Linguistic Perspectives on the Development of Intercultural Competence in Telecollaboration (1)

By Belz, Julie A. | Language, Learning & Technology, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Linguistic Perspectives on the Development of Intercultural Competence in Telecollaboration (1)


Belz, Julie A., Language, Learning & Technology


ABSTRACT

It is widely reported (e.g., Belz & Muller-Hartmann, 2002; Kern, 1996; Kinginger, in press; Warschauer & Kern, 2000) that the goals of telecollaborative language study are the development of foreign language (FL) linguistic competence and the facilitation of intercultural competence (e.g., Bausch, Christ, & Krumm, 1997; Bredella & Delanoy, 1999; Byram, 1997; Harden & Witte, 2000). Whereas evaluations of the impact of telecollaboration on FL linguistic competence have been based on structural descriptions of learner discourse from the earliest days of research in this field (e.g., Beauvois, 1992; Chun, 1994; Kelm, 1992; Kern, 1995; Pelletieri, 2000; Sotillo, 2000; Warschauer, 1996), discussions of intercultural competence in the same configuration have been characterized primarily in alinguistic terms. These have included analyst-sensitive content analyses of learner interaction in telecollaboration, post-semester interviews with learners who have participated in telecollaborative projects, and attitudinal surveys of these same learners (e.g., Fischer, 1998; Furstenberg, Levet, English, & Maillet, 2001; Lomicka, 2001; Muller-Hartmann, 1999; von der Emde, Schneider, & Kotter, 2001; Warschauer, 1998; see, however, Belz, 2001; Belz & Muller-Hartmann, 2003). In general, the fields of foreign language learning and teaching (FLL&T) have neither advocated nor presented linguistically critical interpretations of the development of intercultural competence in telecollaboration. In this paper, I present a detailed case study of the development of intercultural competence (or lack thereof) in a German-American e-mail partnership by examining the electronic interaction produced in this exchange within the framework of appraisal theory (e.g., Eggins & Slade, 1997; Martin, 2000; White, 1998), a Hallidayian-inspired linguistic approach to the investigation of evaluative language.

The quality of conversation may well be one of the most significant measures of civilization, and when people converse, the interlocutors inevitably realize that civilizations do not clash, contrary to some academic reductionists, the media, and politicians... (Kadir, 2003, p. 9; emphasis added)

INTRODUCTION

The main purpose of this paper is to suggest a linguistically grounded analysis of intercultural competence (IC) in telecollaborative foreign language learning and teaching (FLL&T). Telecollaboration involves the use of Internet communication tools by internationally dispersed students of language in institutionalized settings in order to promote the development of (a) foreign language (FL) linguistic competence and (b) intercultural competence (e.g., Belz, 2002b; Furstenberg et al., 2001; Kinginger, 1998, in press; Muller-Hartmann, 1999; Thorne, 1999; Warschauer, 1996; Warschauer & Kern, 2000). (2) As a result of the technological mediation employed in telecollaborative study, participants on each end of the network have direct (and cost-effective) access to expert representatives of the "languaculture" under study (Agar, 1994). In FLL&T, IC is typically loosely defined as an awareness and/or understanding of foreign attitudes, beliefs, values, and (linguistic) practices (e.g., Bredella, 2000, p. 146; Hu, 2000, p. 97; Kinginger, in press; Kramsch, 1998, pp. 27-29). One of the goals of this paper is to flesh out the notion of IC in the special case of telecollaboration through close attention to its linguistic encoding and expression in the medium of electronic discourse.

Evaluations of the influence of classroom-based computer use on FL linguistic competence have been based on structural descriptions of learner discourse from the earliest days of research in this field (e.g., Chun, 1994; Kelm, 1992; Kern, 1995; Pelletieri, 2000; Warschauer, 1996). In contrast, discussions of the impact of computer use on the development of IC (which includes culturally appropriate uses of language) have been characterized primarily in alinguistic terms. …

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