Timothy Byrne

Dealing with Racism, Discrimination and other Socially Acute Questions (SAQs) in the Language Classroom

Audience focus: All


This presentation tackles the handling of Socially Acute Questions (SAQs) in the English language classroom. SAQs have been described as complex and controversial issues that are considered acute in society, in research and professional domains, and in educational contexts. Although intercultural communicative competence (ICC) is being encouraged by our educational authorities, teachers feel at a loss as to how to achieve that learning outcome in their teaching-learning units (TLUs). Many of them have encountered problems and even conflict when trying to deal with SAQs. Even though they are struggling with a sense of frustration, they continue to consider that addressing such issues in their TLUs is key to 21st-century education.
In this interactive and practical presentation, a customizable toolbox is proposed that second language (L2) teachers can draw from to foster and facilitate constructive intercultural dialogue when dealing with SAQs in their increasingly diverse language classrooms. It starts off with a detailed action-research driven account of a racist incident that occurred in the author’s intervention group, a conversation class at the ILV, UCLouvain’s language institute. It continues with a literature review providing perspectives on SAQs from transdisciplinarity, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), and the Pedagogy of Encounter. It carries on with an introduction to safe spaces, brave spaces, and story circles, as well as an overview of relevant concepts from cross-cultural pragmatics. Drawing from the literature review as well as the case study, and in the absence of institutional support to handle SAQs appropriately, the presentation concludes with a proposal for a customizable SAQs toolbox, meeting the stakeholders’ (the L2 learners’ and teachers’) academic expectations as well as emotional needs.
Most of the literature on the subject involves primary and secondary education. Little or no work has been done so far on how to deal with SAQs in tertiary education. The actionable roadmap proposed in this presentation tries to bridge that gap. Even though the case study focusses on racism in the English language classroom, the customizable toolbox can be adapted across languages, academic disciplines, and other forms of discrimination. This presentation is based on an article published in December 2023.


Timothy Byrne spent two years teaching asylum seekers in Brussels prior to working overseas, first in Libreville, Gabon, then in Beijing, China.
He is currently working in the English department at the Institut des langues vivantes of Université catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain), Belgium, where he is also involved in the Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) service.
He had a development program in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, between 2008 and 2019. He has published two books, Business English Writing Skills and English through Film. Using Film in the Language Classroom, and has authored several academic articles on how to handle SAQs (Socially Acute Questions) in the language classroom, CLIL, Service-Learning activities, AI, and assessing writing.