Academic journal article International Journal of Communication Research

Developing the Intercultural Dimension in Language Teaching

Academic journal article International Journal of Communication Research

Developing the Intercultural Dimension in Language Teaching

Article excerpt

Nowadays, teaching and learning a foreign language does not mean only direct teaching of linguistic skills such as phonology, morphology, vocabulary, and syntax. Learning a language well usually involves knowledge about the culture of that language. Communication that does not have appropriate cultural content often results in humorous incidents due to miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Besides grammatical competence, a culturally competent learner must possess sociolinguistic competence, pragmatic competence, sociocultural knowledge, and intercultural awareness. Culture, according to one definition, is the values, traditions, customs, art, and institutions shared by a group of people who are unified by nationality, ethnicity, religion, or language.

The language teaching profession's interest in cross-cultural communication has increased during the past few decades. According to Kramsch (1995), this development is due to political, educational, and ideological factors; even though politicians might feel that learning a foreign language will solve socioeconomic problems, educators think that for that to happen a language course must contain legitimate cultural content.

Culture is a very broad concept, so it would be useful to distinguish between the so-called big-C culture and small-c culture. The big-C part of a given culture is usually easy to study, as it represents factual knowledge about the fine arts such as literature, music, dance, painting, sculpture, theater, and film. Small-c culture, on the other hand, involves a large variety of aspects, such as attitudes, assumptions, beliefs, perceptions, norms and values, social relationships, customs, celebrations, rituals, politeness conventions, patterns of interaction and discourse organization, the use of physical space and body language. Some of the small-c cultural aspects are directly noticeable and easy to understand and learn (e.g., celebrations and rituals). However, many aspects of a given culture are hidden from the eye, they are deeply internalized and subconscious and are often noticed only in contrast with another culture. A person who gets into contact with an unfamiliar culture will not realise that miscommunication due to the lack of such behaviours may lead to amusing situations and even conflict. This happens because these aspects of culture are unspoken rules created by a community. There are many examples of cross-cultural encounters, and they illustrate that the knowledge of the small-c culture of a given community is of great importance for successful cross-cultural communication. An English person might be amused if a Romanian person, on hearing the conventional greeting "How are you?" started complaining about his/her health; the Romanian, on the other hand, would wonder why her/his interlocutor was amused. Even if the participants in such situations spoke English fluently and were well informed about cultural facts such as famous works of art and religious celebrations, this knowledge would be of little help to avoid the misunderstanding.

If EFL learners are to become successful intercultural communicators, it is important to offer them a thorough and systematic intercultural training, and not only of the culture of the main English speaking countries. EFL students will benefit by gaining solid knowledge of the different world cultures, and they must also develop the ability to compare their native culture to other cultures, to evaluate critically and interpret the results of such comparisons, and to apply this knowledge successfully in both verbal and non-verbal communication, for both transactional and interactional purposes. In many countries, there is still much intolerance towards and prejudice against other nations and cultures. Intensive intercultural education seems to be a good way to teach students what tolerance, acceptance, understanding, and respect mean.

The Council of Europe's "Common European Framework of Reference" emphasises the importance of 'intercultural awareness', 'intercultural skills', and 'existential competence'. …

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