Intercultural encounters in foreign language teaching

Analysis of a school exchange to Cullingworth as a means to promote the development of ICC

Term Paper, 2005

19 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Main Part
2.1. The Development of ICC as a Goal of FLT with the Ideal of the Intercultural Speaker
2.2. Intercultural Encounters as a Means to Promote the Development of ICC
2.3. The Stolzenau School Exchange in the Light of an ICC Promoting Encounter Design
2.3.1. General Principles for the Design of Encounters
2.3.2. Preparation Phase
2.3.3. Encounter Phase
2.3.4. Post Encounter Phase

3. Conclusion Works Cited

1. Introduction

This term paper will analyse a student exchange to England, carried out by a grammar school in Stolzenau, as an encounter program promoting Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC). First, it will present the development of ICC as one main goal of the contemporary Foreign Language Teaching (FLT) and will define the intercultural speaker as its ideal. Furthermore it will give a short overview on the targeted knowledge, skills, attitudes and educational aims behind this concept, and will introduce school exchanges as one mean to facilitate the development of ICC. The ensuing paragraphs will deal with principles of the design of encounters. They will present important factors, prerequisites and practical options for organizing exchanges. These principles will lay the foundation of an evaluation of the Stolzenau exchange to Cullingworth trying to establish a connection between theory and practice.

2. Main Part

2.1 The Development of ICC as a Goal of FLT with the Ideal of the Intercultural


The development of Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) is one major objective in temporary Foreign Language Teaching (FLT), playing an important role in German framework directives for foreign language teaching,[1] as well as on a European level, embedded in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.[2] Its ideal is the intercultural speaker, a model for learners which is not oriented towards a native speaker,[3] but can be described as an interlocutor able to participate in intercultural communication and interaction, to mediate between cultural identifications or to critically negotiate them.[4]

The notion of the intercultural speaker can be characterized in more detail by Michael Byram´s model of ICC, which describes five essential factors in intercultural communication, the so called savoirs.[5] In terms of knowledge he must be familiar with social groups and their cultures in his own country, as well as with those of his interlocutor’s country.[6] Furthermore he must possess knowledge concerning processes of interaction at individual and societal levels.[7] An intercultural speaker must be skilled to interpret texts and incidents from a foreign culture and to relate them to his own culture,[8] as well as to discover and to interact. The skill of discovery enables him to recognize culturally significant foreign phenomena and to understand their meanings, connotations and relationship to other phenomena.[9] The skill of interaction encompasses the establishment of relationships, the handling of real-time communication, the management of communication dysfunctions and mediation in general.[10]. Further preconditions of ICC are the attitudes of curiosity and openness, the readiness to suspend disbelief and judgement with others´ meanings, beliefs and behaviour, and to esteem other people and cultures.[11] Intercultural speakers must be able to relativise their own culture, “to dismantle their prevalent structure of subjective reality and to re-construct it according to new norms”.[12] The core of Byram´s ICC concept consists of political education and the development of a critical cultural awareness, empowering the intercultural speaker to critically reflect and evaluate cultures, including his own.[13]

2.2 Intercultural Encounters as a Means to Promote the Development of ICC

The best way to train learners´ ICC and to support their becoming of intercultural speakers are intercultural encounters, which establish contact with persons from a different cultural group.[14] Personal relationships to foreigners deliver insight in unfamiliar cultures and their value system, and can act as a mirror for the reflection of the own culture group.[15] Cultural preconceptions can be asserted and encountered, and the discovery of differences and similarities can break down barriers and false perceptions.[16] Especially for younger learners this holds the opportunity to become independent of biased parental opinions and gain their mental autonomy.[17] Moreover, the interaction provided by intercultural encounters illuminates the mutual perceptions of the respective cultures.[18] Furthermore, encounters are situations, in which “the meaning and symbols of culture have no primordial unity or fixity”, but have to be constantly appropriated, translated, rehistoricized and negotiated, what presupposes effective communication.[19] In addition, encounters can facilitate international understanding and serve peacekeeping.[20]

The traditional aims of encounters and exchanges, the practical application and promotion of linguistic knowledge and skills[21], are indirectly supportive of ICC, too. Practice and promotion of linguistic skills are always useful, because ICC demands performance in a foreign language, and due to the fact that the linguistic element is a decisive necessity for ICC development.[22] In addition, encounters can be a motivating experience, which may strengthen an existing interest in the foreign language or show a different approach to language learning.[23] Often, encounters also cause an increase of learners´ self-esteem[24], which can benefit the willingness to interact and encourage an attitude of openness.

Finally, encounters are advantageous from a psychological point of view, because learners have own authentic experiences, which are superior to mere knowledge transfer or textual mediated experiences, since they establish an affective connection to information.[25]

Put in a nutshell, encounters have effects on all aforementioned factors of Byram´s model and thus are an ideal method to promote learners´ ICC.

2.3. The Stolzenau School Exchange in the Light of an ICC Promoting Encounter Design

The forthcoming paragraphs will analyse the school exchange of a grammar school in Stol-zenau, which was part of a COMENIUS-project titled “Youth Culture in a European Comparison”[26]. They will present principles of an ICC supportive encounter design in order to subsequently draw on the Stolzenau exchange.

2.3.1. General Principles for the Design of Encounters

In contrary to the refuted culture contact hypothesis, which proclaimed the amount of contact as decisive for the development of ICC, empirical research proves the significance of encounter conditions for an intercultural learning process.[27] Thus, special attention has to be paid to a didactic of the encounter, which avoids a mere tourist view, delivers insight into foreign cultures and focuses on the negotiation of meaning.[28]

Several factors play an important role for the success of an encounter, for example the age of the learners, their linguistic competence, their current intercultural competence and the quality and quantity of previous visits abroad. Also, the degree of similarity between home and host town in terms of cultural and socio-economic conditions, and subjective aspects like the students´ character are of importance.[29] Yet, time is the ultimate factor in respect of preparation and duration of the stay, as well as concerning the potential outcome.[30]

In order to facilitate the development of critical cultural awareness, encounters should be subdivided into a preparation phase, an actual encounter phase and post-encounter phase, each with activities which orient towards Byram´s five savoires.[31]

As a basic thematic rule for encounters, intercultural encounters should try to tie with the environment the learners are familiar with, for example family, school, and peer group.[32] These are the decisive areas in which students are used to make experiences and to come to terms with them, so cultural deviations on these levels can be easily recognized, described and evaluated.[33]

Cultural comparisons should be governed by the accentuation of detected similarities, since they are the basis for empathy and joint cooperative acts.[34] Therefore, a preparation of learners for “critical incidents” should be avoided, because it might have negative effects on the participants´ attitude towards differentness and otherness, or strengthen existing stereotypes[35] Thus, it could hinder an attitude of openness and become a burden for the relationship to foreign participants. Such a preparation poses problems from a psychological point of view as well, because an approach mainly focussing on problems may lead to inhibitions and to a negative motivation of learners.

Furthermore, cultural differences should be regarded in a positive light in order to show learners that there are always several ways to achieve goals or to solve problems, depending on national preconditions, traditions, conventions and needs.[36] This prevents one-track thinking and counters an unfounded belief in the existence of a silver bullet or ideal solution, which is unfortunately often assumed by learners and maintained by everyday life at school.[37]

On the linguistic level, a turning away from the high ideal of linguistic accuracy and a certain error tolerance are necessary to let learners overcome their inhibitions, and to allow genuine communication as well as the negotiation of cultural, social and political identifyca-tions and representations.[38]

The design of the Stolzenau school exchange shows a transfer of these principles. The developed teaching unit for preparation, monitoring and review of the trip to Cullingworth mirrors the described trichotomy.[39] The program tied to the familiar living conditions of the students by contact to peers and by attendance to a foreign school.[40] It also led to the discovery of cultural similarities and of a principal homogeneity of the German and English students.[41]

2.3.2 Preparation Phase

The main objectives of the preparation phase are to let the participants get to know each other, to create curiosity, and to get the students in the right mood for the trip.[42] The phase must not be disturbed or too short in order to establish a pleasant atmosphere which encourages learners to engage in the encounter and in intercultural communication.[43] A good way to achieve this and to break up existing national groups, is to establish teams according to overlapping categories, by which students unite in respect of shared interests or hobbies.[44] Beneficial for a relaxed atmosphere and a positive attitude of the students are strategies to reduce anxiety and diffuse fears connected with the exchange, especially to provide students with sufficient information.[45]


[1] Fellmann, Gabriela: „Jugendkultur im europäischen Vergleich“ – Förderung interkultureller Handlungs- und Kommunikationskompetenz im Rahmen eines Comenius Projektes. unpublished, but in press, 2005, 1

[2] Council of Europe: Common European Framework of Reference for Language., 102-106, comp . Byram, Michael: Teaching and Accessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Clevedon et al.: Multilingual Matters, 1997, 25 et seqq.

[3] Byram, 32; Guilherme, Manuela: „Intercultural Competence“. Routledge Encyclopaedia of Language Teaching and Learning. Ed. Michael Byram. London, New York: Routledge 2000, 299

[4] Byram, 32; Guilherme, 298; Müller-Hartmann, Andreas / Grau, Meike: „Nur Tourist sein oder den Dialog wagen? Interkulturelles Lernen in der Begegnung“. Der fremdsprachliche Unterricht Englisch 70 2004, 4

[5] for an overview: Byram, 34

[6] Byram, 35; Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 3

[7] Byram, 35

[8] Byram, 37; Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 3

[9] Byram, 38; Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 3,4

[10] Byram, 38; Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 4

[11] Byram, 34; Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 3

[12] Byram, 34; Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 3

[13] Byram, 46; Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 4, Guilherme, 299

[14] Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 8, Roberts, Celia: “Cultural Studies and Student Exchange: Living the Ethnographic Life”. Culture and Learning in Higher Education. Ed. Michael Byram. Clevedon et al.: Multilingual Matters, 1994, 11; Bade, Claudia: Internationaler Schüleraustausch als Kulturbegegnung. Hamburg: Krämer 2001, 81

[15] compare Bade, 81

[16] Dodd, Claire: “Working in Tandem: An Anglo-French Project”. Developing Intercultural Competence in Practice. Ed. Byram, Michael et al. Clevedon et al.: Multilingual Matters 2001, 172

[17] Dodd, 172

[18] Guilherme, 298

[19] Guilherme, 298

[20] Müller-Hartmann / Grau,2; Wicke, Rainer: „Von der Studienfahrt über den Schüleraustausch zur Städtepartnerschaft“. Über die Grenze: Praktisches Lernen im Fremdsprachlichen Unterricht. Ed. Christoph Edelhoff / Eckart Leiban. Weinheim, Basel: Beltz 1988, 192, Byram, 25 for European aims

[21] Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 2

[22] Guilherme, 298, Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 4

[23] Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 3

[24] Bade, 77; Fellmann, 14

[25] compare Büttner, Gerd / Lenzen, Klaus-Dieter / Schulz, Gerhild: Einfach sprachlos – Interkulturelle Begegnung zwischen Grundschulkindern in Deutschland und Frankreich. Von der Erfahrung zum Modell. Münster, New York: Waxmann 1995, 71; Roberts, 12

[26] Fellmann, 1

[27] Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 2

[28] Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 2, Fellmann, 1 with reference to Grau

[29] Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 4 with reference to Salvadori

[30] Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 3,4; Byram, Michael / Morgan, Carol et al.: Teaching-and-Learning-Language-and-Culture. Clevedon et al.: Multilingual Matters, 1994, 57

[31] Müller-Hartmann, / Grau, 7

[32] Büttner/ Lenzen / Schulz, 68

[33] compare Büttner/ Lenzen / Schulz, 68

[34] Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 4; Fellmann, 14; Böth, Gunhild: Schulpartnerschaften – Der Beitrag der Schulpartnerschaften zum Interkulturellen Lernen. Münster et al.: Waxmann 2001, 62

[35] Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 4

[36] Böth, 80

[37] Böth 80

[38] Dodd, 174; compare Fellmann, 14

[39] Fellmann, 6

[40] Fellmann, 6

[41] Fellmann, 14

[42] Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 7; Müller-Hartmann, Andreas: “The Role of Tasks in Promoting Intercultural Learning in Electronic Learning Networks”. Language Learning & Technology Vol. 4, No.2 September 2000, 136

[43] Bade, 73; Müller-Hartmann, 136 concerning the importance of the personal level in exchanges

[44] Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 5, Müller-Hartmann, 136

[45] Müller-Hartmann / Grau, 2, Böth, 44

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Intercultural encounters in foreign language teaching
Analysis of a school exchange to Cullingworth as a means to promote the development of ICC
University of Hannover
Intercultural Learning in the English Language Classroom
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ISBN (Book)
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Anmerkung der Dozentin: Excellent work! You could, however, integrate examples of improvement.
Intercultural, Learning, English, Language, Classroom
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Dipl.Jurist Marco Sievers (Author), 2005, Intercultural encounters in foreign language teaching , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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