Reflection 10: Cultural Studies

Reflection based on chapter 3 En Cultural Studies-tilgang til kulturmøder og interkulturalitet by Lone Krogsgaard Svarstad in Daryai-Hansen, P., Søndergaard Gregersen, A., Jacobsen, S.K., Von Holst Pedersen, J., Svarstad, L.K. & Watson, C. (2018), Fremmedsprogsdidaktik. Mellem fag og didaktik, Hans Reitzel Forlag.

Since 2013, English as a subject in the Danish schools has changed status to a global lingua franca and cultural communication language, thus intercultural competence has become central for foreign language teaching.  But the biggest recent change within foreign language teaching began in the 90s; an increased focus on the learner’s personal development and intercultural competencies, and an educational focus on internationalisation. Especially Michael Byram’s model of intercultural communicative competence (1997) put its mark on how we understand individual intercultural competence today. The dimensions of the model include knowledge, skills, attitude and critical cultural awareness, supports the teacher’s and the learner’s work with developing intercultural communicative competencies with the purpose of building bridges between cultures. The model has been criticised for having an essentialistic view on cultures in which comparison is central, yet Byram’s recent work on intercultural citizenship and Autobiography on Intercultural Encounters (2008 & 2009) has a more dynamic view on culture. Nonetheless, Byram’s work is still at the core of the Danish common objectives framework and globally within the cultural studies. Since the 2000s, Karen Risager (2003) has argued for a transnational view of culture and linguaculture (also languaculture) as general understandings of foreign language teaching. Additionally, Fred Dervin (2016) has, fighting essentialist views through changing discourses, introduced the term othering as a way of enabling students to act critically and ethically towards othering-tendencies such as racism and social injustice. Lone Svarstad (2016) concludes that it’s the teacher’s responsibility to obtain a metalanguage of cultural understandings, not only to teach students intercultural communicative competence but also to be able to choose objectives and material. Risager (2018) has looked at material for teaching interculturally within foreign language teaching and has found 5 different perspectives, that each offers different potential:

  • National studies
  • Citizenship studies
  • Cultural studies
  • Post-colonial studies
  • Transnational studies

Even though these perspectives might overlap, Svarstad argues the importance of the teacher’s ability to make conscious choices. She presents from one of her own studies, a cultural studies-approach. The knowledge foundation for such an approach can support the work of a complex and dynamic view of culture. Cases of pop culture can be used to analyse media representations (intersectionality) i.e., how themes or people are represented in the media. Linguistic analyses of discourses presented in different texts can enhance the students’ awareness of interculturality and othering-processes for example by using Liddicoat and Scarino’s (2013) 4-step model for interaction-processes; notice, compare, reflect and interact, and/or incorporating Svarstad’s (2016) metalinguistic term subtextuality in order to find hidden cultural perspectives or discourses.


References:

Byram, M. (1997): Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Byram, M. (2008): From Foreign Language Education to Education for Intercultural Citizenship: Essays and Reflections. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Byram, M. /w. Council of Europe. (2009): Autibiography of Intercultural Encounters. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, Education Department, Language Policy Unit.
Dervin, F. (2016): Interculturality in Education: A Theoretical and Methodological Toolbox. London: Palgrave Macmillian.
Liddicoat, A.J. & Scarino, A. (2013): Intercultural Language Teaching and Learning. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.
Risager, K. (2003): Det nationale dilemma i sprog- og kulturpædagogikken. Et studie i forholdet mellem sprog og kultur. København: Akademisk Forlag.
Svarstad, L.K. (2016): Teaching Interculturality: Developing and Engaging in Pluralistic Discourses in English Language Teaching. Ph.d.-afhandling, Aarhus Universitet.

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The Red Line

This reflection is based on the reading of The Red Line by Charlie Higson (origin; 1993, pub. René Bühlmann, 1995) and is different than my previous reflections in as much as I am proposing the usage of the short story in intercultural citizenship education as a part of English teaching.

Wikipedia: Red line, or “to cross the red line“, is a phrase used worldwide to mean a figurative point of no return or line in the sand, or “a limit past which safety can no longer be guaranteed.

The short story has a 3rd person narrator and happens in the tube of London – On the red line. The chapters of the short story are named of and in the same order of the stops of the tube. Following is a brief recap of the chapters:

Chapter: Oval
We find out, that the story takes place in London. We are in the head of an unnamed man. This 1st, an unnamed character is introduced and described as; male, white, pale, hairless (routine), perfectionistic, loves karaoke, infatuated w. Bob Seger, and hates change. We meet him in a situation, where his world has fallen apart as he finds, that the (/his) karaoke machine has been removed.

Chapter: Embankment
Now we are at the actual tube. The 2nd character introduced – we are now in his head; Berto – He is new in London visiting Cathy, from Venice — met Cathy there. Even though they are not on the tube, the 3rd & 4th characters are introduced; Cathy — English, in an open relationship, Cathy’s boyfriend; Talks a lot, friendly. Berto is confused about his relationship with Cathy and her relationship with her boyfriend. Upsets Cathy for an unknown reason and she leaves him alone on the tube in London.

Chapter: Leicester Square
Flashback to a situation where the unnamed guy tries to find a new karaoke place to sing Bob Seger at, he fails. We find out he is disgusted by people, as they are all ugly and hairy. 

Chapter: Goodge Street
Berto is trying not to panic at the tube — tries to gather the courage to ask anyone for help, is scared no-one will understand him. Is scared to be laughed at. He is considering the fellow-tube-riders; “Old people are all deaf, the middle-aged man is half asleep and must be a drunk, he wants to ask a sympathetic person, a young woman, she is probably nice.”

Chapter: Euston
Now the 5th character; Denise (the young woman on the train) — she is both paranoid and scared. She is interpreting Berto as; dark-skinned, dark eyes, looks a bit like a model, but like all men a potential rapistA 6th character is briefly introduced; Neil (Denise’s boyfriend) — thinks Denise should relax. The unnamed guy is described by Denise as having curly blond hair. Denise feels like the unnamed guy and Barto are staring at her in the tube and she is very uncomfortable.

Chapter: Tufnell Park
The unnamed guy feels stared at by both Denise (snotty girl) and Barto (greasy monkey) and is getting really worked-up in his own head about some tape, that he hopes is strong enough…

Chapter: Archway
Barto is listening to his cassette with an Italian voice trying to teach him English.

Chapter: Highgate
Barto has finally gathered the courage to ask Denise for help, but she sees him approaching as a nightmare (almost) coming true. She rushes out of the train (one stop too early) and up the stairs just to find that ‘the man’ (Barto) didn’t follow her. She is frozen by fear and starts crying.

Chapter: East Finchley
As Barto passes the unnamed man in the tube, regretting he didn’t follow Cathy or got to ask Denise for help before she got off, he walks in the opposite direction of the train. The unnamed man stabs Barto with a kitchen knife wrapped around his wrist with tape. Before Barto realises what is happening, he is left to die on the floor of the train, and whilst watching his own blood forming a red line, he suddenly remembers how he could’ve found his way back home to Cathy’s place.

The short story was in 2014 published as a short movie of just 19 minutes:

I haven’t been able to get a hold of the full 19-minute version of the movie, but I think a combination of first the short story, then watching the movie, would enable students’ awareness of prejudices. The story itself is written in an easily understandable English, and with a little help from a glossary list and/or repetition of the new vocabulary, I think the students would find it easy to identify the actions, different persons and perspectives within the story as listed above chapter per chapter. Thus after discussing the story thoroughly, the students have created images in their heads of both the characters and their situations, most likely many of them can identify with the fears of the characters – I think no one can say that they have never been there; on a train, judging someone or feeling irrational fear. These discussions are important, especially if we want the students to be able to reflect on their own behaviors and attitudes, past and future. And the end goal would be for the students to receive some sort of critical political awareness, for example combining this module with The Red Line, with continuing to discussing how the media (incl. the Red Line film) affects our perceptions of certain groups of people.

Intercultural Competence in Foreign Languages

 

Reflection on Michael Byram’s text, The Intercultural Speaker and the Pedagogy of Foreign Language Education, chapter 18 of Intercultural Competence in Foreign Languages.

“The weakness in education for citizenship is the assumption that the focus of attention should be local and national, that political literacy means knowledge about processes and institutions within one’s own school, neighborhood, and state/country, and activity should be focused at one or more of these levels. There is nothing surprising in this sense education systems are usually national and were formed with the intention of creating identification with nation-states. But this is now a weakness in the contemporary world of global economies and international organizations, both civic and political” – Michael Byram

The intercultural speaker is a speaker that possess a linguistic proficiency but also an intercultural competence when engaging cross-culturally, thus has no connection with the term native speaker. Michael Byram has created a 5-dimensional model (beneath) to showcase the desired skills of the intercultural speaker (or learner). The categories are divided as follow:

  • Skills of interpreting/relating
  • Skills of discovery/interaction
  • Attitudes-curiosity/openness

  • Knowledge
  • Critical cultural awareness

Worth stressing is, the final dimension mentioned, critical cultural awareness, can be compared to the German educational tradition Bildung aiming of encouraging learners to reflect critically on the society, and this is also one of the most important elements of intercultural citizenship education, thus the category/dimension is placed at the centre of the model, as it is absolutely essential to ensure language teaching has an intercultural – It is essential and ensures that language teaching has an intercultural educational purpose.

Model: Michael Byram’s ICC (Intercultural Competence)-Model

The additional dimensions don’t require a specific priority of the teacher, rather an individual “when it makes sense” implementation.

Worth noting is that Rathje (2007) and others criticise the term intercultural competence as there isn’t any officially-agreed definitive definition, which makes the teaching of it, too soft and unsystematic, thus the models or definitions thereof becomes a contradiction of itself according to Rathje.

“The problem with taking a national culture and identity as the basis for teaching intercultural competences is not, therefore, the problem of essentializing or reductionism. The problem lies in the exclusive focus on one identity and the assumption that, in interaction in a foreign language, it is the only identity present.” – Michael Byram

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.

 

Intercultural Learning

Reflection on the first lesson we were introduced to Michael Byram.

The Intercultural Speaker

An intercultural speaker is, according to Byram, a substitute for what used to be strived for (native speaker). “The phrase intercultural speaker was coined by Byram and Zarate in a working paper written for a group preparing what eventually became the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages of the Council of Europe (2001).“ (Byram, p.321). An intercultural speaker is – simply – a person who posses intercultural competencies. An intercultural speaker knows about conventions of communication and evaluation of phenomenon and knows about social distinctions and their principal markers.

 

Mediating between cultures/nations

Mediating between cultures is something that occurs when two interlocutors communicate and misunderstandings in fx. cultural differences are apparent. The resolvent of those misunderstandings by an intercultural speaker with strong intercultural competence is called mediating.

 

Shift towards students’ learning process

Due to a paradigm shift, there was a change in the view on teaching in general, where the focus shifted from teaching being content centered, to being student-centered.

 

Byram’s 5 Dimensions of the ICC-Model and Common Objectives to match

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  1. Skill of interpreting/relating: Eleven har viden om potentielle konfliktpunkter i kulturmøder
  2. Skills of discovery / interacting: Eleven kan agere i spontane internationale kulturmødes
  3. Knowledge: Eleven har viden om sproglige regler, normer og værdier i forskellige kulturer og samfund
  4. Attitudes: Eleven nysgerrig efter at høre andre typer af engelsk
  5. Critical Cultural Awareness: Eleven kan give eksempler på forskelle og ligheder mellem kultur- og samfundsforhold i eget land og i engelsksprogede områder. Eleven kan vurdere engelsksprogede tekster i forhold til genre og sprogbrug.

 

Criticism of the ICC-Model

The model has been criticised for its national orientation and ‘knowledge of the dominant culture in society’ (Matuso, 2012; Risager 2007; Spitzberg & Changnon, 2009) because the national and holistic perception of culture may lead to stereotyping and essentialist interpretations of intercultural encounters.

 

Intercultural Citizenship Education in Foreign Language Education

The undeniable structure of our societies, in the western world, is that of a multiculturalistic society. As the text mentions students, up until the paradigm shift, were not familiar or in direct contact with political processes: in Europe, there was a need to educate whole populations about the meaning of democracy, as many people had grown up without access to democratic processes.

There was a need to educate for an active citizen that could take part in society. Such a citizen is to be equipped with rational thought and critical evaluation of the subject matter. The intercultural citizenship term is an awareness that to be this active citizen in a multiculturalistic society, we need to be able to properæy “deal” with the diverse and plentiful cultures they will meet in their everyday life in their own society. As well, it’s important to note that we educate not only national citizens, but, more so and in addition to, global citizens, and these as well, perhaps even more so, need to be equipped with these skills, knowledge, and attitudes.
Critical cultural awareness according to Alred et al. promotes the importance of individuals being aware of their own ideology – political and/or religious – and the need to be explicit about and justify one’s criteria for evaluating other people’s actions, or the documents and events of other cultures, as well as one’s own (Alred et al., 2006, p. 124).