Helping university students to approach language learning as a way of life, not a slot on the timetable

An experiment in encouraging immersive language learning with Adobe Captivate and Character Animator

Mastering a language is not like learning any other Arts faculty subject: to learn a language is to immerse oneself in a way of experiencing and engaging with the world, not to assimilate a body of knowledge or even a methodology. Language and culture are the means through which we experience anything at all, not only (and not usually) a direct object of our experience.

For this reason, and because of the squeeze on contact hours, language teaching at university level poses unique challenges. We language teachers are jealous for the real estate of our students’ minds and attention, not just during the time we are with them but throughout the week. While we are not able, of course, fully to recreate an immersive language learning experience at university, we want to find as many ways as we can to help language learning to leak out of the lecture and tutorial in order to infiltrate all aspects of the students’ lives and be present with them throughout each day.

In preparation for welcoming the 2018 cohort of first year French Studies students at Monash I have begun developing an idea called “Francisez votre vie !” (Frenchify your life!) which seeks to make language learning a way of life for students, not merely a slot on the timetable. I want my students to be dedicated language learners, not merely people who happen to be learning a language. I want them to learn how to do the things they want to do in the language they are learning, rather than choosing between learning the language and doing what they want to do. I want the language to be a means to many ends for them, not just one end among many.

As a first step I have made a package to fit inside a Moodle unit page that very briefly introduces students to the importance of immersive language learning and then leads them through some simple simple “how to” tutorials which encourage them to let French break out of the university context and into the rest of their lives (with steps like changing the language of their laptop operating system and mobile phone to French, setting their browser homepage to a French site and finding French TV news to watch online). The package awards an appropriately tricolore-coloured rosette when all the steps have been completed.

I have uploaded a HTML5 version of “Francisez votre vie !” to this site so that you can see what the evolving content looks like at this draft stage. Just click on the image below and it will open the package in a new tab. The only difference between this and the original Moodle version is that the latter integrates with the Moodle gradebook and keeps a record of how many of the steps each student has taken, whereas this version does not record achievement.

For readers who want to know how it was put together, the package was produced in Adobe Captivate, with the talking cartoon character lip-synced in Adobe Character Animator and the video finished off in Adobe Premiere Pro (at Monash we have free access to Adobe Creative Cloud apps, if you hadn’t guessed already!)

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has ideas for how to develop this further.

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Marcel Gauchet in discussion in Melbourne: The Crisis of Democratic Politics

Here is news of an exceptional event in Melbourne, with Marcel Gauchet on democracy, crisis, and–no doubt–Trump:


27 th January 2017, Time: 6.30 pm.
RMIT University, City Campus School of Business and Law lecture theatre
Building 13 Level 3 Room 9 Address: 379-405 Russell St, Melbourne.

Event blurb:
This event is part of the French Festival of Ideas (La Nuit des Idées), organised by the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy and in conjunction with Social Imaginaries, an international journal of social theory and political philosophy. The event is hosted by RMIT with support from the Centre for Communication, Politics and Culture, and has been conceived by Dr Natalie J. Doyle, Monash University.

Marcel Gauchet (1946 -) is a leading French philosopher, historian and sociologist, who has written widely on politics, the relation between democracy, religion and globalisation. In 2016 his debate with Alain Badiou on the future of democracy was published in English by Polity under the title What Is to Be Done? A Dialogue on Communism, Capitalism, and the Future of Democracy. Gauchet is chief editor of the journal Le Débat. Until 2016 he held a senior research position in political philosophy in the Centre de recherches politiques et sociologiques Raymond Aron (CESPR) at the École des Haute Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS). In recent years, he has become increasingly prominent in France as a public intellectual, commenting in the media on a range of issues from education to European politics and Islamic fundamentalism. He has most recently contributed to debates on the future of French society through a book of interviews Comprendre le malheur français (2016).
His first major work Le Désenchantement du monde: une histoire politique de la religion (1985) was translated into English in 1997, as The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion (Oscar Burge trans.). It was followed in 1999 by Madness and Democracy (La pratique de l’esprit humain. L’institution asilaire et la révolution démocratique, co-authored in 1980 with his now deceased partner Gladys Swain, (Catherine Porter trans.).
Since 2007 he has been working on a theoretically informed history of modern European democracy L’Avènement de la démocratie. Its fourth and last volume Le Nouveau Monde, offers an analysis of the contemporary crisis of democratic politics and of the genesis of the neo-liberal ideology, in both its right wing and left wing manifestations.  In his first Australian appearance, Gauchet will discuss – via a live teleconference from Paris – the nature, dynamics and consequences of the recent upheavals in democratic politics, such as the election of Donald Trump and the rise of populism. Gauchet’s provocative perspective will challenge the dominant interpretations of these events. Other participants in the discussion will be Dr Natalie J. Doyle, Professor John Rundell, Professor Peter Murphy and Dr A. J Bartlett.

Natalie Doyle is Senior Lecturer in French Studies at Monash University and Deputy Director of the Monash European and EU Centre. She co-edits Social Imaginaries and has recently completed a book for Lexington on the contemporary crisis of European democracy, titled A Loss of Common Purpose: European democracy, depoliticization and imaginary constructs of Islam. She is one of the editors of Domains and Divisions of European History, New Europe, New Worlds?, Regional Integration and Modernity. Cross Atlantic Perspectives.

Peter Murphy is Adjunct Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences at La Trobe University and Research Fellow in the Cairns Institute at James Cook University. A liberal-conservative theorist, he is the author of Auto-Industrialism: DIY Capitalism and the Rise of the Auto-Industrial Society (2017), Universities and Innovation Economies: The Creative Wasteland of Post-Industrial Societies (2015) and The Collective Imagination: The Creative Spirit of Free Societies (2012).

John Rundell is Principal Honorary (Social Theory) in The School of Social and Political Science at The University of Melbourne and was director of the Ashworth Program for Social Theory at The University of Melbourne from 1998 until 2014. His books include Origins of Modernity: The Origins of Modern Social Theory from Kant to Hegel to Marx and Aesthetics and Modernity: Essays by Agnes Heller. His latest book, Imaginaries of Modernity: politics, cultures, tensions has just been published by Routledge.

A. J. Bartlett is Secretary of the Melbourne School of Continental Philosophy and is Adjunct Research Fellow at the Research Unit in European Philosophy at Monash University. He is the author of Badiou and Plato: An Education by Truths and co-author of Lacan, Deleuze, Badiou. He is the editor of Badiou: Key Concepts, Badiou and his Interlocutors: Lectures, Interviews and Responses and What is Education? He is the translator with Alex Ling of Alain Badiou’s Mathematics of the Transcendental and with Justin Clemens, Alain Badiou’s Happiness.

The organisers thank L’Institut français and the Australian Embassy in Paris for their role in making this event possible.

The Return of Religion, Kettle Logic, and the Secular Dilemma

lambert-return-statementsAt this year’s Australasian Society of Continental Philosophy conference I had the pleasure of responding to Gregg Lambert’s new book Return Statements: The Return of Religion in Contemporary PhilosophyI chose to focus on the very idea of the “return of religion”, its multiple senses, and their potential conflicts. The paper is downloadable from and

Here is the abstract:

There are at least three distinct senses of the “return of religion” in recent Continental thought. Taken together, they obey a sort of kettle logic, and they leave the secularist with a dilemma about how to avoid returning to religion in the very attempt to escape it. The paper discusses Gregg Lambert’s Return Statements, and engages mainly with Alain Badiou and Jean-Luc Nancy, touching briefly on Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Quentin Meillassoux.

French Philosophy Today to join Difficult Atheism on Edinburgh Scholarship Online

French Philosophy Today, New Figures of the Human in Badiou, Meillassoux, Malaobu, Serres and LatourI’ve just learned that French Philosophy Today will shortly join Difficult Atheism on Edinburgh Scholarship Online.

This, I hope, will come as good news to at least some of those who have been in touch with me about the price of the hardback edition.

Difficult Atheism reviewed in Derrida Today

derrida-todayThe latest issue of Derrida Today includes a review of my Difficult Atheism by Christina Smerick. You can read the whole review online for free here.

Watkin’s thesis is bold and unapologetic, and shapes the path of his reading and thinking with intense focus. His main concern, bordering on a battle cry, is that the ground gained by atheism is being lost once more to a new ‘colonisation’ by theism.

Watkin proceeds systematically and with an admirable thoroughness.

Reading Meillassoux produces ‘aha!’ moments, where he turns a philosophical concept on its head (as when he advocates for radical possibility, which must be if everything is necessarily contigent); Watkin does an admirable job of waking us up from our thrall and pointing out the deep problems with such seemingly magical moves.

Watkin accomplishes a daunting task in this book, managing to summarize and explain some of the most complicated, complicating works we have from these thinkers while at the same time issuing forth his own provocative thesis, thus finding points of commonality in unlikely places.

French Philosophy Today reviewed at NDPR

French Philosophy Today. New Figures of the Human in Badiou, Meillassoux, Malabou, Serres and Latour

French Philosophy Today has just been reviewed over at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. Here are some highlights:

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s famously defined philosophical production as concept creation. If they are correct, then Watkin’s work is not just a scholarly commentary of philosophy but also itself an inventive philosophical work.

If Alain Badiou, the first French thinker analyzed in the book, is to be believed, then philosophers are his country’s greatest export. Certainly those who want to keep abreast about what is happening in France today in regards to this export should pick up Watkin’s book.

This book is relevant to anyone who is interested in the scholarly methodology and creative enterprise of syntopically reading multiple philosophical oeuvres together. Watkin’s bibliographic thoroughness and analytic meticulousness is impressive. It appears that he has read almost anything of relevance to the topic. The texts he references include not just philosophical works from various eras, schools and geographies but also works from theology, the humanities, social science, natural sciences and mathematics.

Watkin’s formulations are rigorous and precise. Through his careful reading and evaluation of the texts by the five French philosophers, Watkin introduces an arsenal of new conceptual technologies and divisional schemas for understanding the question of the human.

See here for chapter summaries of the book.

French Philosophy Today: Summary of Chapter 6 – Bruno Latour

French Philosophy Today, New Figures of the Human in Badiou, Meillassoux, Malaobu, Serres and LatourThis is the sixth in a series of posts providing short summaries of the chapters in my latest book, French Philosophy Today: New Figures of the Human in Badiou, Meillassoux, Malabou, Serres and Latour. For further chapter summaries, please see here.

Chapter 6 considers the figure of the human that emerges in Bruno Latour’s An Inquiry into Modes of Existence and his ‘Facing Gaia’ lectures. Like the other thinkers discussed, Latour neither repeats nor discards previous notions of humanity but translates them in a gesture that can be traced all the way back to his doctoral work on the theologian of demythologisation Rudolf Bultmann. In his attempts to elaborate a figure of the human that follows neither the structure nor the emancipation narrative of modernity, Latour (like Serres) develops a multi-modal approach. The human is an amalgam of multiple modes of existence, and cannot be isolated within, or adequately narrated in, any single one. This dispersal mitigates the danger of Serres’s singular Great Story acting as a host narrative of humanity. In addition, Latour avoids the problems inherent in a host capacity approach by distributing both capacities and substance across human and nonhuman actors in unatomisable collectivities. Whereas the host capacity and host substance approaches seek to understand the human by looking within, Latour insists that the human only becomes comprehensible when we look outside and around. His 2013 Gifford Lectures both develop and challenge themes from the Modes of Existence project, reasserting the centrality of the human now in the new form of the ‘Earthbound’, a non-modern anthropos defined in terms of its limits and its multiple attachments to its world.