Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

Promoting Intercultural Communicative Competence through Foreign Language Courses

Academic journal article Business Communication Quarterly

Promoting Intercultural Communicative Competence through Foreign Language Courses

Article excerpt

LEARNING A FOREIGN LANGUAGE is important in intercultural business communication (IBC) studies. But equally important is developing intercultural communicative competence, that is, a recognition of the cultural factors influencing behavior in business encounters around the globe (Beamer, 1992; Bennett, 1986; Varner, 2001). This article suggests how tertiary-level foreign language (FL) courses can be contextualized to promote intercultural learning geared to "achieving an awareness of cultural diversity and an understanding of different modes of living and behaviour" (Kruck, 1992, p. 299). It describes the learning projects and tasks incorporated into the 1st-year IBC program at Nijmegen University in the Netherlands, where an integrative approach to course programming was introduced in 2001-2002.


Byram (1997) assumes a direct relationship between FL teaching and the development of intercultural communication competence. In his view, FL courses should not only teach students the language needed to communicate but also confront them with "the experience of otherness," as the effectiveness of communication in the FL depends on their ability to "decentre" and understand how messages will be perceived in another cultural context (p. 3). FL courses involving the larger global lingua francas, such as Spanish or English, also need to promote the development of this intercultural component as it is likely that graduates will end up using the FL primarily with fellow nonnative speakers of different nationalities. Courses need to provide students with the opportunity to analyze materials and critical incidents involving business professionals with various backgrounds (native and nonnative, different nationalities) who use the FL as a shared code (Schnitzer, 1995). By consistently exposing learners to the potential "otherness" of FL communication in a lingua franca business context (involving different accents, pragmatic expectations, discoursal patterns, and the like), FL courses have the potential to make a considerable contribution to achieving an important goal of IBC programs: the development of (a degree of) intercultural communicative competence in the target group.


Within the IBC program, content from other courses (intercultural communication, management, marketing, IBC research, document design) is integrated into the FL curriculum. FL teaching is facilitative, and project-based courses are presented in a student-centered environment where learners are required to become actively involved in recurring communicative action in the FL in various (intercultural) business communication settings. Although the main goal of FL instruction is facilitating FL awareness and acquisition, assignments also heighten students' cross-cultural awareness and encourage them to develop the beginnings of a professional identity as communication specialists who will need to be able to operate in a multicultural business environment.

The underlying assumption of the FL courses at Nijmegen is that a learning environment involving participation is more likely to promote intercultural learning than an environment that focuses primarily on internalizing knowledge. Becoming a member of a given professional discourse community (Pavlenko & Lantolf, 2000) includes learning to communicate in the language of the relevant sociocultural community and to act according to its particular norms (Sfard, 1988, as cited in Lantolf, 2000). In the FL courses, we attempt to create circumstances that allow students to become comfortable with using the FL with counterparts in activities and genres (see, e.g., Louhiala-Salminen, 1996; Maes, Weldy, & Icenogle, 1997) that are relevant to the globalized business environment they will become part of upon graduation. Participation is seen as part of a longitudinal process that should be reinforced throughout the program, not just in the 1st year or in a single dedicated course. …

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