A more useful way of conceiving of interculturality in the classroom, which allows for complexity, a level of fluidity, individual agency is the notion of being intercultural, put forward by Phipps and Gonzalez (2004), where ‘being’ is emphasized over ‘knowledge’. They argue that the central activity of modern languages degrees should be ‘languaging’, ‘being intercultural’, and ‘living with supercomplexity’ (p 8). The key element in the process of being intercultural is that of ‘languaging’. In ‘languaging’ the emphasis is on ‘real’ communication and dialogue in the classroom rather than on artificial language tasks; it is ‘living in and through the language’ (p.111). ‘Being intercultural’ means understanding another world, which takes place through the process of dialoguing with others and being part of another cultural group. Crucially, this process can only take place from a position where students challenge their world and ‘let it be enriched by others’ (p. 27). The notion of ‘intercultural being’, as conceptualized by Phipps and Gonzalez, focuses on engaging with the other, on processes, and on critical reflection. Being intercultural is more than an attitude of how you feel towards other countries as Byram’s notion of ICC holds. ‘It is more profoundly about how one lives with and responds to difference and diversity. [….] It is about living out the network of diverse human relationships – not just abroad, but down the road as well’ (p.115).
‘Being intercultural’ is not about getting information about the other culture, but it is about engaging with it, both from ‘within’ to get a sense of what the other thinks, feels and does, and from a position of real critical understanding. Phipps and Gonzalez argue for not just the insertion of critical reflection as part of the language curriculum (p. 92), but the active engagement which they call ‘critical being’. Learning is about ‘testing and exploring ideas in and against reality and then reflecting upon the process’ (p. 124). This combination of the experiential and intellectual is found in the practice of ethnography as a way of understanding the cultural and social practices of a (cultural) group. But, Phipps and Gonzalez argue, ethnography is more than a tool to enable learners to develop into intercultural beings. It is about ‘people meeting in human encounters and in ways which may change the way they see the world’ (p.125).
I interpret the notion of ‘being intercultural’ as taking the learner conceptually out of the classroom, and into the real world. It is an intellectual engagement with the real world. It may consist of ‘real’ dialogues with fellow students or even other speakers of the language, but the notion can also be extended to engaging with written texts as if in ‘dialogue’; relating what is read explicitly to one’s own experiences and understandings and to keep on querying these. Indeed in Chapter 5, I explore how students, when testing their ideas against their experienced ‘realities’, made them realize the positioning of the text we discussed.