On Intercultural Learning (Karin Risager)

This reflection is based on Intercultural Learning: Raising Cultural Awareness by Karen Risager (Roskilde University).

“Do we emphasize knowledge, whether in the form of facts or deeper insight? Do we favor attitudes and emotions in the cultural encounter? Do we focus on intercultural understanding via the reading of texts? Do we want to offer opportunities for personal intercultural experience and personal cultural encounters? Do we draw on the internet and new social media for intercultural learning? Are we interested in education for citizenship? Are we thinking of national, European, global citizenship, or a cosmopolitan identity? Intercultural learning can have many different objectives and can take many roads indeed.” (Risager 2012:152)

This text is an article that introduces the international field of culture pedagogy in foreign language teaching and learning. Risager presents the multidisciplinary nature of the field and an overview of its diverse development since 2000, thus includes a number of contemporary trends:

  • The increasing importance of postmodernism and its emphasis on the individual learner and his/her learning processes and intercultural competence
  • The development of cultural approaches to literature pedagogy working with the interplay of cultural perspectives
  • Ethnographic approaches to intercultural learning that enable learners to create their own insights into local cultural complexities (I took no notes on this as I didn’t find it interesting)
  • Ideas of critical citizenship that emphasise the importance of reflection, wondering, criticism and hope as a part of language and culture learning
  • The idea of culture in language (languaculture)
  • Transnational perspectives on language and culture learning, which foreground the transnational flows of languages across cultural contexts, and hence suggest a more global approach to language and culture learning and the raising of multicultural awareness

Historical Perspective: Modernism to Postmodernism
Not until the 1960s did the content of language teaching go beyond literary education as such, but onwards the cultural dimension was introduced gradually to a broader sense inasmuch as the culture teaching or culture pedagogy was crystallised into a more or less independent discipline. Language pedagogy and culture pedagogy did not, however, have much to do with each other until the 1990s labeled as “intercultural learning”. Obviously as of today’s common knowledge and global awareness, the culture pedagogy is drawing on humanities and/or social sciences (category 1), whilst some also draw on the developments of linguistics (category 2).

The first category (also the oldest) has a holistic view of language learning, not just a man or language learner, but as someone who also develops other facets of the personality in connection with language learning – especially a greater knowledge and understanding of the world. This category of culture pedagogy is particularly interested in teaching about cultural and societal conditions in the countries where the target language is spoken as the first language. Content and themes (text and methods) within this type of culture pedagogy has a broad horizon and covers e.g. everyday life, technology, politics, economics, music and art, subcultures and educational conditions.The second category (drawing upon developments within linguistics) tends to focus more instrumentally on the practical knowledge that the language users have to possess in order to communicate effectively with the aid of the target language. This category manifested itself in the 1970s in connection to the work done by the Council of Europe to develop communicative skills and mobility within the European Common Market.

In the 1990s the interest in intercultural learning and cultural pedagogy took off as many began to see intercultural learning as an integral part of language teaching. Key influencers at the time, that are still relevant: Kramsch (1993) and Byram (1997).

The ICC-Model
Byram presents a model of comprising five components/dimensions in intercultural communication:

Skills
interpret and relate (savoir comprendre)

Knowledge

of self and other;
of interaction: individual and societal (savoirs)

Education

political education
critical cultural awareness (savoir s’engager)

Attitudes
relativising self-valuing other (savoir être)

Skills
discover and/or interact (savoir apprendre/faire)

The history of culture pedagogy can be interpreted as a fight between modernism and postmodernism. The modernist identity was predominant until some time in the 1980s and has to do with an emphasis on the content dimension. From the 19080s onwards the postmodernist tendency was added and gradually came to dominate culture pedagogy as we know it today, but without completely ousting the older view e.g. we still use textbooks and official syllabuses which tend to emphasise knowledge og society. The postmodernist tendency emphasises the learning processes and the raising of cultural awareness through teaching. It also focuses on diversity in the individual students’ qualifications and life experiences, attitudes, emotions, and

their ability to understand and deal with “the other” i.e. their ability to mediate between various languages and various cultural contexts. Interestingly: The interest in poetics and narrativity were also a part of this development: playing with language, with different perspectives and voices, with imagined worlds (Kramsch:1993)

Critical Citizenship
This is a ‘movement’ of culture educationalists that are especially interested in developing a more politically-oriented dimension of intercultural learning; critical citizenship in an intercultural world to provide students with resources for reflection, wondering, criticism and hope to awaken their commitment to transformative action and border crossing. Human rights education and education for democratic citizenship are some of the most common themes. Key influencers on this subject besides Byram (1997/2008) are Guilherme (2002), Starkey (1996) and already in the 1960s Doyé (1966).

Culture in Language (Languaculture)
Kramsch empathises (1993) that language and especially language in discourse is a culture in itself. So when one teaches language in discourse, one, in fact, teaches culture. Meaning that Kramsch does not distinguish between language and culture nor between language teaching an culture teaching. Other people that share this view concerning introducing of culture-in-language in language teachings are: Risager (2006/2007) and Crozet & Liddicoat (2000).

Risager analyses the concept of langaculture in three interconnected dimensions:

  • The semantic-pragmatic dimension has to do with connotations of words and utterances in use — linked to linguistic anthropology and cross-cultural semantics and intercultural pragmatics.
  • The poetic dimension has to do with the aesthetic uses of language in play, ritual, and art — linked to the study of literature.
  • The identity dimension has to with the social and cultural significance of the choice of language or variety of language — linked to sociolinguistics (especially social meaning and relations between language and identity).However, all of these dimensions will — naturally — be affected by the fact that we draw upon our knowledge (languaculture) of our first language (mother tongue), when one learns a foreign language.

 

Transnational Perspectives
Introduced by Risager, this perspective empathises the fact, that language is not only spoken in the target language countries. Almost all languages except the very small and isolated, are spoken all over the world as a result of people on the move. When taking the transnational flow of languages into account, culture pedagogy does not need to limit itself to an exclusive focus on national culture and society of a target country — rather it can be more flexible and open to the needs and interests of both teachers and learners.

Fun fact: Danish is taught in more than 25 countries and at more than 100 universities and institutes.

 

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