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Intercultural language teaching and learning Some of the general aims of education are to enable the child to live a full life as a child and to realise his or her potential as a unique individual to enable the child to develop as a social being through living and co-operating with others and so contribute to the good of society to prepare the child for further education and lifelong learning.
Intercultural education facilitates all children in coming to value their own heritage and the heritage of others.
The benefits of intercultural education for all children include the following: It encourages the child’s curiosity about cultural and social difference. It helps to develop and support the child’s imagination by normalising difference. It helps to develop the child’s critical thinking by enabling the child to gain perspectives on, and to question, his/her own cultural practices. It helps to develop sensitivity in the child. It helps to prevent racism.
In the knowledge society of the 21st century, language competence and intercultural understanding are not optional extras, they are an essential part of being a citizen.
Language skills are also vital in improving understanding between people here and in the wider world, and in supporting global citizenship by breaking down barriers of ignorance and suspicion between nations.
Learning other language gives us insight into the people, culture and traditions of other countries, and helps us to understand our own language and culture.
Intercultural language teaching and learning refocuses the goal of learning by shifting from a narrower focus on linguistic competence towards a more holistic goal of intercultural communicative competence. Intercultural communicative competence
the ability ‘to communicate and interact across cultural boundaries’. Intercultural communicative competence is
This refocusing is reflected in the Council of Europe’s framework for intercultural language learning, which identifies the knowledge, skills and attitudes ‘which language users build up in the course of their experience of language use and which enable them to meet the challenges of communication across language and cultural boundaries’
A model of intercultural communicative competence Byram (1997), one of the foremost theorists in the field of intercultural language teaching and learning, proposes a model of intercultural communicative competence that has five components: attitudes; knowledge; skills for interpreting and relating; skills for discovering and interacting; and awareness.
Attitudes The attitudes required for effective intercultural communication and learning comprise two aspects: values and beliefs, curiosity, and openness and (b) relativising self and valuing others.
Byram describes these 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’, — requirements that apply to teachers as well as students.
Knowledge Knowledge includes knowledge of self, of other cultures, and of social and cultural processes.
Knowledge of self is knowledge about society and cultures in one’s own country.
Knowledge about other cultures includes information about such things as everyday living, interpersonal relations, values and beliefs, and social conventions. body language
Knowledge of social and cultural processes is knowledge about culture in general and how it affects behaviour.
Skills for interpreting and relating Skills for 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’
Skills for discovery and interaction is ‘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’
Awareness Here, awareness refers to awareness of one’s own culture and language, as well as the language(s) and culture(s) of the target group.
Culture as practice from an intercultural stance Intercultural communicative language teaching and learning encourages learners to discover the less visible cultural dimensions of their own lives, and to use this self-awareness as the basis for being able to understand cultural otherness, and for making sense of intercultural interactions.
Learners need to become aware of what is meant by culture, and what aspects of their behaviour and language use are culturally specific.
This is a crucial starting point for developing Intercultural communicative competence. Intercultural communicative language teaching and learning requires self-reflection, through which learners come to understand how their culture influences their use of language, and how their communicative interactions reflect their culture.
Intercultural communicative language teaching emphasises understanding not only one’s own cultural world but also how it relates to the cultural worlds of others. It encourages learners to look for similarities and differences between their own and another culture, using their own culture as the starting point. Comparing cultures is a practical focus for language teaching which allows learners to develop more sophisticated concepts of culture.
Fundamental to intercultural language learning (ILL) is acknowledgement of an inextricable link between language and culture .
Language has a central role in the transmission of cultural codes; It is noted “culture shapes what we say, when we say it, and how we say it from the simplest language we use to the most complex. It is fundamental to the way we speak, write, listen and read.” language forms and the messages conveyed by them provide cultural knowledge.
Hence the impossibility of separating language and culture. Culture can be understood in a variety of ways and the ways in which culture is constructed will impact on how teachers teach and how learners learn.
Consequently, utilising ILL perspectives challenges language teachers to identify ways of appropriately incorporating culture into language learning and language into culture learning.
The work of facilitating the development of intercultural competence will not be accomplished in one lesson or one term. It is an on-going process. Understanding, skills and values will only be built by stages.
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