Advocacy as an Act of Interpersonal Communication and Social Justice

Milton Alan Turner, OFLA Editor of Electronic Media
French and Spanish Teacher, Saint Ignatius High School

Starting in September, ACTFL and the Joint National Committee for Languages-National Council for Language and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS) co-sponsored the Articulating Change webinar series. Each of the four webinars will focus on one aspect of communication as an act of advocacy. I was honored to participate in the first webinar of the series as the featured educator on Advocacy as an Act of Interpersonal Communication. I spoke about the intersection of interpersonal communication and social justice and how we can incorporate principles of social justice in our interpersonal communicative tasks at all proficiency levels.

As opposed to Presentational Communication where one is talking to or at someone else, Interpersonal Communication is talking with someone else. Interpersonal Communication requires 1) listening to one another, 2) negotiating and interpreting meaning, and 3) arriving at an understanding. Interpersonal Communication: 

  • relies on natural language functions, such as requesting information or expressing preferences,
  • emphasizes meaning-making and focuses less on accuracy, and
  • addresses gestures and other nonverbal nuances of language that combine with oral communication to convey meaning.

More detailed information on Interpersonal Communication is available on ACTFL’s web site at

Terry Osborne, in the webinar The Journey of Social Justice, defined social justice as when “all members of a society share equitably in a society’s benefits”. Sonia Nieto, in her book Language, Culture, and Teaching: Critical Perspectives, defined social justice as “a philosophy, an approach, and actions that embody treating all people with fairness, respect, dignity, and generosity.” Learning for Justice, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, published a framework for social justice education with their Social Justice Standards, available at They divide their standards into four domains: identity, diversity, justice, and action. The goals of each domain are below:

Identity: Each child will demonstrate self-awareness, confidence, family pride and positive social identities.

Diversity: Each child will express comfort and joy with human diversity; accurate language for human differences; and deep, caring human connections.

Justice: Each child will increasingly recognize unfairness, have language to describe unfairness, and understand that unfairness hurts.

Action: Each child will demonstrate empowerment and the skills to act, with others or alone, against prejudice and/or discriminatory actions.

When I design and organize interpersonal activities in my classroom, I use the following steps: First, I give the students ample class time to prepare and practice the activity (usually 20 minutes). While the students have the same prompt, the students are randomly assigned partners immediately before the activity. This is to discourage them from memorizing lines and performing a monologue (presentational communication) and to encourage them to listen to and communicate with their partner. Each student receives an individual grade using the AP Scoring Guidelines as a rubric, but part of their grade is to maintain the exchange and help their partners negotiate meaning. Finally, the activities are videotaped and uploaded to my YouTube channel for them to watch and reflect upon later.

When assigning interpersonal activities, I now try to explicitly connect them to one of the Social Justice Domains. For example, at the novice level, we have activities about nationality. This correlates with the identity and diversity domains. In this Novice example from early in French I, the student must ask a classmate about his national origin and ask them how he might describe himself ( In another Novice example from Spanish I, students ask each other about two things they did last week and ask questions to clarify or get more detail. ( From the earliest stages of language learning, we encourage students to actively listen to one another as well as to address the social justice goals of identity and diversity, of recognizing and appreciating differences.

At the Intermediate level, I can more explicitly address the goals of justice and action. In two examples from French III, I have the students imagine that they are organizing a charity concert, and they discuss and decide on the details of the event with their partners ( In the second example, the students discuss what they consider to be a pressing social problem and then give their opinions on how the government is handling this problem ( In these examples the students are actively engaged in arriving at an understanding as well as explicitly dealing with the themes of justice and action.

Not every one of my lessons meets the goals of interpersonal communication or social justice. As Terry Osborne said, Social Justice is not a destination…or a one-time activity, it is a journey.” However, I have committed to embarking on that journey as faithfully as I can.

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