Term Paper, 2012
10 Pages, Grade: 1,3
II. The importance of intercultural competence
III. Literary texts and intercultural competence
Intercultural competence has become the key competence of the 21th century. All German Bundesländer have added this term to their school curriculum and included it in their foreign language learning classrooms. Culture is conceived through language and by that an important element of the foreign language learning process. Communicating with someone from a different part of the world is not only based on knowing his or her language but also on understanding where this person comes from. Therefore it has become essential to help foreign language learners to create a cultural profile as an orientation and a guideline for the diverse cultures of their target language. In particular this is mostly achieved through the work with authentic literary texts and its influence on the learner’s knowledge and thought.
By regarding language as a “[…] social practice, culture becomes the very core of language teaching.” (Kramsch 1993, 8) and has its main goal in conveying tolerance and acceptance for foreign cultures and their way of life.
In this paper I will focus on the importance of intercultural competence in our today’s multicultural society and the aspect of literary texts through which it can be conveyed in a foreign language (FL) classroom.
On the basis of the increasing multiculturalism and internationalization students will in future times be confronted with foreign countries, cultures as well as their economic and social systems. The circumstance that we have to associate with people of foreign backgrounds, to deal with their behavior and way of thinking can evolve amazement as well as bewilderment in us. Cultural differences have an enormous effect on communication and are indeed of high importance when it comes to learning a foreign language. In addition it is not only necessary to obtain awareness for interculturality in a FL classroom but is helpful in many more areas of a student’s life. Maletzke (1996,16) defined culture briefly as: “ […] die Art und Weise, wie die Menschen leben und was sie aus sich selbst und ihrer Welt machen.“ Consequently the main aim of conveying intercultural competence is to sensitize the learner’s perception for the norms and values of different cultures and for the ability to appropriately accept and respect them.
Students are often not aware of the fact that different cultures have other action patterns in certain situations than we do. Hence people tend to think that one’s own way of life is the only thinkable and reasonable possibility. Misinterpretation should be avoided and the students’ sympathy for the new and foreign ought to be encouraged. Our values are not only marked by our own ideas but rather by the cultural environment we live in. Each and every culture has its very own values in the areas of life. For instance these areas include work, nature, religion, social relations, food, time, language etc. and are being perceived differently wherever we go. As a result different cultures put different emphasize on certain areas in their lives since their perception of the world and its surroundings differs from ours.
Nevertheless we are very often not aware of the effects we have on our fellow man. When it comes to contact between two or more cultures each part tries to distinguish oneself from the other. This basically causes “[…] zumeist positive Selbstbilder (Autostereotype) und negative Fremdbilder (Heterostereotype). Solche Abgrenzungsmechanismen, […], stellen ein erhebliches Hindernis für erfolgreiches interkulturelles Handeln dar.” (Erll/Gymnich 2007, 72). We have to keep in mind that stereotypes are not completely reprehensible but rather a helpful system to organize and process new information. Still we should always remember that stereotypes distort reality and should be dealt with carefully in order to prevent us from putting up barriers. When approaching a different culture students need to learn to be open-minded, to observe and to consume as many information as they can get. Accordingly intercultural competence is in the case of stereotypes conveyed through the awareness of a distorted self-image and the generalized picture of the foreign culture.
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