Language Learning and Development of Intercultural CompetenceAn article by Meei-ling Liaw of National Taichung University in the September 2006 issue of the online journal Language Learning & Technology looks at how e-learning can help learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) to do so in a way that promotes intercultural competence.
Liaw works from the premise that "intercultural communicative competence must be developed to prepare learners to be both global and local speakers of English and to feel at home in both international and national cultures."
Liaw defines four types of intercultural competences in this context:
- Interest in knowing other people’s way of life and introducing one’s own culture to others
I am interested in other people’s experience of daily life, particularly those things not usually presented to outsiders through the media.
I am also interested in the daily experience of a variety of social groups within a society and not only the dominant culture.
- Ability to change perspective
I have realized that I can understand other cultures by seeing things from a different point of view and by looking at my culture from their perspective.
- Knowledge about one’s own and others’ culture for intercultural communication
I know some important facts about living in the other cultures and about the country, state and people.
I know how to engage in conversation with people of the other culture and maintain a conversation.
- Knowledge about intercultural communication processes
I know how to resolve misunderstandings which arise from people’s lack of awareness of the viewpoint of another culture.
I know how to discover new information and new aspects of the other culture for myself.
In her summary Liaw notes
Byram and Fleming define "intercultural speakers" as people who can "establish a relationship between their own and the other cultures, to mediate and explain differences – and ultimately to accept that difference and see the common humanity beneath it" (1998, p. 8). Intercultural language teaching should recognize that language and culture are intertwined and that by adopting an inquiring and reflective approach to language learning, students can be "intercultural speakers." ... the EFL students in the present study did not learn the target culture as a checklist of knowledge. With the help of computer-mediated communication, the students took a journey of discovery and reflection where their understanding of the behaviors, beliefs, concepts, ways of interacting in their own and the other culture was exchanged, discussed, negotiated, and even refined.1__________
1 Language Learning in Intercultural Perspective, Michael Byram and Michael Fleming (eds.) (Cambridge University Press, 1998).