Teaching Intercultural Communicative Competence with a Textbook

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2011

21 Pages, Grade: 13,00 Punkte


1. Introduction

The transcultural approach takes as its point of departure the interwoven character of cultures as a common condition for the whole world: cultures penetrate each other in changing combinations by virtue of extensive migration and tourism, world wide communication systems for mass and private communication, economic interdependence, and the globalisation of the production of goods. [...] The transcultural approach focuses on the life of individuals and groups in contexts characterised by more or less cultural and linguistic complexity: television channels, the city street, the multicultural classroom, the supermarket – situations where the target language is used, but in such a way that learners also become aware of other languages being used (English in Germany, French in Britain, etc.). [...] The ideal is still the mediator’s competence: intercultural and communicative competence, but with new tasks: the competence to use the language as contact language in all kind of situations characterised by cultural and linguistic complexity, among others as a lingua franca in international and interethnic communication. (Risager 1998: 448)

Why do I quote a definition of transcultural learning in a paper about intercultural communicative competence? On the one hand this indicates the paradigm shift which is taking place in the FLT and on the other hand I believe that the more appropriate definition of transcultural learning is still compatible with the existing intercultural “tools” that I will use for the analysis of teaching materials. However, from my point of view, culture – regardless of whether it is foreign or one’s own – should be viewed and taught in non-essentialist and rather narrative-constructionist terms (cf. Hu 2009). Although intercultural concepts tend to essentialism and reductionism and thus run the risk of constructing artificial ethnic differences and stereotypes, the existing models are quite useful for teaching purposes as well as for the purpose of this paper which is to analyse a textbook for German high school in order to find out more about its potential to help develop ICC. In my view, using both terms interchangeably is acceptable as long as one considers culture to be a dynamic, negotiable phenomenon (cf. Freitag 2008). Regarding the actual teaching I agree with Hu (2009) that intercultural concepts in spite of their deficits cannot and should not be replaced immediately, but gradually with the narrative-constructive concepts of intercultural learning in mind. The national KMK-Bildungsstandards (2010: 12f.) set rather high standards for ICC emphasising the role of literature and diversity of texts in developing ICC. Landeskunde should be taught as well, but not only to impart fact knowledge, but to enable students to communicate in real intercultural situations.

Generally speaking, the task of a teacher is to prepare his students for the challenges of future life and they are definitely going to take place in a globalized, inter- or transcultural world. According to the White Paper on Intercultural Learning by the Council of Europe, in a democracy, we do not only have the opportunity, but the duty to act as active, responsible, reflective and self-critical citizens, respectful of others and to help build a peaceful, democratic world. (2008: 29). I think that helping students to achieve this aim is best done by enhancing their discourse ability (more in chapter 2.1)

Since the most common way of teaching EFL in Germany is by using a textbook (cf. Kurtz 2010), this paper will try to find out how well this can be done in regard to developing ICC based on the realities of the FL classroom. In order to do so first of all we have to clarify the basic theoretical concepts which are needed to understand the idea of intercultural communication and consequently the competences which are required for the successful accomplishment of that interactive task. In a second step I will conduct a small qualitative research exploring and evaluating both the theoretical ICC learning models and the textbook New Context. The criteria will be based on Hallet’s model of culture as discourse, Byram’s model of ICC, Indiana Textbook Evaluation Guide and Moran’s five dimensional model of culture.

2. Teaching Intercultural Communicative Competence in German Highschool – Analysis of a Teaching Unit

2.1. Theoretical Foundations

As mentioned before the essentialist point of view can be neglected since it naturalizes phenomena, which are rather products or in fact dynamic processes of social construction. The decision which constructionist definition to chose is still fairly difficult, since hardly any definition accounts for all the elements and facets of the highly complex phenomenon called culture. Therefore every single definition is in a way simplifying, but there are some useful approaches like Hallet’s (2007) cultural didactic approach. By focusing on learners as cultural agents and emphasising their active role in the classroom interaction it meets the requirements of the European Foreign Language Education Standards. We can assume that learners always participate in social and cultural discourses, no matter if they take place inside or outside of the classroom. On the one hand their prior knowledge, their world views as well as their interests affect every learning process in some way. On the other hand the classroom discourses affect the learners’ construction of identity. And this in turn affects all the cultural conceptions and perspectives in the real world. Therefore educators must create teaching arrangements, which are related to real world discourses. This concerns relevant topics such as work, citizenship and living environment and can best be put into practice through tasks (cf. Hallet 2007: 33f.).

Since any kind of intercultural contact ultimately leads to a change of the original views, we should better speak of transcultural exchanges, which are to be understood as a reciprocal exchange of cultural patterns, concepts and ideas (ibid.: 35). The FL classroom is a good example of such processes. The discursive exchange takes place among other things through discussion of learner texts. Hallet (2007) differentiates between multiple discourse spheres: the heterogeneous social life sphere of the learners, which is nevertheless characterised by some shared experiences and shared meanings (e.g. of adolescents); the discursive and cultural world of the FL texts and other media, which is - due to the world occurrence of the English language - very complex; the globalized sphere of the transcultural discourses shared through the medium of the English language, the afore mentioned lingua franca. This is the frame within which the cultural learning takes place. Under such circumstances the processes are ultimately transcultural and the classroom becomes a “third space” (cf. Hallet 2007: 36). A text-based FLT must also adapt to these circumstances by providing equally diverse texts, modes and media which should enter into interplay with the transcultural learners. If they really want to become able to participate in the transcultural world, they must develop not only intertextual, but also intermedial compentences, especially the visual ones.

Hallet (2007: 39) states that a simple presentation of the multimodal texts is not enough, and criticizes that both learners and teachers unfortunately lack the theoretical background needed for decoding and interpreting them. Another problem is that in the FL classroom culture is generally (apart from travels to foreign countries) represented only through its material dimension, i.e. texts, symbols and artefacts. However, if we view culture from the discursive perspective described above, teaching and learning culture by the use of texts can become a motivating and productive matter. Hallet refers to a model of culture by Posner consisting of three dimensions: the mental, social and material one, but I consider the five dimensional model of culture described by Moran (2003) more suitable for the classroom. As we should see it is also perfectly compatible with Hallet’s (2007) discursive cultural approach. Although Byram’s (1997: 48) definition of discourse competence is quite narrow and not discussed explicitly, the three competences (linguistic, sociolinguistic and discourse competence) described by him are all contained in Hallet’s (2007) definition of culture as a discourse, which understands discourse in a broader sense.

Moran’s understanding of culture is a synthesis of various views resulting in a broad social constructionist definition saying: “Culture is the evolving way of life of a group of persons, consisting of a shared set of practices associated with a shared set of products, based upon a shared set of perspectives on the world, and set within specific social contexts.” (2003: 24). Beside the three classical components of culture – products, practices and perspectives, the people and the historical dimension are the crucial factors in the dynamic process of creating cultural phenomena. Basically, the problem that we encounter when dealing with intercultural learning is that we embed cultures within national or ethnical boundaries. There is no reason why we should not take another set of categories, for instance, social class and define culture according to it. Social and economic status together with education can often be the common ground for mutual understanding between members of different nationalities and speakers of different mother tongues, whereas members of different social classes within one nation-state can have nothing in common at all.[1] Moran (2003: 28) integrates his definition into the “iceberg model” of culture, where he places a big part of the perspective dimension under and the rest above the surface. The advantage of this model is that each of the five dimensions (instead of only three) constitutes a clear, accessible content area, which can help identify the complete content of cultural experience teachers present to learners (ibid: 28f.). Each of the five dimensions is of course connected to language in so far as language is used in specific ways to e.g. describe and manipulate cultural products or participate in cultural practices (cf. Moran 2003: 34f.). Learners should become able to identify these connections and use language according to the four language functions: language to participate in the culture, language to describe the culture, language to interpret the culture and language to respond to the culture (ibid: 39). Hereby learning ICC also means learning about one’s own culture and culture in general.[2]


[1] Indeed, we can use Moran’s categories to analyse social classes in order to gain inter- or transcultural competence. This is what social workers have to do in order to communicate and work with their clients successfully (unless they happen to come from the same social class as their clients and are thereby already competent in intercultural and “intersocial” communication).

[2] Moran’s approach is described in further detail in chapter 2.4.

Excerpt out of 21 pages


Teaching Intercultural Communicative Competence with a Textbook
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen  (Institut für Anglistik)
Developing Intercultural Communicative Competence in the EFL Classroom
13,00 Punkte
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
537 KB
The purpose of this paper is to analyse a textbook used for TEFL in German high schools in order to find out more about its potential to help develop ICC.
Intercultural Communication, Teaching Intercultural Communicative Competence, TEFL
Quote paper
Irina Maric (Author), 2011, Teaching Intercultural Communicative Competence with a Textbook, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/204687


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