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

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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).