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Ideas and Practices

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    The notion of a pedagogy of intercultural communication as part of language and culture teaching was not formally theorized until the 1990s. Michael Byram in Britain (c.f. Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence, 1997) and Claire Kramsch in the US (Context and Culture in Language Teaching, 1993) have been the main reference points in this area. In the last few years particularly, the idea of intercultural communication as the area where language and culture meet in the classroom has gained momentum and different strands and views are being developed. My intention here is not to give an overview of these developments; Risager (2007) offers a comprehensive overview and discussion of this field. Here I will set out to what extent Kramsch and Byram, as well as others, have influenced my perspective on language and culture teaching and to what extent I deviate from them.

    As I said earlier, I suggest that a cultural studies-oriented language and culture pedagogy can be approached from two different practical starting points: a text-based or a context-based approach. Kramsch uses the former, Byram the latter.

    Both approaches rely on text as well as context in their pedagogy, but the differences lie in the main focus of the pedagogical tool; a text-based approach aims to develop an understanding of culture and language through analyzing texts, whereas a context-based approach focuses on the cultural situations in which language is used, as well as on a body of knowledge that is taught, discussed or ‘discovered’. In a text-based approach, the role of cultural knowledge is less foregrounded; knowledge is conceived of as the contextual knowledge needed in order to interpret the text. But knowledge is then also conceived of as meta-knowledge; knowledge of the interpretation process itself and the concepts needed to talk about the texts. Kramsch uses texts as the starting point of her pedagogy. Byram, on the other hand, represents a socially oriented, especially an ethnographic, approach through making cultural knowledge an important part of his pedagogy, following on from the idea of Area Studies which I discussed in the previous chapter.

    A Text-based Bakhtinian Approach: Kramsch

    It may seem paradoxical to locate Kramsch in a text-based rather than a context-based pedagogy when her great contribution to language and culture pedagogy is her conceptualisation of context as a complex structure. But here I refer to the pedagogical tools which Kramsch uses, which involve looking at texts, in her case, specifically literary texts. This is not to say that she does not use other classroom activities: on the contrary, her follow-up activities after reading a text could, for instance, include a role play trying to emulate the ‘voices’ in a text.

    Kramsch’s pedagogy has roots in the European liberal humanist philosophy of education, with a text-based analytical approach and concerns for developing the intellectual and critical ability of students. In contrast, Byram aligns himself more with instrumental and pragmatic goals of language and culture learning, as we will see later, although he takes a much less reductive approach than the strong instrumentalist paradigm which I criticized in chapter one.

    Working in the American context, Kramsch criticizes the instrumentally-oriented action pedagogy, rather than a reflection-oriented one. Its sole concern to get students to talk and write as well and as fluently as possible has, she argues, trivialized language teaching. In such a syllabus, the teaching of culture has become a controversial issue, as the argument is that depth and breadth of thought belong to other subjects (1993: 4).

    This instrumental approach is also very dominant in teaching Dutch as a foreign language, as evidenced by course books and the examination which is taken worldwide by adult learners of Dutch as a foreign language, Certificaat Nederlands als Vreemde Taal (CNaVT). As I set out in chapter 1, the instrumental approach is also becoming more dominant in language teaching at universities in Britain, particularly since language teaching in the context of language degrees is increasingly taught through a special provision in places such as Language Centres. This means language classes are separated from the so-called ‘content’ classes which are perceived to be intellectually superior.

    I align myself with Kramsch’s educational aims. As I argued in chapter 1, although the main aim of the general language class is to be able to use the foreign language, there is a developmental and intellectual aspect to language learning, over and above learning a skill.

    Kramsch’s pedagogy of language learning provides critical and intellectual demands in terms of students needing to reflect on the interrelationship between text and context. Her pedagogy focuses on the interaction between linguistics and social structures: teachers should not teach either form or meaning but the interaction between the two, she emphasizes. Her approach to language and culture pedagogy was new in 1993 and still holds valuable insights. Kramsch’s contribution, I feel, is that she provides a more fully conceptualized notion of context than that previously offered in the Threshold levels which saw context only in relation to set phrases tied to certain set situations which occur in typical everyday pragmatic exchanges of shopping, getting a coffee and so forth. But also, crucially, she considers a range of theoretical models from linguistics, ethnography of communication, and language philosophy to provide a view of context, not as a natural given, but as a social construct.

    Context, she suggests, consists of linguistic, situational, cultural, interactional, and intertextual dimensions. In describing context as being ‘shaped by people in dialogue with one another in a variety of roles and statuses’ (p. 67), she marries Hymes’s model of communicative competence, Halliday’s notions of context (1989), and Bakhtin’s notion of dialogue. Context is then created by situations, including the classroom situation itself, previous ‘cultural’ knowledge, as well as the ongoing dialogue or interaction between people and their socio-cultural environment. Crucially, she adds the dimension of intertextual context; the relation a text has to other texts, assumptions, and expectations. The notion of intertext comprises not just the other texts, assumptions, and expectations a ‘text’ may refer to, but also the assumptions, expectations, and previous experiences of texts that readers themselves are imbued with.

    Kramsch suggests that in an intercultural communicative event, the engagement between the language user’s own cultural context and that of the cultural context of the interlocutor (or the text) creates a new or ‘third culture’ where the perceptions and knowledge of the interlocutors about their own and the ‘other’s’ culture intermingle. This also happens, she suggests, in a classroom context, particularly in a multicultural one, where complex relationships take place between the students, the teacher, the foreign language, the ‘target’ culture, and the culture of the learners themselves (ibid. p. 13). In this, ‘third culture’ or ‘third place’ students can express their own meanings and discover their own identities in a foreign language without being bound by either their own or the target speech community’s identity (ibid. p. 256). It is a place where hybridity and plurality flourish. For my initial pedagogy, I interpreted the metaphor of ‘third place’ as a space for learning and dialoguing in the classroom, where a ‘dialogue’ can take place between students themselves, between students and the teacher, and between students and the text under discussion. Reading the text becomes a ‘dialogue’ with the text, as the text will be rewritten, reinterpreted, and re-accentuated several times during the classroom discussions. However, the notion of hybridity, which is encompassed in the idea of ‘the third place’, is one which is also problematic. Whilst the notion of the third space allows the classroom to be perceived as a place where cultures intermingle, meet and clash, and where students can become ‘border crossers’, it also assumes students identify strongly with their ‘native culture’, and that their intercultural encounters will be with people who identify strongly with ‘the target culture’. Kramsch has now distanced herself from the idea of the ‘third place’, as being too static and not capturing the relations and operations between multilingual learners (2009: 200). For my own pedagogy, I interpreted the dialogic space in the classroom as ‘being intercultural’, which means, as Phipps and Gonzalez say, it is ‘beyond the captivities of culture’ (2004: 168), where students engage with language and culture in a process which Phipps and Gonzalez call ‘languaging’.

    For the purpose of this chapter, I will remain with Kramsch’s 1993 book, even though it does not encompass the idea of ‘being intercultural’ as the messy, indeterminate, and fluid struggles with which her later work is concerned. Her pedagogy described in Context and Culture in Language Teaching, influenced my own approach, particularly since it is largely based on the use of texts. Her approach, partly rooted in the liberal paradigm, is geared to giving access to a range of speech communities, which then opens up areas for reflection and discussion and introduces the idea of multi-voicedness in texts (1993: 27).

    Kramsch’s contribution to language and culture pedagogy, as I said earlier, has been inspiring because of the conceptualization of context as a complex social construct. Moreover, she distances herself from a strong national paradigm in language teaching. She criticizes the link made in many language textbooks by which any speaker of the language is automatically representative of any national (e.g. German) speech community. It is rarely acknowledged in language teaching, she says, that even if learners share a common native language, ‘they partake of a multiplicity of ‘cultures’ (1993: 93).

    Risager criticizes Kramsch for not systematically analyzing the relationship between linguistic practice (as cultural practice) and cultural context. Risager’s criticism focuses particularly on Kramsch’s radical social-constructivist position and the fact that Kramsch does not sufficiently distinguish between the relationship of language and culture at a generic or at a differential level (2007: 108). Risager and I (see my argument in chapter 2) agree with Kramsch that language and culture relate at a generic level; the cultural meanings and connotations of language utterances which are reflected and refracted by participants in contexts of use. But, Risager suggests, Kramsch is close to suggesting that language as text, and cultural context is identical. Risager suggests instead to make a distinction between the ‘aspects of the context that are directly created via the linguistic interaction, e.g. the immediate social relations, and the aspects of the context that exist in advance as objective facts and that constitute the historically specific setting’ (2007: 109). This reflects Risager’s particular point of view regarding the relationship between language and culture as well as the inclusion of cultural knowledge in the curriculum.

    My own criticism with regard to Kramsch’s 1993 book is slightly different from Risager’s. For Kramsch, cultural knowledge (which Risager refers to as ‘objective facts that constitute the historically specific setting’) relates to both the shared cultural knowledge in the context of production as well as in the context of reception. Kramsch does not see it as necessary that students need a coherent body of knowledge of the cultural context, i.e. the national context. Instead, students will need to have the cultural knowledge needed to interpret the text at hand and to be able to relate the text to both the context of production as well as the context of reception in the target speech communities. I agree with Kramsch on this. I also like the fact she uses text in her pedagogy, as her concern, like my own, is with meaning-making. However, the texts that Kramsch uses in the classroom tend to be from the literary genre only, whereas I provide another angle by including mass media texts which are rich in discursive constructions. The latter is not one of Kramsch’s concerns. Her aim is not to critique power and knowledge constructions in text, and her focus tends to be at the differential level, with particular languages and particularities of culture, rather than with ‘discursive formations’. Whilst I feel that the Bakhtinian text-based approach of Kramsch goes a long way in helping students to understand the complexity of communication and the complexity of context, it does not address the discourses and power as they are used in everyday language events.

    A Social and Context-based Approach: Intercultural Communicative Competence

    It is precisely the text-based approach that has attracted criticisms from other scholars in the field of language and culture teaching. Byram particularly takes issue with the text-based approach and its focus on literary texts. He positions himself against the literary tradition in language teaching because it does not deal with the real everyday world in the target language countries. This view of culture, as I discussed in chapter 2, is the anthropological one (cf. Byram, 1989). In this context-based approach, the ‘real world’ is the starting point for the pedagogy, whether in terms of factual knowledge, or communicative events. Whilst Kramsch and Byram agree on the need for reflection on the ‘other’; as well as the learner’s ‘own’ culture, for Kramsch this reflection takes place through thinking and talking about texts, particularly in relation to how learners interpret the contexts of production and reception. For Byram, this reflection takes place through focusing on and comparing information about ‘the’ culture, especially relating to everyday life. For Byram then, cultural knowledge is a very important part of the syllabus, whereas cultural knowledge for Kramsch is incidental; it is part and parcel of discussing the context of production. As mentioned above, for Kramsch it is not desirable that students learn a body of coherent cultural knowledge related to ‘the’ foreign or ‘target’ culture, whilst Byram feels there is a certain body of knowledge that students learning a foreign language need to possess.

    Byram’s work in theorizing language and culture pedagogy became enormously influential in Europe as a whole. In fact, culture pedagogy, as Risager (2007: 92) points out, did not get underway until Byram’s work in the 1980s. He formulated the notion of Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC for short) as a model for language teaching and assessment of language learners which focuses on acquiring linguistic as well as socio-cultural knowledge and discourse competence (1997: 73). Byram builds on Van Ek’s notion of communicative competence which is focused on language rather than culture. To understand people of other national groups, Byram notes, we cannot only depend on ‘communicative competence’; learners also ‘need to acquire the ability to comprehend cultural differences and cultural relativity’ (1992: 165). Byram sees language and culture learning as clearly consisting of a language and a culture element, but these generally remain, unlike with Kramsch, separate.

    One of the important new aspects of Intercultural Communicative Competence is that learners not only need to learn about foreign culture but that they also need to relate this to their own cultural experiences. Byram based the idea of Intercultural Communicative Competence on the concept of the Intercultural Speaker which he developed with Zarate as part of the work they undertook for the Council of Europe with the project Language Learning for European Citizenship (1997). The aim of language teaching is not for language learners to try and emulate ‘the’ native speaker, but to become ‘intercultural speakers’. The notion of the Intercultural Speaker has become a widely accepted goal of language teaching and has replaced the previously used target aim of ‘near-native competence’ at most (except for the most traditional) Higher Education Institutions. The intercultural speaker is ‘someone who has an ability to interact with ‘others’, to accept other perspectives and perceptions of the world, to mediate between different perspectives, to be conscious of their evaluations of difference.’ (Byram et. al. 2001: 5).

    Intercultural communicative competence (ICC) is to a large extent formulated as a set of competencies. These are a range of skills and knowledge that can be taught as well as assessed, which Byram called the 5 savoirs. The savoirs present a complex picture of the skills needed to be a competent intercultural speaker, including (socio-)linguistic skills, cultural knowledge and a focus on intercultural attitudes, and being prepared to relativise one’s own values, beliefs, and behaviour.

    Promisingly, the savoirs also include what Byram calls, ‘critical cultural awareness’ (savoir s’engager). With this Byram means that learners can turn their attention to their own beliefs and belongings, and in doing so become aware of their own (often unconscious) cultural assumptions. He also introduces a political and critical element to language teaching. The learners, Byram (1997: 20) says ‘can also be encouraged to identify the ways in which particular cultural practices and beliefs maintain the social positions and power of particular groups. The analysis can become critical.’

    I agree with Byram’s emphasis on the context of everyday culture and reflecting upon one’s own preconceptions in cultural exchanges. This has developed into the inclusion of self-reflection activities and ethnography in language teaching (cf. Byram and Fleming, 1998) and preparing students for residencies abroad, such as the ‘The Intercultural Project’ at Lancaster University (http:// www.lancs.ac.uk/users/interculture/subproj4.htm) and the Ealing Ethnography Research Project developed at Thames Valley University (Roberts et.al. 2001). It is particularly the development of critical awareness and ethnography, which I feel is very beneficial for language learners because the methodology of ethnography helps learners to become intercultural.

    Byram’s notion of Intercultural Communicative Competence then is very helpful in addressing learners’ engagement with the complexities of everyday cultural contexts. The model provides a clear method for developing a range of competencies. However, this approach is not sufficient on its own to fully address areas of criticality and super-complexity. Its emphasis is on encounters between cultures by reflecting on comparisons between ‘the target culture’ and the learners’ own, and which, despite Byram’s emphasis on differences within cultures, can easily lead to assuming relatively fixed notions of these ‘cultures’. And whilst the Intercultural Speaker has an open attitude towards the cultural other, she, as Ros i Solé (2013) points out, does not move in and out of, and in between different cultures. Nevertheless, it is particularly Byram’s fifth savoir, ‘critical cultural awareness’, which provides most insights for culture pedagogy based on views of culture as complex. Guilherme developed the idea of critical cultural awareness to focus on just that.

    Guilherme’s Citizenship Agenda: The Critical Intercultural Speaker

    Guilherme developed a pedagogical and philosophical framework as a possible formulation of a critical approach to intercultural language learning which is a more complex and theoretical extension of Byram’s notion of critical cultural awareness. She locates this pedagogy, like Starkey (cf. 1999, 2010) within the area of citizenship education. Being critical in this approach means ‘questioning dominant cultural patterns and seeking the reasons which lead to these patterns being blindly accepted and unquestioned’ (2002: 19). Guilherme borrows from Giroux’s (1992) notion of ‘border pedagogy’ in which critical reflection is an important element. Referring to Barnett (1997), who saw reflection as ‘meta-critique’, she explains that in order to question dominant patterns one has to take a critical perspective towards one’s own knowledge and social context, as well as being critical in trying to inhabit someone else’s cognitive perspective. Critical reflection is then a vital element in developing cultural awareness as, when reflecting on cultural differences, it will help to make explicit how one justifies one’s own beliefs and actions, as well as how these beliefs and actions might be perceived by the other, Guilherme states (2002: 40). She continues: ‘From this perspective, reflection-in-action allows for the coming into consciousness of factors that interact in a cross-cultural event such as the unconscious concepts and rules or routine responses that are taken for granted by each side as well as the emotional impetus that drives the intercultural encounter (ibid).’ In her critical approach to intercultural language learning, Guilherme attempts to respond to the contemporary complex realities of border crossings, of multiculturalism and hybridity. Her ‘border pedagogy’ rejects a Eurocentric approach towards any culture and favours the inclusion of nonEuropean cultures in curriculum content. It perceives the cultural subject as multifaceted, ever-changing, and in relation to a complex, also evolving society (Guilherme, 2002: 43). Border pedagogy then does not only involve the acknowledgment of facts, that is, the input of geographical, historical, social, or political information. ‘It should focus on the complexity of hidden meanings, of underlying values, and how these articulate with the micro- and macrocontexts they integrate (ibid:45).’ Guilherme takes a transnational perspective in formulating the notion of the ‘critical intercultural speaker’ (her emphasis). The critical intercultural speaker, she states (ibid: 126, 127) has to problematize the concepts of nationality and ethnicity, both in terms of their origin and their present developments. She must be aware that the development of identities involves a ‘constant negotiation between remembering and forgetting, idiosyncrasies, and common interests’. Guilherme looks towards Giroux again who states that the pedagogical goal is not to have students exercise rigorous analytical skills in order to arrive at the right answer but to have a better understanding of what the codes are that organise different meanings and interests in particular configurations of knowledge and power (Guilherme quoting Giroux, 2002: 46). By reflecting on these configurations, students studying a foreign culture should be able to translate them into their own contexts. ‘The meanings and interests of the Other will echo their own thoughts and feelings and, by becoming critically aware of them, students will identify and clarify their own struggles, points of view, predisposition which are likely to help them make more enlightened choices’ (ibid).

    Guilherme’s framework offers a multi-perspective approach as she borrows from modernist theories, such as Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy, and from postmodernist approaches. In this, there are similarities with my own pedagogy that I describe in chapter 4, as being located in different paradigms of modernist and postmodernist critique, although as I have mentioned before, there was an incommensurable element to my own multi-perspective approach. Risager (2007: 151) critiques Guilherme precisely for this. On the one hand, she seems to refer to a language-nation-derived concept of culture, and on the other hand, she formulates a language-independent conception based on ‘border-crossing’, ‘hybridity’, and ‘diversity. My own feeling is that Guilherme’s thoroughly theorized model has much to offer for considering practical pedagogies for the critical intercultural language user. Her focus is on citizenship, rather than on actual language and texts, and thus functions more as a theoretical consideration than a practical example. However, Guilherme’s theoretical considerations in relation to problematizing the national view and the idea of stable identities resonate with my own pedagogy.

    I now want to make a slight detour from the discussion about how language and culture pedagogy can do justice to the complexity of this relationship and develop learners as critical intercultural speakers, and look at how intercultural communication has been conceptualized in the discipline of intercultural communication itself. I shall then draw on this for an application to language pedagogy.


    This page titled Ideas and Practices is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gerdi Quist (Ubiquity Press) .

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