In the previous chapter, I looked at views of the nature of language and the nature of culture, particularly as applied to the context of language education. In this chapter, I focus on the intercultural aspect of language pedagogy and develop the idea of being intercultural through text. I argued in chapter 2 that the relationship between language and culture is very close on a generic level, but not at a differential level, i.e. there is not a direct and straightforward link between a particular language and a particular culture. At the generic level, language and culture come together through discourses. I use discourses in the way that Foucault uses these; discourses as discursive formations giving rise to certain routinized ways of talking and thinking about specific topics or areas of social life. I argued for an approach to language teaching which is akin to cultural studies, taking account of the notion that language is to a large extent a social construct which is influenced by its context of use. The complexity of the interrelationship between language and its context of use is reflected in discourses, voices, and genres; language as ‘styles for certain spheres of human communication’ (Bakhtin, 1986: 64).
For that reason, I want to extend the notion of context as used in language teaching beyond that of merely situational and immediate concerns, to include a ‘context of culture’ (Kramsch, 1993), as the area where meaning is constructed. Context is then not just formed by the situation in which the communicative event takes place, but also by what the broader views, ideas, and taken-for-granted assumptions and meanings are in particular contexts of use.
Cultural studies as a discipline itself can be approached from at least two different angles, Turner (1992) says: a text-based or a context-based approach. With the former, he refers to the study of texts from literature, film, or popular media. With the latter, he refers to Area Studies: courses which cover historical, social, and political aspects. Arguably, the same applies to language teaching. I will refer to Kramsch’s 1993 book, Context and Culture in Language Teaching, and to Byram’s notion of Intercultural Communicative Competence as the two dominant examples of respectively a text-based and a context-based approach, at the time when I started this study.
Both Byram and Kramsch have slightly rearticulated their positions, but many of their basic tenets are still relevant, and indeed often referred to in the pedagogic literature. Both approaches have taken language teaching out of the mere functional concerns of communicative language teaching and have advanced language and culture pedagogy. Both challenge the myth of ‘the native speaker’, and both use the model of the Intercultural Speaker. I build on both Kramsch’s and Byram’s approaches for my own pedagogy. However, I believe we need to further problematize the nature of intercultural communication and acknowledge its complexity, particularly in multicultural and global societies, without denying the existence of cultural patterns.
To do so, I will look at Blommaert who, although not a language pedagogue, puts forward a view of intercultural communication which can be usefully applied to the debates about language and culture pedagogy. I make use of Blommaert’s insights and relate these to various emerging views in the last few years of a new conceptualization of intercultural communication in language teaching. But, whilst intercultural communication and the inclusion of culture in the language curriculum is a much-debated issue at a theoretical level (cf Risager, 2007; Phipps and Guilherme, 2004; Starkey, 1999; Sercu, 2005; Fenoulhet and Ros i Solé, 2010, to name but a few) in practice, this is still haphazard in many coursebooks, certainly in Dutch, and is even ignored in influential language exams.
My challenge then is to find a model of language teaching as part of a general language course that contributes to the development of the learner as a critical intercultural language user. In this chapter, I build on the concepts discussed in the previous chapters which underpin such a pedagogy, and in chapters 5 and 6 I look at how students engaged with this pedagogy.