Help Them Learn a Language Deeply: Deep Approach to World Languages and Cultures

reviewed by Cathy Amanti - July 26, 2016

coverTitle: Help Them Learn a Language Deeply: Deep Approach to World Languages and Cultures
Author(s): François Victor Tochon
Publisher: Deep University Press,
ISBN: 1939755026, Pages: 446, Year: 2014
Search for book at

Whether one works in the area of world language education, English as a Foreign Language, English as a Second Language, or dual immersion/bilingual education there is something for everyone in François Victor Tochon’s Help Them Learn a Language Deeply: Deep Approaches to World Languages and Cultures. Tochon combines a comprehensive and historic survey of major philosophies, theories, and teaching methods with field research to propose a Deep Approach to language teaching that is an antidote to current trends in language education leading to shallow language learning.

Tochon defines the Deep Approach as “[d]eep, reflective language learning” (p. 359) that stresses “reading and writing before listening and speaking; promoting open project-based activities such [as] team and peer work, [and] placing the students as curriculum builders” (p. 359). An underlying premise to this approach is that “texts are the basis and primary source of deep language development” (p. 83). They are also at the heart of Tochon’s approach to project based learning where students progress from immersion in texts to a presentation and interactive stage where they introduce and interact around the topic they have chosen for their project. This process acknowledges the complexity of language learning and leads to deep and lasting learning.

There is much that will be familiar to language educators in Tochon’s Deep Approach. What is new is the way he synthesizes seemingly contradictory approaches to teaching languages based on his belief that, “[w]e come at a time when we need an approach that gathers the best practices that have been developed so far” (p. 306). As such, it is important for language educators to be well versed in an array of theoretical and methodological perspectives on language education so they can adapt their instruction to address their particular students’ interests and this book addresses this need.

A number of themes run throughout Help Them Learn a Language Deeply. One focuses on the current tendency to reduce the complexities of language learning to simple linear sequences. Another is the idea that the push to backward plan is reductionist in favoring a focus on a limited number of specific behavioral outcomes “to the detriment of socio-affective and socio-cultural intentions” (p. 94). On the other hand, Deep Learning focuses on learning processes and creates the conditions for learning through forward planned educational projects negotiated by students and teachers. It encompasses the idea that student motivation depends on being active in the process of curriculum building and having some control over learning is intrinsically motivating. It is also premised on students’ beliefs and philosophies of learning impact their language learning behaviors and also need to be considered (p. 312).

These ideas lead to another of the book’s recurring themes: the role Tochon proposes for teachers in Deep Learning classrooms. In the Deep Approach, teachers must relinquish total control over decision making by becoming a “resource person, a facilitator, and a coach charged with giving feedback ” (p. 208). This does not mean that the teacher’s language expertise is irrelevant; rather it takes a great deal of expertise to support students in implementing Deep Approach projects. Teachers must be able to adapt to students’ pacing and structure project work into school schedules. Educators must also be “the world language expert whom students can consult for all kinds of concerns that can be formal, but also cultural, historical, geographical, as well as grammatical” (p. 211).

In explicating his Deep Approach to language teaching, Tochon advocates for a critical perspective on language and challenges some commonly held beliefs and practices in language education. One is the tendency to treat languages as homogeneous and another is to privilege idealized varieties of the language being taught. Tochon persuasively argues that language educators must ensure students are exposed to multiple varieties of a language to counteract linguicism: the “unconscious discrimination of certain people because of their accent and language” (p. 299). He also critiques the practice of isolating languages and suggests promoting translanguaging in the classroom would put “the dominant language into perspective” (p. 299). The current state of dual language immersion programs focusing mostly on middle class English speaking students to the detriment of lower status linguistic minority students is also critiqued. For language minority students, dual language immersion programs are ironically often a type of heritage language program. Tochon, however, points out what goes unsaid is “in order for the society to have heritage language programs, these languages had to have been eradicated in some point in time in the first place” (p. 349).

A short book review cannot do justice to the richness and depth of Tochon’s Help Them Learn a Language Deeply. However, one aspect should not be overlooked: this text's vision of language learning beyond test results. Tochon frequently asserts “language is more than language” (p. 304) and “establishes contact, dialogue, and cultural action” (p. 304). Deep learning of a language should have a transformative effect not just on students but also the world. Tochon sees language learning as an avenue for building a more just and peaceful world if the process is acquired deeply. As such, he decries the increased emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic subjects and the reduction of funding for world language education. Learning languages is nothing short of “the condition for the U.S. to be more welcomed in the community of nations” (p. 326).

Due to its comprehensiveness, this book is well suited for a teacher or teacher educator discussion group. Each chapter contains a historic and contemporary review of different aspects of language education and curriculum and suggestions for transforming curricular design and classroom practice. The book also contains numerous tables and figures illustrating important concepts. A glossary is found at the end of the book and the appendix contains guides for proactive planning practice.

François Tochon's Help Them Learn a Language Deeply is a valuable in depth resource for language educators and researchers who understand that a simplistic one size fits all approach to language learning does not work. It will also appeal to those who view education as more than a tool for economic development and appreciate education beyond its instrumental value. Readers will come away with a renewed commitment to liberating and humane education and they will be eager to put into action a Deep Approach to teaching and learning.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 26, 2016 ID Number: 21531, Date Accessed: 5/24/2022 5:28:43 AM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review