Comparing the Transcultural Approach of "English as an International Language" with the Cognitive Approach of "English as a Foreign Language"

Document Type : Original Article


1 PhD Student, Department of Philosophy of Education, Faculty of Psychology & Educational Sciences, Kharazmi University, Tehran ,Iran

2 Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy of Education, Faculty of Psychology & Educational Sciences, Kharazmi university, Tehran ,Iran

3 Associate Professor , Department of Philosophy of Education, Faculty of Psychology & Educational Sciences, Kharazmi University, Tehran ,Iran

4 Assistant professor , Institute for Social & Cultural Studies ,Tehran ,Iran


The purpose of current research is to compare the transcultural approach of "English as an international language" with the cognitive approach of "English as a foreign language". The research method was comparative-analytical and the data collection was based on documentary method by using the Boolean approach to search for primary and secondary sources. The researchers used the philosophical analysis research method to analyze the data, and the four-step Bereday’s method to present the results. The first finding indicates that the cognitive tradition in language teaching takes precedence over the transcultural tradition in terms of time. The second finding revealed that the cognitive approach of "English as a second language" is still influenced by the intellectuals of those philosophers such as Descartes, Locke and Hume, while the transcultural approach benefits from the theories of various epistemological and interdisciplinary fields. Another finding emphasizes that the transcultural approach in explaining the necessity of learning English as an international language used important theoretical structures such as conceptualization and cultural schemas to show that policymakers and curriculum planners should not look at English language education from the limited intellectual realm of dividing languages ​​into “first language and second language". Based on these findings, it is suggested to Iranian curriculum planners to break from the cognitive approach and consider the transcultural approach of "teaching English as an international language" in the compilation of upper-level documents and educational policies, because the principles governing the transcultural approach are more consistent with the realities of life in the new millennium.




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Article Title [Persian]

مقایسه رویکرد فرا فرهنگی " انگلیسی به منزله زبان بین المللی" با رویکرد شناختی "انگلیسی به عنوان زبان خارجه"

Authors [Persian]

  • پروانه آقاصفری 1
  • رمضان برخورداری 2
  • علیرضا محمود نیا 3
  • ناصرالدین علی تقویان 4
1 دانشجوی دکتری، گروه فلسفه تعلیم و تربیت، دانشکده روانشناسی و علوم تربیتی، دانشگاه خوارزمی، تهران، ایران
2 دانشیار، گروه فلسفه تعلیم و تربیت، دانشکده روانشناسی و علوم تربیتی، دانشگاه خوارزمی، تهران، ایران
3 دانشیار، گروه فلسفه تعلیم و تربیت، دانشکده روانشناسی و علوم تربیتی، دانشگاه خوارزمی، تهران، ایران
4 استادیار، مؤسسه مطالعات اجتماعی و فرهنگی، تهران، ایران
Abstract [Persian]

هدف پژوهش حاضر مقایسه رویکرد فرافرهنگی "زبان انگلیسی به عنوان زبان بین المللی"  با رویکرد شناختی "انگلیسی  به عنوان زبان خارجه" است.  روش پژوهش ، تطبیقی – تحلیلی و روش جمع آوری داده ها ، اسنادی ( کتابخانه ای ) با بهره گیری از رویکرد بولین برای جستجوی منابع اولیه و ثانویه بود. پژوهشگران برای تجزیه و تحلیل داده ها از روش پژوهش تحلیل فلسفی و برای ارائه نتایج از روش چهار مرحله ای جرج بردی سود جستند. اولین یافته نشانگر آن است که سنت شناختی در آموزش زبان از لحاظ زمانی بر سنت فرافرهنگی تقدم دارد. دومین یافته آشکار ساخت که رویکرد شناختی " زبان انگلیسی به عنوان زبان دوم " ، هنوز متاثر از آبشخورهای فکری فلاسفه ای همچون دکارت ، لاک و هیوم می باشد ، در حالی که رویکرد فرافرهنگی از نظریات حوزه های مختلف معرفتی و بین رشته ای فیض می برد. دیگر یافته تاکید می ورزد که رویکرد فرافرهنگی در تبیین ضرورت یادگیری زبان انگلیسی به عنوان زبان بین المللی از سازه های نظری مهمی همچون مفهوم سازی و طرحواره های فرهنگی استفاده کرد تا نشان دهد نگاه سیاست گزاران وبرنامه ریزی درسی به آموزش زبان انگلیسی باید از قلمرو فکری محدود تقسیم بندی زبان ها به " زبان اول و زبان دوم " خارج شود. بر اساس این یافته ها ، به برنامه ریزان درسی ایران پیشنهاد می گردد با کسست از رویکرد شناختی ، رویکرد فرافرهنگی "آموزش زبان انگلیسی به منزله زبان بین المللی " را در تدوین اسناد بالادستی و سیاست های آموزشی مدنظر قرار دهند چون اصول حاکم بر رویکرد فرافرهنگی با واقعیت های زندگی در هزاره جدید همخوانی بیشتر دارد.

Keywords [Persian]

  • برنامه تحصیلی
  • رویکرد شناختی
  • زبان انگلیسی
  • زبان خارجی
  • زبان بین المللی
  • رویکرد فرافرهنگی
  1. Introduction

              Language education has always been the interest of social policymakers and researchers of various sciences. This interest is mainly influenced by the inseparable relationship between culture and language and the impact of these two on the development process of people's personality. For this reason, all social systems - especially the political system and the educational system – emphasize on teaching of the mother tongue and the official language to the young generation. In the second step, the necessities of life in the age of technology and the global village have caused parents, teachers, economic investors, politicians and social reformers to pay more attention to the teaching of other languages ​​to children and the youth. Therefore, an important part of studies in the field of education is related to the explanation and study of the quantity and quality of language education. According to Duff (2014), language teaching depends on factors such as social environment, educational policies, education culture, evaluation methods, skilled teachers, and learning resources (textbooks). Among these factors, special attention should be paid to the relationship between the social environment and educational policies. Social environment refers to the role and influence of factors such as social philosophy, politics, religion, and culture on language education. Educational policies reflect the impact of the social environment on the educational system and its dimensions - such as the curriculum - in the implementation stage (Braga, Checchi, 2013). The objective manifestation of this relationship is evident in the upstream documents of educational systems. These documents make it clear what is the position of social systems regarding teaching language - and its forms - to the young generation. In this way, educational policymakers and curriculum planners determine which of the scientific approaches and theories should be followed by the authors of textbooks, administrators and teachers in the teaching-learning process. Teaching foreign languages ​​also follows this process.


            For educational policymakers, one of the most important and challenging subjects is teaching foreign languages. On the one hand, educational policymakers and curriculum planners are interested in preserving, dynamism and expanding official languages ​​to the young generation. They consider language as a tool for the continuation of culture and traditions accepted by dominant social institutions - such as politics, religion and family - (Mercuri, 2012, Risager, 2006). On the other hand, economic developments, the necessities of life in the age of information and communication, social and environmental crises and immigration have made learning foreign languages ​​inevitable (Newman, Hartman & Taber, 2012). Therefore, in recent decades, we have seen the development of foreign language education - especially English - all over the world. Among the living languages, the English language has gained undeniable importance at the global level in terms of the number of speakers. According to the Statista information database, the population of English speakers - as a first or second language - reached more than one billion three hundred and forty-eight million people in 2021 (Statista, 2021). Thus, in many countries, English is considered as “second language" or "foreign language" in the curricula of their educational systems.


           Thus, according to Ha (2008), the English language is changing the concept of national and individual identities, policy lines, patterns of wealth and social deprivation, and promoting new concepts of human rights and social responsibilities, while some politics Educationists are unhappy with these changes. For example, Wilson (2005) believes that the assessment of the role of the "globalization" phenomenon in cultural relations and especially the role of the English language in this, is a point of controversy. Alhosseini (2015) claimed that the globalization of the economy causes the global expansion of the English language and at the same time the English language encourages globalization. In this way, it can be said that the comprehensive and accelerated teaching of the English language around the world - as the most important intermediate language - has faced many critical approaches. The most important of these criticisms is Robert Phillipson's theory of imperialism, which he proposed in 1992 with the publication of his controversial book "Linguistic Imperialism". Phillipson (1992) believes that Western countries use the English language as a tool of imperialism to dominate the former colonies. This theory, which pays special attention to the two categories of power and inequality, has attracted the attention of many experts and applied linguists in the field of educational policy making and English language teaching.


              In Iran and during the last four decades, educational policymakers and curriculum planners have also faced the challenge of "restricting or promoting" English language education (Shams & Shamsai, 2013). The victory of the Islamic Revolution in the late 1970s led to the establishment of the political system of the Islamic Republic. From the very beginning, the leaders of this political system did not have a positive view of the role of Western countries such as the United States of America, Great Britain, France, and Germany. In fact, one of the concerns of Iran's educational policymakers has been the feeling of the danger of promoting Western culture and its dominance over Islamic-Iranian culture through English language education (Taghavian, 2018; Taghavian et al., 2014; Alavi Moghadam and Khairabadi, 2011). This feeling of danger still exists, in such a way that many Iranian researchers, while trying to prove the negative social, political and cultural effects of the hegemony of the English language, insist and focus on changing the content of English school books with Islamic-Iranian values ​​ (Hosseini, 2015; Dehghani and Haji Zavarei, 2015; Ghiysian, Seraj and Bahraini, 2015). Of course, this issue is not limited to researchers and educational policymakers have also thought of measures. In the most important upstream document of the Ministry of Education and Culture of Iran under the title "Document on the Fundamental Transformation of the Education and Culture System" - which has also been approved by the Islamic Council -, there are recommendations regarding the teaching of foreign languages. For example, in this document, The principle of "stabilizing and strengthening the Islamic-Iranian identity" and using "active and self-confident communication style" is emphasized in teaching foreign languages ​​(Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, 2018). Also, the "National Curriculum Document" in language education pays special attention to the ideological foundations governing the upper hand documents of the Iranian educational system (Tagaviyan, 2018). Despite the emphasis of Iran's upstream documents on the promotion of Islamic-Iranian values ​​and traditions in English language teaching books, this basic question still exists for lesson planners, to what extent a language can be separated from the cultural frameworks and formats that govern it. One answer is that language can be easily separated from its cultural context. Another answer shows that language can never completely separate itself from its cultural roots (Pennycook and Candlin, 2017). Is there an intermediate approach that provides a new and separate role from a positive and negative view of the foreign language?


             The answer to this question requires knowledge of common theories in foreign language education. these theories can be classified into the major approaches of behaviorism, cognitivism, and socio-cultural. Acceptance of each of these approaches by curriculum planners has different effects on foreign language education. Therefore, proper understanding of foreign language teaching techniques, methods or curriculum content is dependent on understanding and applying these approaches. In other words, one of the most important and first actions that educational policymakers and curriculum planners should take is to gain deep knowledge and awareness about the common approaches in teaching foreign languages ​​(Hildén and Kantelinen, 2012). This issue helps educational policymakers to make rational decisions regarding foreign language teaching methods and expanding or limiting it. One of the new approaches to the English language is the transcultural approach "English as an International Language". Considering that this approach has a different view from other common approaches in the field of English language teaching, the researchers of this study decided to compare its features with one of the conventional approaches of language teaching, namely the cognitive approach. According to this brief introduction, the general purpose of the current research is to compare the transcultural approach of "English as an international language" with the cognitive approach of "English as a foreign language". Based on this goal, the present researchers try to show “what are the effects of adoption of each approach on educational policies in the field of English language education and what guidelines can be provided for policymakers and curriculum planners in Iran”. The sub-goals of the research are:

  • Identifying and explaining the characteristics of the transcultural approach "English as an international language"
  • Identifying and explaining the characteristics of the cognitive approach "English as a foreign language"
  • Identifying and explaining the similarities and differences of the two selected approaches
  1. Research Method


        In terms of nature, the current research is a qualitative research and in terms of method it is comparative-analytical. The data collection method was documentary using the Boolean approach to search for primary and secondary sources. The selected data was obtained by searching keywords in international information databases such as Google Scholar, ERIC, ABSICO and Iranian databases such as ISC, Irandoc and MagIran. The researchers used the philosophical analysis research method to analyze the data. In explaining this approach, Coombs & Daniels (1991) mention three types of research: conceptual interpretation, conceptualization and evaluation of conceptual structure under the title of philosophical analysis research. According to these researchers, the goal of philosophical analysis research is to understand and improve the set of concepts or conceptual structures that we interpret according to our experience. Also, the research results were obtained through the application of George Bereday's four-step method, so that in the description stage, the characteristics and components of each approach were expressed separately (Bray, Adamson and Mason, 2007). In the interpretation stage, the philosophical and social background of both approaches were explained, and then in the two stages of juxtaposition and comparison, similarities and differences were determined in separate tables based on John Stuart Mill's agreement/difference approach. As it can be seen from the two approaches of Brady, Coombs and Daniels, after the description stage, the activities of concept interpretation and conceptualization are done under the interpretation stage, and the evaluation of the conceptual structure is also done under the contiguity stage.




  1. Findings


            A: Description

According to Brady's four-step method, in this part, only the results related to the description of two transcultural and cognitive approaches are presented so that the readers can get a brief insight of their characteristics and basic components.


First) Cognitive Approach

          The cognitive approach in linguistics is indebted to the ideas of Noam Chomsky. Chomsky distinguishes between "linguistic action" and "linguistic ability". Emphasizing the ability of language, he believes that the human mind has an internal ability that makes it able to learn the language. He calls this ability "language learning device" (Taylor and Hartley, 2007). According to Chomsky, this ability is like a hardware that is installed in the mind, and for it there is software called "universal grammar". Based on this point of view, language is not something that is used in daily interactions of life, but is a set of formal features that exist in every natural language grammar. In other words, the use of language in everyday life is outside the scope of Chomsky's theory (Quimper and Walsh, 2006). Contrary to Chomsky's opinion, behaviorists believe that external stimuli cause the child to produce linguistic responses, it means, the words and sentences that the child hears cause him to imitate them according to the pattern of imitation and conditioning. Reconstruction was used as an answer (Harris, 2013). But Chomsky says that these stimuli or sentences and words the child hears are very limited and incomplete and cannot logically explain the new and creative answers that the child produces. Therefore, we should logically assume that there is a mechanism inside the child's mind that can produce an infinite number of new and creative language structures with a small number and amount of external stimuli (Radick, 2016). According to Chomsky, the input that the child is exposed to is scattered and uncertain, while the output of the child is very diverse, coherent and innovative. In other words, while the child has not yet reached cognitive maturity in many aspects, he has reached maturity in terms of language (Schnaitter, 1999).  According to Chomsky's opinion, now the question arises “whether the learning of the second language is done like the learning of the first language through the grammar of the world language”. Moeller and Catalano (2015) believe that in the process of learning a second language, language ability is more important than language action. This claim of Greg is obviously a logical consequence of the cognitivist's point of view, in which, contrary to the behaviorist approach - which emphasizes the external aspects of language acquisition (linguistic action), the internal aspects and language ability of the learner are considered important. Another thinker of the cognitive approach, White (1990), using Chomsky's argument, believes that the second language learner does not have access to the universal grammar, but must create a substitute for it based on his knowledge of his mother tongue. Therefore, the ability of the second language is different in each learner, and this variety can be attributed to the nature of the general cognitive system of the individual, which is different from each individual to another. This causes the level of success in learning a second language to be different among learners. Anyway, in second language learning, in addition to Chomsky's universal grammar theory, other theories emerged. One of the new alternatives is the "information processing" approach (Huitt, 2003; Manolopoulou-Sergi, 2004). In this approach, learning a second language is explained in the form of input, processing in the mind, receiving and then linguistic output. The process of analyzing and processing the input information is done in a mechanical, predictable, stable, and universal way, and the role of the external reality or the social background is drawn in an indirect, abstract and secondary way and only in the linguistic input stage (Rao, 2016). As can be seen, in this approach, a more important role has been assigned to the internal processes and mechanisms of the learner's mind. In short, the characteristics of the cognitive approach are:


  • Emphasis on the mental and internal processes of man
  • Emphasis on grammatical and syntactic structures in language teaching
  • Generalization of first language learning patterns to second language learning mechanisms
  • Emphasis on language ability instead of language action
  • Emphasizing the general and universal nature of language learning.

Second) Transcultural Approach

            Contrary to the cognitive approach, which emphasizes on the role of the active mind of the learners in learning a second language, the transcultural approach insists on the interaction between the learner and the social environment. The transcultural approach emphasizes on the importance and role of language in building the social world (Schulz, 2007). The main theoretical and methodological distinction of this intellectual tradition with behavioral and cognitivist traditions in linguistics is starting from the Cartesian duality of mind and body. While the behaviorist tradition gives importance and priority to the learner's body, behaviors and external and visible responses; the cognitivist tradition considers the human mind and its internal processes to be important (Hulstijn et al., 2014). But in the socio-cultural and dialogue-oriented approach, such dualities are removed and the connections and entanglements of mind and object, subject and object, language and reality, and thought and action are emphasized. Among the well-known figures in the field of socio-cultural and transcultural approach, Wittgenstein and Habermas can be mentioned, but in the field of linguistics, Vygotsky and Bakhtin are well-known figures (Johnson, 2004). ). In the field of language education, Johnson (2004) and Lantolf (2000 and 2011) are among those who have tried to introduce the approaches and principles of Vygotsky and Bakhtin's theories into the field of second language and foreign language education. Transcultural approach emphasizes the dynamic role of social contexts, individuality, and socio-cultural and historical backgrounds of people in the process of cognitive development. In other words, the cognitive abilities of humans and language learners are enriched and nurtured in a common world with other humans and in a communication process. Therefore, the relationship between people is the basis of all the higher functions of people and the relationships between them (Mahn & John-Steiner, 2002). Another thinker whose ideas have left a tremendous impact in the field of philosophy of language is Mikhail Bakhtin. From his point of view, language has a conversational nature. Language and its use are never monologue, even when someone is talking to himself; he is still having a conversation (Bakhtin, 1986). Also, Johnson (2004) by summarizing the opinions of Vygotsky and Bakhtin emphasizes that learning a second language (target language) means learning discourse activities (speech genres) that are specific to a certain socio-cultural group. Based on this, Johnson believes that in the evaluation of second language learning, it should be measured to what extent the learner can participate in the culture of the target language. Therefore, the language is not only formed by the general and innate human talents, but the social-cultural experiences of the learner also play a major role. This interaction of language and culture and the dominance of culture over language initiated an approach called "cultural linguistics" (Palmer, 1996). Cultural linguistics searches for the relationship between language, culture and conceptualization (Palmer & Sharifian 2007).


           According to these theoretical foundations, Farzad Sharifian (1964-2020) - an Iranian linguist and a professor at Monash University in Australia – at first, tried to present a model to explain the relationship between language and culture - and the role of categories and schemas in cultural conceptualization - and also explained the process of learning a second language, by providing a new mission and position for the English language. According to Sharifian's theory, education policymakers and curriculum planners should no longer be limited to the teaching of English in the dual framework of positive and negative and referring to the past bitter history of colonial countries and colonies. In the first step, Sharifian (2009) emphasizes that the dual and parallel process of "globalization" and "localization" of the English language is a factor for motivating English language learning. As English is developing relationships between different communities, its role as a global language is also expanding (Sharifian, 2010). Thus, by emphasizing the role of language in the process of cultural conceptualization, Sharifian tries to provide a new perspective based on understanding the current conditions of life in the "global village" era for educational policymakers and curriculum planners. In this regard, Sharifian considers "English as an international language" that can be used to communicate different systems of cultural conceptualization (Sharifian, 2011; 2013; 2018). Also, according to him, the English language can be adapted to a wide set of cultural concepts - taken from different cultural groups - (Sharifian, 2011: 57).

              In this regard, TEIL curriculum requires that instead of showing only one or two varieties of English - British or American - to non-native learners, they are exposed to the true complexity of the English language world – and its diversity. Sharifian's research (2014) shows that 80% of English communication takes place in countries that have multilingual English speakers. This situation indicates the diversity of English speakers' conceptualization that has created English worlds and created an environment that Canagarajah (2006) calls "multiple conversational competences". In the framework of this idea, the question of which version of English language should be chosen as "teaching model" is no longer very important. Therefore, some learners may develop a phonological system close to varieties such as English or American when using cultural conceptualization - from their "native" culture or the culture with which they have been trained - or even combine some aspects of the two sets of cultural conceptualization - which they have access to (Sharifian, 2013). Thus, according to Sharifian, learning TEIL refers to the fact that, firstly, English is a concentrated language that is now used by many communities around the world to express specific communication needs, and secondly, learning TEIL requires exposure to those variations that load the language in different levels in them (Sharifian, 2011: 69). Therefore, it is no longer possible to consider learning English as a native language - as it ideally exists in the United States of America and Great Britain - but rather as a language for cross-cultural communication between speakers with various cultural backgrounds (Sharifian, 2011: 71). In the framework of this idea, Sharifian believes that learners acquire "transcultural competence". This qualification enables them to flexibly participate in intercultural communication and effectively express their cultural concepts and share them with others. Therefore, English language teaching curricula should provide students with the opportunity to learn transcultural competencies. Learners should gain the necessary knowledge of the varieties of conceptualizations that are currently used internationally - and in societies that use the English language. In this respect, the content of English language teaching books should include lessons that express and teach cultural concepts related to different types of English (Sharifian, 2013, 2018). In this way, students' cultural contexts become an important source for them, which allow them to reflect on their own cultural conceptualization and the other sides of the dialogue on the one hand, and on the other hand, they learn skills and necessary strategies for transparency and negotiation about these cultural conceptualizations.

  1. B) Interpretation

According to the guidance of George F. Bereday (2007), in the interpretation stage, the researcher's attention should be focused on the social context in which the variables or cases under study occur. In other words, at this stage, data analysis is aimed at presenting results that show the role and impact of social systems on English language education. The first point that should be mentioned is the undeniable position of the English language at the international level. At present, English language - as a global language - is a prerequisite and the main tool for active participation in scientific circles, the global labor market, social and economic interactions, political dialogues and entering the prestigious universities of the world. This position has caused the English language to have a better position to maintain and survive compared to national or local languages. Naturally, in a confrontation with a superior power, the weaker powers take a defensive position. At the same time, the English language is both welcomed by learners and opposed by influential political, cultural, religious, social and educational groups in many countries. This situation has caused the creation of different categories between different scientists and especially philosophers, sociologists, politicians, linguists and educational science specialists. These categories can be placed in three general approaches. In the first approach, thinkers such as Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), Canagarajah (2006) believes that the spread of English through curricula and other elements of the educational system cause the continuation of imperialist and hegemonic practices. These scholars mainly see English as a tool to create culture shock, cultural damage, cultural alienation, and cultural duality in native societies. The second approach reflects the views of those such as Modiano (1999) and Lysandrou and Lysandrou (2003), who emphasize that English is an effective tool for increasing global understanding. From their point of view, the English language as a neutral means of communication does not have any cultural, political and ideological burden. In the meantime, cognitive approach scientists can be in favor or against one of the two mentioned approaches, considering that they give the main role to the learner's mind in the language learning process. The third approach is mainly emphasized by transcultural theory scientists. According to the transcultural theory, English language has become a common global language and a bridge for cultural perception (Hinkel, 2016). Scientists of transcultural theory believe that human mental functioning is a mediating process that is organized through cultural structures, activities and concepts. Within such a framework, humans use the existing cultural structures to create new structures that allow them to regulate their biological and behavioral activities. The use, organization and structure of language are the primary tools of this mediation. In practice, growth processes occur from interaction in cultural, linguistic, and historical groups such as family life, peer group interactions, and institutional contexts such as school, organized sports and occupational activities (Lantoff & Thorne, 2006). Thus, thinkers such as Widdowson, (2017); and Sharifian (2011, 2018) have emphasized the importance of intercultural education and its distance - the development of intercultural ability. Therefore, nowadays, millions of people in the world - who belong to different cultures and mother tongue - use English as a tool. English is no longer a native language, but a way to communicate between different cultures (Sharifian, 2018). In fact, according to Sharifian (2013), globalization and increased intercultural mobility cause the use of the language. English is shared by many speech communities to express and negotiate different systems of cultural conceptualization - both for local communication and international interactions. This phenomenon has also caused the creation of a new "competency" which Sharifian calls "transcultural competence". With regard to what was said, the results obtained from the interpretation stage indicate that the cognitive approach does not have a definitive position regarding to the acceptance or rejection of English as a dominant second language or an international language, while the scientists of the transcultural approach avoid dual positions and Positive/negative algebra emphasizes the transnational and international role of the English language.


  1. C) Juxtaposition and Comparison

            Data analysis using the philosophical analysis research method has resulted in the presentation of findings in two adjacent and compared sections, which are presented at the same time. In the first stage, the elements and components of the two cognitive and transcultural approaches are shown separately (Table 1):







Table 1: The juxtaposition of components of cognitive and transcultural approaches

Cognitive approach

Transcultural approach

Emphasizing the general and universal nature of language learning

Emphasizing the influence of environmental effects on language learning

Emphasizing the language ability rather than language action

Focus on genres

Emphasis on grammatical and syntactic structures in language teaching

Focus on rhetoric units

Emphasis on personal features as processing units

Considering the cultural interactions as the processing units

Focus on neurological studies in study approaches

Considering cultural studies, ethnology, and self portrait

Neutral point of view on English language role

New view on English as an international language

English language in collateral position with other languages

English language supremacy in globalization era

The importance of automatic learning of English as the second language

Importance of knowledge in source language units and its diversity with the target language

Emphasis on mental processing

Emphasis on cultural conceptualization

Emphasis on English language unity and integration

Considering the diversity of English language worlds

Focus on abilities in English language representation

Emphasis on communicational and  cultural abilities


           The juxtaposition of the components between both the cognitive approach and the transcultural approach indicates the different fundamental orientations between these two schools of thought. While the cognitive approach mainly follows the intellectual tradition of philosophers who emphasize the distinctive role of the mind, the transcultural approach takes language learning out of the domain of a "personal subject" and considers it as a "social process" that is the result of interaction between the mind of a single person with the minds of others. Also, for the cognitive tradition, learning English as a second language is aimed at paying attention to single and universal grammatical structures, while the transcultural approach emphasizes grammatical structures formed in cultural interactions and conceptualizations. In addition, while from the perspective of the cognitive approach, the universal power of the English language is a result of the special features of this language, the transcultural approach emphasizes the ability of the maneuvering power of the English language to adapt itself to different social contexts. Considering these results, it is now possible to show the basic similarities and differences between the two approaches by emphasizing the "main indicators" (Figure 1):






Figure 1: Comparison between cognitive approach and transcultural approach

            The three main indicators of learning rules, the learner's role and language ability show the common intellectual fields between the thinkers of both selected approaches. At the same time, subsidiary or dependent indicators show the differences between the two approaches. Based on this, we can now conclude some important points: First, the temporal precedence of the cognitive approach has caused the exclusion of the ideas of scientists of the transcultural approach. Second, it is very important to pay attention to grammatical structure and grammar rules in the process of learning a second language. It is obvious that compared to many other languages, the English language has more power in this regard, and this has accelerated and facilitated its learning. Therefore, the grammar structure as the primary material and prerequisite has provided the appropriate background for paying attention to speech units in different social and cultural contexts of English language learners. Third, speech units, in the eyes of transcultural approach scholars, as a catalyst, have created diversity in the discourse space between speakers and listeners. Third, the attention of the cognitive approach to mental operations is based on the acceptance of the learner's power and emphasis on his individuality, while mental schemas are the result of live and dynamic interaction between learners' minds with diverse social environments and the understanding of different mental schemas in a common domain called “The English language”. The output of these three inferential points is to move from the idea of ​​the existence of a "universal grammar" to the acceptance of "diverse intellectual and cultural worlds of the English language" to increase cultural conceptualizations.


  1. Conclusion


          The role of language in promoting culture and tradition has always been the focus of politicians, educational sociologists, linguists and educational policymakers. This issue has become a cultural-social and educational challenge in societies that are transitioning from tradition to modernism, affected by the emergence of phenomena such as globalization, new information and communication technologies, economic development, and national and international political challenges. Iran's political system - and the educational system affected by it - has not used incentive policies regarding English language education during the last four decades. For this reason, in practice, there are not many approaches, programs and innovations to teach English. Also, during this period, the politicians of Iran's political system and educational system have been caught up in solving the conflict of "explaining the social and cultural role of the English language". For this reason, providing an answer to explain the role of English language education has become one of the important missions of curriculum planners. Considering this necessity, the present researchers have tried to compare cognitive and transcultural theoretical approaches. The first finding of the research shows that the cognitive tradition in language teaching is temporally ahead of the transcultural tradition. This finding is consistent with the results of researches from  Johnson (2004), Lantoff & Thorne (2006), Widdowson (2017) and Hasselgin et al. (2016) which have made it clear that the transcultural approach is a natural consequence of the evolution of the previous linguistic approaches, including the cognitive approach, and owes a lot to them.


          The second finding of the research revealed that the cognitive approach of "English as a second language" is still influenced by the intellectual ideas of philosophers such as Descartes, Locke and Hume, while the transcultural approach has also entered interdisciplinary fields. In addition to this, the current research found that the similarities of the two approaches can be related to the three general areas of learning rules, language ability, and the learner's role, and their differences can be related to various sub-components. Another finding of the research shows the dominance of the transcultural approach in looking at learning English as an international language over other common approaches in the field of linguistics. From the perspective of the history of the evolution of philosophical theories of language, in explaining the necessity of learning English as an international language, this theory uses important theoretical structures such as cultural conceptualization and cultural schemas to show the views of policymakers and curriculum planning on language education. English should be removed from the limited intellectual realm of dividing languages ​​into "first language and second language". In this way, the current comparative research shows that emphasizing on the hegemonic aspect of the English language means ignoring the power of the transcultural approach of "English as an international language" in recognition of the diversity of English speakers and the diversity of conceptualizations based on cultural schemas. Based on these findings, it is suggested to the educational policymakers and curriculum planners of Iran, to break from the tradition of the cognitive approach in developing English language education programs, and adopt the transcultural approach of "Education of English as an International Language" in the development of upstream documents and considering executive and educational policies. This proposal is based on the fact that the principles governing the transcultural approach of English language education are more consistent with "modern reading" and more suitable for life in the new millennium.


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