Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Blogging: Fostering Intercultural Competence Development in Foreign Language and Study Abroad Contexts

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Blogging: Fostering Intercultural Competence Development in Foreign Language and Study Abroad Contexts

Article excerpt

Abstract:

An essential instructional goal in foreign language education is the enhancement of students' intercultural competence. This article reports on a study that examined how intercultural competence developed between study abroad and at home students (in Spain and the United States, respectively) who used blogs as a mediating tool over the course of a semester. The data, blogs and two questionnaires, were analyzed by applying Byram's (2000) assessment guidelines. The results showed that: (1) both study abroad and foreign language learners presented instances of intercultural competence as described in Byram's guidelines, with each group reflecting the unique characteristics of its context, and (2) blog interactions had a positive affect on the development of both groups' intercultural competence.

Key words: blogs, study-abroad, Byram's ICC model, intercultural competence, intercultural learning

Language: Spanish, relevant to all languages

Introduction

As an essential instructional goal in foreign language education, intercultural competence is also a means for our students to become citizens of the world. Intercultural competence involves the development of the learners' ability to interact with members of other cultures while being aware of differences and similarities and preventing overemphasis on foreignness or stereotyping. Within this framework, the instructor aims to create what it is known as a "third place" (Kramsch, 1993): a place "between the home and target cultures where all behavior (both of others and that of oneself) is seen as being grounded in a particular cultural context" (O'Dowd, 2003, p. 120). The third place allows students to separate themselves from the home and target cultures and to recognize the multiplicity of cultural identities that belong to all of us (O'Dowd, 2003). Although not an easy task, teachers need to integrate the intercultural component in their courses, with the idea of fostering students' perspectives about other cultures.

Learners who have immersion experiences generally develop a greater intercultural competence than learners who have only classroom experiences with the target language; however, the underlying educational goal in both contexts is the same. In the foreign language classroom, technology provides a range of tools that help students to access updated, authentic cultural materials and to communicate with native speakers of the target language. E-mails and videoconferences have been used in the past for intercultural competence development. This article argues that online personal journals, known as Web logs, or blogs, offer an effective means for foreign language learners to maintain contact with the culture of the target language and its speakers. Like in a personal Web page, blogs allow language students (individually, in pairs, or in groups) to upload descriptions of events, reflections, and even photographs. In addition to the students' entries, displayed in chronological order, the comment feature of blogs allows other learners or visitors to post responses, comments, and questions.

As O'Dowd (2003) has suggested, the majority of the studies which have examined intercultural competence through technology have explored communication between native and nonnative speakers in relation to tolerance and reduction of stereotypes, or they have examined the extent to which these objectives can be achieved in an exchange or immersion context. Yet, foreign language learners do not always have the possibility of contacting members of the target culture and may not have access to experiences provided through first-hand communication with native speakers. Via blogs, however, they can establish contact with study abroad students, who are able to share their experiences, observations, and reflections on the target country with family, friends, and classmates back home (Ducate & Lomicka, 2005).

The present study reports on the exchanges between study abroad students and at home students with the intention of observing students' intercultural competence as revealed in blog exchanges. …

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