Tamilnadu, India


Taken from The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics.
Edited  by Carol C. Chapelle (2012). Oxford: Wiley.
Written by Lynn Hasbany.

“Kumaravadivelu, B.”

Anyone who enters Professor Kumaravadivelu’s office cannot miss the huge, colorful world map that hangs on the wall behind his desk. It is not the Mercator map that most of us are familiar with since elementary school.  This map drawn by the German cartographer Arno Peters projects a different view of the world.  This view seeks to correct the Eurocentric bias by not making Europe the center of the world, instead the equator is placed at center view, and the other areas are sized proportionately. “Start seeing the world differently,” Kumaravadivelu never tires of telling his inquisitive visitors.

‘Seeing the world differently’ is what Kumaravadivelu is all about. His scholarly work in three areas of applied linguistics – the teaching of culture, language teaching methods, and language teacher education – all represent his desire and determination to think outside the box.

The teaching of culture has recently gained prominence owing to the on- going processes of cultural globalization. Kumaravadivelu contends that the existing sociological concepts of assimilation, multiculturalism and hybridity do not adequately address the political, religious and cultural complexities that cultural globalization has brought about. Hence, he has proposed cultural realism as an alternative. Cultural realism seeks the development of global cultural consciousness that results not just in cultural literacy but also in cultural liberty. It requires a willingness and ability “to learn from other cultures, not just about them. Learning about other cultures may lead to cultural literacy; it is learning from other cultures that will lead to cultural liberty” (Kumaravadivelu, 2008. p. 237). In his book Cultural Globalization and Language Education, he has presented pedagogic principles and classroom strategies for raising global cultural consciousness in the language learner. Recognizing the significance of his contribution, the Modern Language Association has awarded its 2008 Kenneth Mildenberger Prize for Outstanding Research Publication to his book.

If Kumaravadivelu’s work on the teaching of culture urges practitioners of applied linguistics to explore beyond the conventional concepts of culture, his idea of postmethod pedagogy asks them to go beyond the traditional concept of method.  For a long time, the field of English language teaching has been unsuccessfully engaged in finding the best method. Arguing that what is needed is not an alternative method but an alternative to method, Kumaravadivelu has proposed the concept of postmethod. In two of his widely-acclaimed books – Beyond Methods: Macrostrategies for Language Teaching, and Understanding Language Teaching: From Method to Postmethod - he presents a macrostrategic framework designed to help both beginning and experienced teachers to develop a systematic, coherent, personal theory of practice.

Kumaravadivelu continues his quest for out of the box solutions in the area of language teacher education as well. In his latest book, Language teacher education for a Global Society, he points out that current approaches to language teacher education, focusing as they do on discrete subjects such as methods, second language acquisition, curriculum design, and testing, ignore the processes of economic, cultural and educational globalization and their unfailing impact on language education. He sees an imperative need to design a comprehensive model that pulls together various strands of thought in a meaningful way. Accordingly, he has designed a modular model that consists of five modules: Knowing, Analyzing, Recognizing, Doing, and Seeing. The model is aimed at fundamentally transforming language teacher education.

In addition to being a scholar and a teacher, Kumaravadivelu continuously aspires to be a public intellectual. He believes that intellectuals have an obligation to help the general public be well-informed. This view is reflected in his Op-ed pieces that he writes periodically for the San Jose Mercury News, a leading newspaper in the Bay Area of California where he lives. He writes them with the same critical insights that mark his professional writings. For instance, in “Americans should be able to watch al-Jazeera English TV,” he asserts that the American people are "long on opinions and short on facts” and stresses that they should be able to watch the currently unavailable Al-Jazeera English TV to better understand the Islamic world. In another, “Generals lacked courage of conviction by not speaking up sooner,” he criticizes retired American Generals for speaking against the Iraqi war after their retirement, not before. In yet another, “Our Prejudices, Our Selves,” he chastises our tendency to blame others for their religious, cultural and ethnic prejudices without realizing that we ourselves harbor them.

To understand what drives Kumaravadivelu to persistently propagate ideas that go against the grain, his friends and colleagues have looked for clues in his early life and education. Born in a small town in the state of Tamilnadu in South India, he had a rather modest beginning. His father was a primary school teacher and did not have the economic means to send all five of his children to college. His brothers and sisters, all older than him, had to stop after high school and seek much needed employment. But, his father was determined to send him to college. With his help and with the help of his working siblings, he managed to boldly go where nobody in his family had gone before – to college.

After earning a B.A. and an M.A. in English literature from the University of Madras, he started teaching English at a university. A turning point came when the British Council in India offered him a Fellowship to go to Lancaster University in England to pursue a second Masters degree, this time in Linguistics for Language Teaching. It was there he was initiated into the field of Applied Linguistics by some of its prominent practitioners. His preparation in applied linguistics continued at the University of Michigan, USA, where he earned his Ph.D. He believes that his studies at the Universities of Madras, Lancaster and Michigan have helped him synthesize the best of three educational traditions, and have shaped his personal and professional philosophy that is unmistakably reflected in all his work as a scholar and a teacher.

Kumaravadivelu’s further readings in poststructuralism, postmodernism, and postcolonialism have motivated him to see the language classroom not just in its linguistic complexities but also in all its historical, political, social and cultural ones. Consequently, one hears in his writings, speeches and classroom teaching an undaunted critical voice– something that prompted his departmental colleague Peter Lowenberg (Spartan Daily) to say in an interview to the University newspaper: "He's not afraid if something he says or writes is not accepted by the mainstream.” In fact, he exhorts his students to develop a critical voice too. And, he does it with irritating persistence.  He has been known to warn his students at the onset of a term that no one’s culture is safe from reproach in the class, as he encourages them to take a critical view of culture. Alongside being a critical voice, he is also a thoughtful voice. What Professor John Murphy of Georgia State University wrote about him sums up a common sentiment: “Few writers are as capable as Kumaravadivelu of engendering in a reader the feeling that you are in the hands of a thoughtful, and always thought provoking, guide” (Murphy, 2007, p. 243).


Kumaravadivelu, B. (2012). Language Teacher Education for a Global Society: A Modular Model for Knowing, Analyzing, Recognizing, Doing, and Seeing. New York: Routledge.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2008). Cultural Globalization and Language Education. New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). Understanding Language Teaching: From Method to Postmethod. Mahwah, NJ.: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2003). Beyond Methods: Macrostrategies for Language Teaching. New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press.

Murphy, J. (2007). Review of B. Kumaravadivelu, Understanding language teaching: from method to postmethod. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Language Teaching Research, 11, 2, 243–250.

San Jose Mercury News, Americans should be able to watch al-Jazeera English TV. November 30, 2006.

San Jose Mercury News, Generals lacked courage of conviction by not speaking up sooner. April 19, 2006.

San Jose Mercury News, Our Prejudices, Our Selves. May 18, 1997.

Spartan Daily, “Bridging knowledge: Language professor and India native finds a home at San Jose State.” Dated October 30, 2008, p. 3.