Research on Fostering Intercultural Communication Competence of Foreign Language Learners

Article excerpt

Abstract

Globalization has made cross-cultural communication a necessity. The mobility of people and the contact between countries have greatly increased cross-cultural communication. Intercultural awareness has become a prerequisite for successful cross-cultural communication. Intercultural awareness is required if a foreign language learner is to achieve the intercultural communication competence, which is now considered to be the major goal of foreign language learning. Intercultural communication competence is multi-dimensional in nature, implicating not only the linguistic competence, but also the power of perceiving and interpreting socio-cultural events, and the behavioral ability of coping independently with cross-cultural encounters. The objective of this paper is to present an overview of how language and culture are dealt with from a cross-cultural perspective, to discuss concerns with defining norms and standards for foreign language learning raised by this perspective, and to consider how to foster the intercultural communication competence by pedagogical approaches that integrate current understandings and researches of language, culture and learning into their curricular and instructional designs.

Key Words: Intercultural awareness; Intercultural communication competence; Language and culture; Socio-cultural perspective; Curriculum design

1. INTRODUCTION TO INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION

Intercultural communication is a universal phenomenon. When you talk with an American teacher, or send email to a foreigner, or even when you watch a foreign film or read an English novel, you are involved in intercultural communication. The communication between and across cultures today is happening continuously at all times. So, in today's world, intercultural awareness has become a prerequisite for successful intercultural communication.

English, as an international language, has required Chinese learners' intercultural awareness. People used to take it for granted that learning the rules of English grammar and a large amount of vocabulary, besides its pronunciation, was enough in learning English. The more grammar rules and words a learner had learnt, the higher level of proficiency he had reached. However, that is often not the case. The fact is many foreign language learners, although knowing a lot about the target language, were unable to communicate appropriately and effectively in it. More often than not, being familiar with the dictionary definitions of lexical items and mastering the sentence structures don't necessarily mean the learner can apprehend the information. Between language and culture, there exists a relationship as close as flesh and blood. Language is the carrier of culture; culture is infiltrated into the language. Lack of cultural knowledge affects his comprehension negatively. Therefore, intercultural awareness is needed when a learner is to achieve the intercultural communication competence, which is now considered to be the major goal of language learning universally. Apart from language, intercultural communication focuses on social attributes, thought patterns, and the cultures of different groups of people.

2. THE IMPORTANCE OF INTERCULTURAL AWARENESS TRAINING

Intercultural awareness cannot grow naturally. It has to be trained and acquired. In native language learning, a child's acquisition of the linguistic competence (learning the language forms) goes hand in hand with the acquisition of "culture competence" (Wallace, 1988), which mutually support one another. For example, when a child growing up in the American cultural world learns the word "dog", he will normally learn the cultural meaning of the word: the dog is "man's best friend". A child brought up in the Chinese cultural world would be taught that the dog is a dangerous animal. People, who have been thus initiated into the culture in association with their native language, are naturally apt to interpret things with their own cultural preferences. …