Investigating Cultural Studies in Foreign Language Teaching: A Book for Teachers

Investigating cultural studies in foreign language teaching: a book for teachers
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The aim is the development of 'interculturality', by which the 'linguistic and cultural competences in respect of each language are modified by knowledge of the other and contribute to intercultural awareness, skills and know-how' Council of Europe, , p. The ability to mediate is identified as one of the aims of intercultural language teaching by the Council of Europe and is explained by Byram as 'being able to take an 'external perspective on oneself as one interacts with others and to analyze and, where desirable, adapt one's behaviour and underlying values and beliefs' a, p.

Somewhat controversially perhaps, Byram argues that the act of mediating distinguishes the 'intercultural' from the 'bicultural', since the latter does not intrinsically involve the act of mediating, although it may require it as an additional demand. The goal of intercultural competence represents a marked shift from the goal of the idealized native speaker. We see this shift in, for example in the use of the term 'plurilingual competence' by the Council of Europe when it identifies the goals of language learning as:.

Instead, the aim is to develop linguistic repertory, in which all linguistic abilities have a place. We take this to mean that students should be developing skills to cope with a range of cross-cultural situations, including those where interlocutors have little or no knowledge of each other's language, but where they have sufficient good will, sensitivity and sociolinguistic competence to communicate successfully, even if this means using non-verbal means or an interpreter Byram, a.

Byram proposes a model of intercultural communicative competence involving five components: attitudes, knowledge, skills of two kinds and awareness, each of which he translates into a set of objectives for teaching, learning and assessment, as follows: This model has been very influential in intercultural language learning and continues to be used in research into intercultural competence e.

Belz, ; L Sercu, It is not without its weaknesses, however.

As Liddicoat et al. This weakness notwithstanding, the model contains the most thorough and clearly articulated model of intercultural competence within the field. The following section discusses the five components of the model in more detail.

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Byram describes the attitudes required for effective intercultural communication and learning as 'readiness to suspend disbelief and judgment with respect to others' meanings, beliefs and behaviours', and 'a willingness to suspend belief in one's own meanings and behaviors, and to analyze them from the viewpoint of the others with whom one is engaging' Byram, , p.

Attitudes affect how language learners react to using a new language, and hence their ability to learn. According to the Council of Europe, '[t]he development of an "intercultural personality" involving both attitudes and awareness is seen by many as an important educational goal in its own right' , p. Echoing Byram's description, the Council of Europe p. In order for students to appreciate and understand a new culture, it is crucial for them to identify and voice their present thoughts and feelings about that culture and about their own culture, as for example in the research done by Byram and Esarte-Sarries , pp.

In so doing, it may be necessary for them to identify the sources for these thoughts and feelings, in order for their relativity to be recognized. Here also there can be some element of risk for teachers themselves. In a climate of relativity, it is difficult to adopt the position of expert, and it is likely that teachers too will be put in the position of examining and declaring their own biases and perceptions. Knowledge about a culture, including sociocultural information about such things as everyday living, interpersonal relations, values and beliefs, body language and social conventions, is obviously important for language learners.

As the Council of Europe points out, this culture-specific knowledge needs special attention, because it is 'likely to lie outside the learner's previous experience and may well be distorted by stereotypes' , p. However, from an intercultural perspective, two other forms of knowledge, extending well beyond a traditional focus on facts and information about a target culture, are equally important.

The first of these is knowledge of self; that, is knowledge about society and cultures in one's own country Byram, ; Kramsch, This knowledge may very often be implicit, unanalyzed and taken-for-granted Kramsch, ; nevertheless it has a profound influence on the way in which cross-cultural encounters are handled and interpreted. The second is knowledge about social and cultural processes, such as processes of socialization, by which our identities are formed Byram, Such knowledge provides learners with the conceptual tools to understand and explain problems in cross-cultural interaction and communication as derived from socialized difference, rather than misconstruing these problems on the basis of perceptions derived from the single cultural lens of their own unconscious socialization Byram, b; Kramsch, Language teachers may need to consciously acquire an appropriate metalanguage for discussing culture in precise terms, alongside appropriate descriptive terms for the classroom Browett, , p.

Browett presents a number of terms useful for discussing culture among non-specialists, including the term culture itself; same and different; self, identity, group and individual; and invisible and observable.

Teaching Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

As seen in Figure 2, Finkbeiner and Koplin's hermeneutic circle of acquiring cultural knowledge presents visually the dynamic interplay between knowledge of self and cultural knowledge 23 which is gleaned from experiencing a target culture. In the model, previous knowledge — including all three dimensions of knowledge discussed above — informs our engagement with another culture. The experience of engagement in turn triggers ideally speaking restructuring of that existing knowledge.

This iterative process continues to enlarge understanding of other cultures, as well as knowledge of self and of cultural constructs. A weakness in this model is that it represents previous knowledge and knowledge of other cultures as not only expanding, but also moving away from each other. Byram distinguishes two skills components.

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The first, interpreting and relating, involves 'the ability to interpret a document or event [or visual materials] from another culture, to explain it and relate it to documents or events from one's own' p. Objectives that relate to this skill include identifying ethnocentric orientations in a document; identifying and explaining misunderstandings in communication in terms of the relevant cultural frames; and mediating to resolve conflicting perspectives p. Similarly, the Council of Europe recommends a number of intercultural skills, including 'cultural sensitivity and the ability to identify and use a variety of strategies for contact with those from other cultures; the ability to overcome stereotyped relationships' , pp.

The second skills component, discovery and interaction, is described by Byram as 'the ability to acquire new knowledge of a culture and cultural practices and the ability to operate knowledge, attitudes and skills under the constraints of real-time communication and interaction' p.

Towards an Understanding of Culture in L2/FL Education

Byram highlights social interaction as an important mode of discovery, arguing that the processes of establishing relationships, managing dysfunctions and mediating are what distinguish an intercultural speaker from a native speaker p. Byram identifies seven objectives derived from this component, including 'identify[ing] similar and dissimilar processes of interaction, verbal and non-verbal, and negotiat[ing] an appropriate use of them in specific circumstances' and 'interact[ing] with interlocutors from a different country and culture taking into consideration the degree of one's existing familiarity with the country, culture and language and the extent of difference between one's own and the other' ibid.

The notion of 'awareness' is central to intercultural communicative competence. Language awareness has been defined as 'a person's sensitivity to and conscious awareness of the nature of language and its role in human life' Donmall, , p. Given the inseparability of language and culture Boas, ; Whorf, , it is clear that an important dimension of language awareness will also involve awareness of how culture is realized and constructed in and through language. James and Garrett differentiate five different domains of language awareness: affective, social, political, cognitive and performative.

The social and political domains are particularly useful for critically analyzing the relationships between majority languages and majority cultures, and minority languages and minority cultures. It has also been applied to intercultural language learning in the Australian Intercultural Language Teaching and Learning in Practice project. Fundamental to intercultural competence is awareness of one's own culture and language, as well as the language s and culture s of the target group Kramsch, This includes an awareness of 'regional and social diversity in both worlds' Council of Europe, , p.

Moreover, sets of language and culture need to be seen in the context of more general knowledge of other cultures in the local society or wider world. In addition, this aspect of intercultural competence includes an awareness of how each community appears from the perspective of the other, thus undermining the ethnocentricity which typically underpins stereotypes Kramsch, The literature on culture and language teaching is unanimous on the role of culture teaching in fostering positive cross-cultural attitudes and awareness.

Maley , p.

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Investigating Cultural Studies in Foreign Language Teaching: A Book for Teachers (Multilingual Matters) [Michael Byram, Veronica Esarte-Sarries] on. Investigating Cultural Studies in Foreign Language Teaching: A Book for Teachers. Front Cover. Michael Byram, Veronica Esarte-Sarries. Multilingual Matters.

Similarly, Harkings , p. The above section has discussed the five components in Byram's model of intercultural communicative competence. The breadth of competencies captured in this model highlights the substantial reorientation that an intercultural perspective requires of more traditional linguistically focused approaches to language teaching and learning. It is a reorientation that parallels many of the values, principles and key competencies in the redevelopment of the New Zealand Curriculum Ministry of Education, It is also a reorientation that reflects exploratory approaches to learning used widely across educational contexts e.

Adshead, ; Snell, , and that ties language learning inextricably to education for citizenship, and democracy learning Byram, b. So far we have seen intercultural competence as the goal of learning.

However, it is also important to consider the interculturally competent teacher. Tau'au and Samu , report on similar approaches to culturally inclusive pedagogy in relation to the needs and backgrounds of Pasifika students in New Zealand schools. An important issue for iCLT is whether there are predictable trajectories of intercultural development. Relatively little research to date has provided substantive evidence on the nature of the acquisition of intercultural competence, or on developmental pathways for acquiring this competence in instructional contexts Liddicoat et al.

One model of intercultural development that has been particularly influential in intercultural training is the developmental model of intercultural sensitivity see Figure 3 , developed by Bennett in and which continues to receive attention in the literature see J. Bennett et al. This model identifies a series of stages that people move through in response to cross-cultural experiences. The model presents two sets of stages, ethnocentric and ethnorelative.

In the ethnocentric stage, people's experience of their own cultural reality is subconscious. They avoid dealing with ideas of cultural difference since these threaten their reality. In the first ethnocentric substage of denial, cultural differences are seen as an inferior form of a person's own cultural experience.

People remain isolated from other cultural groups, or seek to separate themselves from these groups. Learners at this substage may appear profoundly uninformed and unaware of other cultures and of the way their own cultural background influences the way they see others.

In the second substage, defence, people have greater awareness of cultural difference but tend to divide the world into 'us and them', leading to the 'denigration of them and the superiority of us' J. In the third substage, minimization, cultural differences are accepted, but not treated as important in the light of basic similarities between human beings. Learners at this substage still lack cultural self-awareness and are unaware that notions of similarity are usually derived from their own cultural values ibid. In the ethnorelative stage, learners have developed an awareness of cultural relativity and of the limitations of their own experience as the basis for generalizing about others.

In the first ethnorelative substage, acceptance, learners develop respect for behavioural differences and, subsequently, for differences in values ibid. This is not to say that they agree with or accept these different behaviours or values as positive or appropriate attributes, but that they recognise the cultural context in which these things arise. In the second substage, adaptation, learners are able to shift cultural perspective so that they can see the world 'through different eyes' ibid.

Underlying this shift is what Bennett et al.

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In the third and final substage, integration, the learner's own cultural identity becomes more open to negotiation and more fluid. Their perceptions of cultural difference and definitions of self are typically complex and sophisticated. In Figure 4, Bennett et al. They note that the model is useful for the purpose of curriculum design, but not for individual assessment, since in any one class, learners will exhibit a wide range of levels of intercultural development.

The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA): Culture Bibliography

They also criticize the model for failing to adequately link interculturality and language. In this model, the learner 'begins with a knowledge of the practices of their own first culture and gradually acquires an approximative system of practices. Each 'interculture' interculture1 2 n These intercultures represent movement within a 'third place', described by Kramsch , p.

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Although the model shows a linear progression towards the target culture, this may not consistently be the case for all learners. Experiential learning through communication, interaction, and opportunities for reflection is clearly crucial for this process. It seems to us that this model, too, has a number of limitations.

First, as with the Bennett model, it gives an impression of linearity and fails to represent the relationship between the target culture and intercultural positions. Secondly, the model assumes, as a starting point, a monocultural learner.

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In fact, in multicultural societies such as New Zealand, learners are increasingly entering the language classroom with a variety of pluralistic cultural and linguistic starting points. For some of these learners, language learning will be reconnecting them with a heritage culture. Thirdly, the model implies a movement away from a first culture or cultures. On the contrary, intercultural language learning offers opportunities to grow and expand — in Finkbeiner's words, 'to acquire without having to lose, to elaborate in a cultural win-win situation' , p.

In the case of pre-adolescent learners, the introduction of intercultural approaches to culture needs to take account of the stage of psychological development including moral development of the learners, and maturational constraints on their capacity for self-reflection and abstraction Byram, , p. As Byram notes, the literature on teaching languages in the primary years does not address the teaching of culture or the capacity of young learners to evaluate their culture-based attitudes. Byram does, however, refer to research in the teaching of geography which suggests that 'young children's concepts of other countries, and therefore presumably of other cultures, does not develop as quickly as their ability to learn another linguistic code.

Byram thus points to the need for 'research in the language classroom to confirm or otherwise the conclusions from geography and provide a more systematic base for formulating the cultural learning aims of language teaching in the early years' ibid. Despite Byram's cautions, it is important not to overstate the limitations on what can be achieved with young learners, or to presuppose that intercultural learning begins after an awareness of the other culture or nation develops.

With young learners, iCLT may be better directed to bringing the learners to recognise their own cultural assumptions and the diversity and variability inherent in their own society. It is important to note that the movement towards the target culture does not imply that the ultimate goal is to develop native speaker-like abilities.

The disjuncture in Figure 5 between the final interculture interculturen and the target culture reinforces this point.