: A journey to voices, courage and hope’ recently published in the British Journal of Educational Studies (Xu & Knijnik, 2021),we consider the discursive construction of politicised and racialised language ideologies and ‘profit’, or language as capital provides the cultural and social context for our research. We handled contradictions and recast Chinese as an Additional Language (CAL) education as a dynamic pedagogic space for critical language and cultural awareness. Though trumpeted as an open, democratic and multilingual society, inequity, social stratification and exclusion are perennial issues in Australia. Learning additional languages, often associated with elite education, is likely to afford students from disadvantaged families with valuable resources, such as employment, sustainable livelihoods, alternative ways of thinking and a sense of achievement (Piller & Takahashi, 2011; Xu & Stahl, 2021).

In our article we drew upon Freire’s conceptualisation of dialogic practices and conscientização to unpack a journey to voices, courage and hope of a cohort of socially, linguistically and economically disadvantaged students in Western Sydney, one of the most culturally diverse regions in the country. Their experiences, responses, dreams and understanding of CAL education in multicultural Australia were thus captured. For example, a girl named Ally, who came from a challenging background, expressed a critical awareness of the importance of Chinese language to her future capacity to have-white collar, high skilled jobs as opposed to more traditionally feminised roles or occupations that do not require strong educational background.

By arguing that emancipatory and critical practices could enhance students to achieve consciousness and collective self-transformation, we challenged the permeability of raciolinguistic ideologies that exacerbate social exclusion and inequality in linguistically diverse Australia, while making a contribution to the literature on CAL and languages education, which all too often isolate from broader issues in educational theory (Pennycook, 1990). We end with a call for broadening research and teaching imagination, and writing CAL and all additional languages more firmly into the social inclusion agenda in both Australia and beyond (Piller & Takahashi, 2011).

Author bios

Dr Wen Xu, East China Normal University

Dr. Wen Xu is a post-doc research fellow at East China Normal University, China. Her research interests focus on language(s) education and society, socio-cultural studies of education, learner identities, and equity/inequality. Considering the worldwide growing upheaval and scepticism around Chinese language education, she writes extensively on how Chinese literacy can be theorised as a pathway towards equity and upward social mobility for Australian students, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds. She can be contacted via email:

Dr Jorge Knijnik, Western Sydney University

Dr. Jorge Knijnik is an associate professor in the School of Education and a researcher in the Institute for Culture and Society and the Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University, Australia. In the mid-1980s he was a student-teacher at Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil) where he was presented to Paulo Freire’s ideas by Freire’s core group of collaborators. In the late 1980s, he worked as an educator under Paulo Freire’s administration of São Paulo city educational department, when Freire’s concept of dialogic education spread rapidly across the municipality’s school, and an educational revolution took place in South America’s largest city.


Baker, J., & Chung, L. (2019). NSW schools to scrap Confucius Classroom program after review. Retrieved from

Heller, M., & Duchêne, A. (2012). Language in late capitalism: Pride and profit. In A. Duchêne & M. Heller (Eds.), Pride and profit: changing discourses of language, capital and nation-state (pp. 1-21). New York: Routledge.

Pennycook, A. (1990). Critical pedagogy and second language education. System, 18(3), 303-314.

Piller, I., & Takahashi, K. (2011). Linguistic diversity and social inclusion. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 14(4), 371-381. doi:10.1080/13670050.2011.573062

Weinmann, M., Arber, R., & Neilsen, R. (2021). Interrogating the ‘normal’: (Noting) discourses of legitimacy, identity and difference in languages education. In R. Arber, M. Weinmann, & J. Blackmore (Eds.), Rethinking Languages Education: Directions, Challenges and Innovations (pp. 84-97). Abingdon: Routledge.

Xu, W., & Knijnik, J. (2021). Critical Chinese as an Additional Language education in Australia: A journey to voices, courage and hope. British Educational Research Journal, 1-17. doi:10.1002/berj.3747

Xu, W., & Stahl, G. (2021). Working-class girls’ construction of learner identities and aspirations through engagement in Chinese language education in Australia. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. doi:10.1080/01596306.2021.1918061

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: