Methodologies for the development of intercultural competence through inter-language teaching and learning programmes
A Definition of Intercultural Competence
Intercultural competence is the ability to interact effectively and appropriately in intercultural situations, based on specific attitudes, intercultural knowledge, skills and reflection
Intercultural competence is neither a static state nor the direct result of one discrete learning experience. Language ability and explicit (i.e. learnable) knowledge of cultural characteristics alone do not suffice for intercultural competence. Nor is intercultural competence acquired by visiting a foreign country or ad hoc through further education. If the assumption is correct that culture is constantly in flux, then individuals must learn and master the ability to deal with ongoing processes. The development of intercultural competence is thus complex and multidimensional
and, depending on the intercultural situation, can take on a variety of forms. The
acquisition of intercultural competence is a continual, dynamic process, one that moves through diverse dimensions while developing and enriching itself in an upward spiral.
Attitudes — Valuing Cultural Diversity and Tolerating Ambiguity
The point of departure for intercultural competence is a fundamentally positive attitude towards intercultural situations. For the intercultural competence learning process, this positive motivation is at least as decisive as the cultural content that is to be learned. One of the attitudes beneficial to intercultural learning is therefore a general openness for and appreciation of cultural diversity and an ability to encounter and deal with individuals from foreign cultures in an open, curious and unprejudiced manner (i.e. withholding judgment). This openness and appreciation
of cultural diversity can be promoted through cultural education or language learning. A cultural blindness for foreign languages and/or cultural backgrounds can, conversely,lead to a wide range of uncertainties, which may result in conflict escalation. A key factor in intercultural competence is, ultimately, when any uncertainties arise, that participants remain open to unknown situations and that they continually reflect on these experiences (known as tolerating ambiguity).
Economic integration and advances in transportation and telecommunication have broken down geographical isolation: The world is more global and mobile than ever before. Globalization is linked by new technology, communication is, for example, intensified via electronic media facilitating trade contacts and international projects.
When companies expand their operations abroad, it means balancing between prospects of growth and the risk associated with operating in unfamiliar markets. Successful companies and employees are those who see cultural diversity as an opportunity, as something that can be learned, managed, and made use of, and who are willing to develop their intercultural competence as part of their social and communication competences. The components of intercultural competence contain cognition, i.e. knowledge, affect, i.e. attitudes and emotions, and behavior and skills.
In increasingly many companies the official working language is the so- called International Business English, sometimes called Euro English or Global English. Holden (2002: 222; 228-229; 317) introduces the term interactive translation to describe work in which members of multicultural teams negotiate common meanings and understandings. According to Holden, interactive translation requires participative competence, in other words, willingness to discuss in a productive way not only in ones native language but in foreign languages as well. Members of multicultural teams often have a varying knowledge of English and use different kinds of accents.
There are thousands of sojourners and expatriates working abroad especially in technical expert, business management, and marketing functions. There are also thousands of immigrants who have moved. Immigrants jobless rate is high: There is not yet confidence required to consider immigrants a resource in working life.
Even if there is evidence based on scientific research that todays employees need intercultural competence in their jobs, the term cannot be found in job ads recruiting employees. It seems that employers are not familiar with the term. When requiring behavior and skills important in international and multicultural working life, employers usually refer to knowledge of one or more foreign languages. Occasionally they apply expressions such as communication skills, interpersonal skills, presentation skills, negotiation skills, the ability to work on international projects, and willingness to travel abroad.
Increased mobility, both real and virtual, has intensified the need for successful cultural adaptation and fluent and efficient communication. When compared with many other cultures, communication style contains some differences. These differences may include (depending on the country) a tendency to speak only when having something important to say, high tolerance of silence in conversations, and avoidance-based politeness. Depending on the context, communication style can be strength or weakness. On international assignments, the lack of social and communication skills at home and in the working place seems to be the main reason for failures.
When developing intercultural competence, early challenges and diversified experiences are of major importance. The knowledge management perspective presents culture, not as a source of difference and antagonism, but as a form of organizational, company-specific knowledge. This knowledge can be converted into tacit knowledge, which both adds value to company activities and is difficult for rivals to copy. (Holden 2002: 71; 75-76)
Developing intercultural competence is a slow, gradual transformative learning process (Taylor 1994) consisting of foreign language studies, intercultural training, and hands-on experiences of other cultures and their people. Even if nothing can entirely replace face-to-face tuition and learning, information technology should also be made use of when providing training.
A Culture Assimilator (Cushner & Brislin 1996) is a programmed learning package consisting of critical incidents. Critical incidents are short descriptions of situations where there is a problem of cultural adaptation, or where there is a problem rising from cultural differences between the interacting parties. In a Culture Assimilator the incidents are equipped with alternative explanations and feedback. Trainees are expected to choose the "best" explanation considering the context. The idea of implementing a Culture Assimilator with computer technology was introduced as early as in the 1960s (Triandis 1995: 183-184; Cushner & Landis 1996: 198).
1.to explore and exploit short films to develop intercultural competence (especially the ones realized separately or together in the project “Preparing for the 21st Century: Challenges Facing a Changing Society). Students should mainly focus on the following:
- Body-language, gestures - Cultural identity - Culture in the street - Code-switching - Celebrations, customs - Family life - Gender issues - Generation gap - Stereotypes, nationalism, racism
2. to study PPT presentation about their own country and the other countries involved in the project
Objectives: To increase the students' motivation To raise interest for the country by informing students about the background of the region, culture, religion of that country To find out what students already know about the country or what they think they know To include a personal approach To start discussing and challenging stereotypes
3. to study pictures on different topics ( we have as a final product an album with pictures showing poverty in different countries, cultures and circumstances- final product relised in Poland)
4. making associations with similar situations in their own countries when discussing or working in group or in pairs at the working sessions
5.practising different games
6. Experiences of teachers developing intercultural competence in foreign language
An analysis of interviews with a sample of foreign language teachers concerning their experiences of developing intercultural competence as language teachers.
7. use videos, CD-ROMs or the Internet to illustrate an aspect of the foreign culture;
8.ask their pupils to think about what it would like to be like to live in the foreign culture;
9. use role-play situations in which people from different cultures meet;
10.decorate their classroom with posters illustrating particular aspects of the foreign culture;
11.ask their pupils to compare an aspect of their own culture with that aspect in the foreign
12 talk with their pupils about stereotypes regarding particular cultures and countries or
regarding the inhabitants of particular countries
13.make intercultural competence development alongside foreign language learning a key feature of a new framework strategy for multilingualism;
14. support intercultural competence development in language learning as a means of enhancing, also in lower secondary education, practical business-related skills for relationships both within the EU and with extra-European cultures, in pursuit of the aims of the Lisbon Agenda;
15. focus on intercultural competence development alongside linguistic skills as a priority, where appropriate, in the next general call for proposals under the Life Long Learning programme;
16. establish and fund an international, multi-disciplinary group of experts to establish a framework of performance indicators which describe attainment levels of intercultural competence and to develop methods of assessing intercultural competence in the language classroom;
17.support awareness-raising in the area of intercultural competence for officials, educational policymakers and decision-makers, foreign-language educators and other key multipliers at the European and national level: this would assist in creating an underlying and proper appreciation of the nature of intercultural competence, how it can be developed and how it complements European language policy;
18. support research into the nature of intercultural competence and into approaches to developing and assessing it in school settings, specifically foreign language learning;
19. increase funding for international teacher mobility, teacher exchanges, school partnerships, school exchanges and visits, and simplified procedures;
20 support (1) the development and operation of an EU-wide face-to-face and virtual network of experts and practitioners in the teaching of intercultural competence in the context of foreign language learning, and (2) the development and operation of an EU-wide multilingual, Internet-based intercultural competence development resource bank.
21 fund research into intercultural competence linked to foreign language learning;
22 promote understanding, among foreign-language educators, curriculum designers and other
key multipliers, of the nature of intercultural competence and its development;
23. promote and fund teacher and pupil mobility measures;
24. improve initial teacher education to give greater emphasis to intercultural competence and
25promote and fund professional development courses and in-service training for foreign language teachers;
26 improve the design of foreign language curricula to include clearer and more detailed
specification of objectives, descriptions of didactic and methodological approaches and methods of assessment;
27.support the development and provision of teaching and learning resources for language teachers; support and fund professional development for those developing such materials.
One of the new learning environments is multimedia. The exact meaning of the term multimedia is vague. Besides referring to a computer-based presentation, the term multimedia may refer to a media mix, i.e. text, buttons, bitmap images, photos, animation sequences, video, sound, and special effects. Often when speaking about multimedia, people actually talk about hypermedia. The term hypermedia refers to computer-based materials linked by non-linear structures of information. By making use of association, a characteristic of human thinking, it is to make data management less difficult.
Part of hypermedia is hypertext. Hypertext is a method to write and read non-linear text, i.e. text with a built-in reference system, or links, in which the user can navigate. Data management can be split into several levels. It is possible to hide hotwords, i.e. elements of the media mix, in the text or graphics of the program. When the hotwords and picture elements are clicked, the program moves to another level containing further information about the topic.
In many fields of training and learning it is possible to create real-world problems to be simulated, in other words, practiced and solved with a computer program or application. This holds true to intercultural training, too. As part of the training experiment discussed below, the present author designed and implemented in cooperation with programming experts first a multimedia-based program, and later on a Web-based application, a Culture-General Assimilator, called The Same but Different). The Assimilator is called Culture-General because it discusses culture-general issues such as cultural differences in communication and cultural adaptation in a variety of cultures.
Effectiveness of the Culture Assimilator in Intercultural Training
Of all the approaches developed in intercultural training, the Culture Assimilator method has been exposed to the most intense scrutiny and analysis. According to Albert (1995: 157-158; 164-165), the method
is research-based (both the development of the instrument and the evaluation of its effectiveness)
has its theoretical foundation on attribution theory, and
utilizes psychological principles to increase learning, e.g. trainee involvement, continuous feedback, and self-paced learning.
The Culture Assimilator method is often classified as a cognitive technique because it focuses on the acquisition of knowledge or information by the trainee. Albert (ibid), however, argues that the process by which the information is acquired by the trainee is in a sense experiential (Kolb 1984): Information is acquired by a trial-and-error process, which simulates the experience of entering a
new culture, but without the risks of failure and embarrassment. Albert continues that because the materials in Culture Assimilators also cover the affect, i.e. attitudes and emotions, as well as behaviors and skills of the people involved, the cognitive, affective, and behavioral components of intercultural competence are brought together in the Culture Assimilator method, both in the content of what is learned and the process of learning. Furthermore, the method uses the behavioral techniques of feedback and reinforcement. Besides Albert, scholars such as Wight (1995: 130-134), Bennett (1995: 149), Baxter, Ramsey (1996: 211-212), Cushner, and Landis (1996: 185), argue that all the various components of intercultural competence are in one way or another involved in the method.
According to Albert (1995: 157-158), the Culture Assimilator method exposes trainees to a wide variety of situations in the target culture(s), focuses on differences in perceptions and interpretations in behaviors, simulates important aspects of the experience of entering a new culture, e.g. ambiguity and uncertainty, centers on key cultural differences between trainees own culture and the target culture, and fosters trainees active involvement.
Cushner and Brislin (1996: 48-51; see also Blake et al. 1996: 169) argue that the Culture Assimilator method has proven to have positive impacts as to the cognitive, affective, and behavioral components of trainees intercultural competence. They continue that the Culture Assimilator is "of considerable use" in preparing individuals such as exchange students and various professionals for interaction in culturally diverse contexts.
Referring to research (e.g. Albert 1995: 165; Cushner & Brislin 1996: 14; 20; 25; 51; Cushner & Landis 1996: 188; 191-194), the Culture Assimilator is supposed to
develop complex thinking and the ability to make isomorphic attributions, i.e. similar meanings based on perceptions
impart knowledge of the subjective culture of the target group
improve knowledge and application of concepts relevant to intercultural communication
develop the ability to analyze and solve intercultural problems
help to develop more accurate expectations in intercultural interactions
decrease the use of negative stereotypes
increase intercultural sensitivity to cultural diversity
help to understand host nationals as judged by the hosts themselves
help to interact more effectively with people from the target culture
increase enjoyment in interaction with host nationals
enhance intercultural adjustment
increase tolerance for everyday stress
improve task performance on international assignments, and
decrease the rate of premature returns from international assignments
Triandis (1995: 184) found that when trainees are motivated, the Culture Assimilator method improves their sense of well-being and effectiveness (cf. competence) in the other culture. Albert (1995: 165) refers to "a few minor inconsistencies" and the fact that all of the studies have not documented behavioral changes. Cushner and Landis (1996: 193; 195) state that there is "ample evidence" that changes are produced in trainees but the extent of those changes is still problematic. According to Kealey and Protheroe (1996: 152), the method is cognitive, but aims at some degree of interpersonal skills development.
Because there is controversy in the results of research discussing the effectiveness of the Culture Assimilator method, more empirical research is required. This is what the training experiment discussed below aimed at; in other words, it tested the effectiveness of the Culture-General Assimilator method in developing the intercultural competence of Bachelor of Engineering, or BEng, students as part of their professional qualifications.
In the training experiment the following approaches were applied:
Content and Language Integrated Learning, or CLIL (a term used by the European Council), i.e. integration of intercultural communication and English studies
English as todays lingua franca
transformative learning (Taylor 1994) to develop competence
the etic, or culture-general, approach, discussing a number of cultures, and
the Culture-General Assimilator (Cushner & Brislin 1996) method.
The objectives set on the training experiment were
first, to assess the effectiveness of intercultural training in developing the students intercultural competence (summative assessment),
secondly, to map out what kind of communicators the students are and would like to be, and whether the students are motivated to develop their intercultural competence (self- and peer assessment), and >
thirdly, what the students think about intercultural training and intercultural competence as part of their professional qualifications (formative assessment).
The measuring instruments used in the training experiment were five questionnaires with structured and open-ended questions, statements, and critical incidents to be answered, analyzed, and solved by the students. The end results were analyzed by using both quantitative and qualitative research techniques.
Even if intercultural competence is needed at all levels of organizations and even if there is research-based evidence about the benefits of intercultural training, too many companies do not invest in it. The reasons for not investing in intercultural training include the assumptions competent international employees are born, not made, a top performer in the home country will be a top performer in another culture as well, training is not effective, there is no time, temporary assignments do not warrant training, trainees past experiences may have more influence than training, and the foreign work environment is the main determinant of success (Mendenhall & Oddou 1995: 343; Kealey & Protheroe 1996: 142-144).
Intercultural competence should, however, be understood as part of knowledge management and company-specific tacit knowledge. It should be understood as a tool of strategic thinking and planning, as a source of competitive advantage and added value, the development of which should be started as early as possible. Here proactive institutions of higher education, such as polytechnics, have a market niche. Teachers and trainers of foreign languages should also be provided with further training so that they can become intercultural facilitators to help their students to become mediators between cultures and social actors, who are able to engage with other social actors in communication and interaction which is different from those between native speakers (Byram 1997: 21).
Developing intercultural competence is about developing the ability to be effective in life and career in general. In other words, the potential effects of intercultural training include creating more interculturally trained citizens to society. The function of intercultural training is not to attempt to transform trainees fundamental personalities or basic character, but to add on knowledge and coping techniques,
and consequently, to enhance professional skills as well. (Kealey & Protheroe 1996: 147)
The present author argues that intercultural training develops intercultural competence and provides perspective transformation, but the process of transformation is slow and gradual. When developing intercultural competence, a number of training methods should be applied including new technology.
The cognitive learning theory and constructivism seem to support the use of multimedia- and Web-based learning, including the self-directed nature of learning. The structure of information in multimedia- and Web-based learning is non-linear and based on associations (cf. human thinking). Consequently, the method supports knowledge construction from peoples own experiences, i.e. knowledge acquisition, remembering, understanding, as well as problem solving.
The multimedia- and Web-based Culture-General Assimilator method with critical incidents proved its effectiveness in the present training experiment, when considering the development of the cognitive component of intercultural competence in particular. According to the students self-assessment, their intercultural adjustment and interaction skills also developed a little and their attitudes toward the foreign became a little more positive, in this order. To be able to state whether the students are really able to apply these skills and attitudes in practice, observation and interviews involving host nationals in the target culture(s) would be required. Blake et al. (1996: 172), however, point out that self-report data has been found to relate at least to successful intercultural adjustment.
To develop intercultural competence, hands-on experiences of other cultures are of major importance. If it is not possible to acquire these experiences on site, the importance of intercultural training, including simulations such as Culture Assimilators with critical incidents, as part of professional education is even more emphasized. This can be called internationalization at home.
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