Intercultural Communicative Competence. Picture Books in the Primary EFL-Classroom

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2019

18 Pages, Grade: 2


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The terms ‘culture’ and ‘ICC’

3. The importance of ICC in general

4. Stereotypes regarding two example out- groups

5. ICC and the primary school

6. ICC and picture books
6.1 The term ‘picture book’
6.2 Picture books as a key for learning ICC

7. “The TigerChild”
7.1 Culture within “The Tiger Child”
-> necessary thematic excursion on tiger facts
7.1.1 Karma and caste
7.2 Teaching idea

8. Conclusion

9. Bibliography
9.1 Internetsources

1. Introduction

"I have this intuitive sense of other people, no matter what their culture." (seminar slides, 10-4-19, p. 23). Despite of this statement, culture is of relevance. The primary school should lay the foundations for an intercultural communicative competence (ICC). In this work I analyse the usage of a picture book as a key to develop ICC in primary schools with an ‘English as a Foreign Language’ setting.

In the paper at hand, the approach is rather humanistic and based on literature studies. It serves for a broad introduction into the relations of culture and education and is structured in the following way: First we will define the terms culture and ICC more closely. A lot of details will deal with what ICC is about. Then I present two examples of greater out- groups which have to face prejudices. The next point will deal with the connection of ICC and the primary school, which is followed by the link of ICC with picture books. Moreover, there is a detailed analysis ofJoanna Troughton’s “The Tiger Child” in relation to the given context. Last but not least, a creative teaching idea for a couple of lessons, thematising “The Tiger Child”, is presented and the work is ended with a compact conclusion.

Among the most important resources are the Byram (1997) work, books of facts like the Enc. Britannica and the seminar slides.

2. The terms ‘culture’ and ‘ICC’

To begin with, we have to clarify what culture means. The Oxford English Dictionary (2006) speaks of culture as “1 the arts and other instances of human intellectual achievement regarded as a whole. 2 a refined understanding or appreciation of this. 3 the art, customs, ideas, and social behaviour of a nation, people, or group: Afro- Carribbean culture....” The "Pyramid of mental programming" model by Hofstede & Hofstede (2005) specifies culture as specific to a group or category- a learned field or dimension- lying on a basis called "human nature" which is universal and inherited. “Personality” forms the top of this pyramid as something which is specific to the individual and learned but also inherited (cf. seminar slides, 10-4-19, p.19).

With ICC we come to another complex concept. To put it into a nutshell, intercultural communicative competence (ICC) "refers to the ability to understand cultures, including your own, and use this understanding to communicate with people from other cultures successfully." (actual British Council website).

The BW- curriculum (cf. Bildungsplan Baden Württemberg 2016) emphasises “interkulturelle Kompetenz” (intercultural competence) as an important aim in all primary classes.

Byram (1997) outlines the "factors in intercultural communication" as a cross offields (cf. Byram 1997, p. 34 ff.). The right field "attitudes", is about the attitudes towards people who are perceived as culturally different. In the status quo, such viewpoints are often full of prejudices and stereotypes which leads to an interaction which is unsuccessful. Being curious and open, helps to decentre, that means to see oneselffrom the others' viewpoint. The own experience is relativised, while the others' is valued. The attitudes factor is interdependent to the other fields on the cross- while an increase in the field of knowledge does not create positive attitudes automatically.

The knowledge aspect on the left side basically denotes on knowledge about social groups with their cultures in the own but also in the communication partner's country. On the other hand, it is about meta knowledge ofthe interactive processes on a societal and individual level. Cultural knowledge is never objective- it is acquired through socialisation, and usually relational- that means it is acquired in the own social circles as contrast schemes to the own identity. The dimension covers declarative and procedural knowledge.

Up on the cross there is the "skills- interpret and relate" dimension. It is about interpreting 'documents' in a wide sense. Depending on knowledge ofthe own and the foreign environment, interpretation means to discover a common basis, concepts which are easy to translate, but also dysfunctions, with a mutually contradictory sense.

Down on the cross there are the "skills ofdiscovery and interaction". Hereby, interaction with a communication partner is involved- whereas the upper skills can be limited to work on documents. Therefore, the time dimension, compared with the upper skills field, is restricted as we have an interaction. The skill ofdiscovery plays a role, where a person has no, or only a limited knowledge base. It is about an understanding of documents or interactions. Discovery means to identify significant phenomena in a foreign culture- including exotic ones. The skill of interaction consists of the ability to manage the constraints of time and perceptions of both talking partners.

The interplay of the described fields generates the intercultural speaker, who establishes relationships, manages dysfunctions and has the role of a mediator between cultures- and can be distinguished from the native speaker.

Byram’s education field in the centre ofthe cross includes the dimensions "political education" and "critical cultural awareness".

Politics (cf. Byram 1997, p. 43 ff.) follow a cognitive, an evaluative and an action orientation. The first aspect is about acquiring concepts, knowledge and ways of analysis regarding phenomena from the politics. The next point is about the explaining and mediating of values in order to make political decisions. The last concept simply means to develop the ability and willingness to engage politically.

A very new point in the relation to the other fields on the cross makes the evaluative dimension. Byram states that there is not a particular perspective which is imposed, but an international standpoint on human rights and peace education can be helpful. The latter viewpoints "... help(s) all language teachers and learners to avoid the trap of cultural relativism." (Byram 1997, p. 46). The last term in this quotation means in this context that tolerance should not outweigh international principles on human rights, whereas one could argue that these principles are sometimes a bit fuzzy.

3. The importance of ICC in general

ICC is of great importance for all ages in our globalized world to ensure successful communication and to avoid misunderstandings in all fields of life- be it job- related or private.

We all have to face the role of an intercultural mediator (see above) between cultures to avoid conflicts and to discover common values. Examples for globally spread common values could be the interest in peace, altruism or a respect towards nature. Conflicts are avoided due to the connection of ICC with the important fields of empathy with people with a foreign culture but also the ability to decentre (see above). Moreover, ICC means to gain an ethnorelative viewpoint (cf. seminar slides, 10-4-19, p. 20 ff.) which leads to benefits for the global village. Whereas in ethnocentric stages, a cultural difference is denied, defended against or minimized, in ethnorelative stages, cultural difference is accepted, adapted or even integrated. Acceptance basically means that our own culture is seen as one of many cultures which are equally complex. Adaptation is about the expansion of worldviews in order to understand other cultures and to behave appropriately. Integration is defined as the sovereign ability to move in and out of different cultural worldviews and to comprehend one’s own cultural marginality.

4. Stereotypes regarding two example out- groups

Now a few words to the issue what ICC aims for, why superficial cultural stereotypes can be very problematic. In advance, we have to recognize that stereotypes are fundamental simplifications as part of human nature (cf. seminar slides, 17-4-19, p.8).

According to the Palestinian thinker Edward Said (1935 - 2003), the ‘construction’ of the Orient (cf. Meyer 2011, p. 196, 197) led to positive autostereotypes of European people and negatively connotated heterostereotypes of Oriental people. These viewpoints have a long tradition, especially playing a role to justify colonialism in the past. When we talk about the “clash of civilisations” today, we have “ ’’enlightened” Western and “backward” Islamic cultures” in mind- which invigorates the orientalist thesis of opposite cultures, ignoring the fact of “hybrid and heterogenous” (Meyer 2011, p. 197) cultures.

The actuality ofthe thinking scheme, criticised by Said, becomes clear when we look on a recent election poster ofthe German ultra-right party AfD (cf. Goldmann 2019, Bento story). You can see an old- fashioned oil painting with a naked woman, standing fearful within a group ofwild, darkly skinned men. In a defenceless way, she is exposed to their views and touching- obviously Arabic slave traders, doing their barbaric work. The text comment claims: "Damit aus Europa kein 'Eurabien' wird" (Europe shouldn't get Eurabia).

The painting is called "Le Marché d'esclaves" - The slave market. It comes from the year 1866 and it is based on the fantasy ofthe French artist Jean- Léon Géröme. The picture has no documentary or serious character, but merely fulfils the erotic desires ofthe European audience in those days. It is not a far step from opposing a whole world of ideas and customs- like the Islamic world- to oppose people with migration background from the according world areas. 2015, at the height ofthe migrant movements from the Middle East, statistics counted 1031 offences against asylum accommodations in Germany (Fokus report, 7-11-2017).

Likewise, stereotypes on Native Americans (cf. Alter 2014, p. 152 ff.), which appear to be harmless, carry a problematic potential. In common literature and media, Indians always wear feathers on their head, have a leather dress and never walk in a normal way- they are on a run or on an escape, theyjump on trees and always have to face dangers. These aspects in connection with supposedly Indian names like "Big Bear", lead to a de- humanisation. Herewith, indigenous people are seen as backward and simpleminded, this can lead to clearly rassistic tendencies, like in Rosa's Uncle Scrooge adventures from 2007 ("the war ofthe Wenidgo"), based on Carl Barks "Land ofthe Pygmy Indians." from 1957. Here the Indians live untouched by civilisation, are wild and half- naked and intend to kill the protagonists.

Another problem is the lack of differentiation, when we talk about "the Indian" which connotates a 'pan- Indian mash', ignoring the diversity ofthe tribes and languages. First Nations, are more respectful term, combine modernity with tradition and carry a lot ofworthy knowledge about nature, medical plants, etc. Their respect towards the planet is commendable- we should keep this more profound positive stereotype in mind to gain a balanced view.

5. ICC and the primary school

To learn and enlarge one's individual ICC is a life-long process. Especially the primary school plays an important role for learning ICC. The next points will explain why.

First and foremost, we have to recognize that children face multiculturalism right within their class. The number offoreign pupils in German primary education amounts to 10.7 percent in the school year 2017/ 2018 (cf. Statistisches Bundesamt report, 13-3-2018). The number of pupils with migration background in primary schools amounts to 32.5 percent in the year 2016. The cultural issue is of relevance to all pupils’ everyday life.

Now a merely neuropsychological argument: Due to the plasticity ofthe children's brain and the lack of experience, stereotypes- as described above- are still flexible enough to allow a modification (cf. seminar slides, 17-4-2019, p. 12).

"Much acquisition of ICC is tutored and takes place within an educational setting." according to Byram (Byram 1997, p. 43). Primary schools form such a setting. Byram states that cultural learning should also take place in these early years (cf. Byram 1997, p. 46).

From a rather psychological viewpoint, we can say that a large part of socialization takes place in school, we can observe an in - group favouritism, but no out- group denigration (cf. seminar slides, 8-5-2019, p. 13). This forms a chance to aim cognitive targets like balanced, nuanced attitudes, and the important insight that other cultures are as complex as the own ones (cf. seminar slides, 10-4-2019, p.24).

6. ICC and picture books

Picture books are suitable to promote Intercultural Communicative Competence in primary schools, in the context of English as a foreign language, for some reasons.

Why are picture books relevant today? Thiele already proclaims that the accelerated imagery of the mass media creates a common interest for the slow and constant picture, whereby perception is more intense (cf. Thiele 2000, p.11). This gains topicality in our times of smart phones and tablets with their fast-moving gaming apps.

6.1 The term ‘picture book’

To step further, we have to assure what is meant when we speak about picture books (cf. Kurwinkel 2017, p.13 ff.). One approach is the age ofthe audience. It is quite common to see picture books as a special art for children. Connected with a commercial motivation, we find age recommendations with two years of age- steps (from 2 years upwards). For children under an age of one we have the so- called “early concept books”. An alternative for age are the visited education institutions (from kindergarten to high school), sometimes gender plays a role. Picture books form complex and open picture- text- media. When the audience also consists of adolescent or adult people, we talk about crossoverliterature.

The second approach would be the text- picture relationship. Both aspects form a kind of text, whereas pictures play the dominant role here- this is the classical thought. We have to precise this on a more qualitative perspective. In picture books, pictures and written text form autonomous carriers of meaning. Both fields form a progressing action, sometimes carried solely by the pictures. There is a clear distinction to the illustrated child (and youth) book: In this area, pictures do not contribute to a continuing action and are merely comments or decoration.

A third and last approach deals with the extend. Thiele states a limit of 30 pages. But when we look on elaborated current works, we recognize that they do not follow any of such extend limits.

6.2 Picture books as a key for learning ICC

We have to focus on the question what makes picture books so attractive for primary school children in the ICC context.

According to Piaget (cf. Burkard/ Weiß 2008, p. 139), we are on the step of concrete operations (between 6 and 11 years of age). The child is able to form a more complex logic with several variables, argumentations can be thought through and most important in this context: According to moral judgement and social contact, the perspectives of others can be adopted, as egocentrism declines. Fictional literature in general gives us the chance for experiencing otherness (cf. Alter 2014, p.156).

Legutke (2009) (seminar slides, 29-5-2019, p.4) points out the affective or emotional appeal of literature, but also its cognitive challenge of established self- concepts and world- concepts. So it enables "(inter)cultural" learning in the sense of Byram’s attitude (-> affections) and knowledge (-> concepts) dimensions of ICC learning. Within an elaborated lesson concept including picture book literature, Byram’s skills dimensions are also entangled.

Especially traditional picture books, as relatively easy to understand and our first literature, are appropriate for learning a new language, including cultural aspects. Unknown expressions on the text level can be compensated through looking at the pictures, which take a dominant role within the book. The meaning is created through an interplay of pictures and text. Due to its shortness, the text amount is easy to handle on the individual student level but also for the teacher on the class level.

Most often, children are the target audience for picture books- they are written to be potentially understandable for children. Sometimes they carry layers of meaning, which are recognisable by more elderly, adult or advanced readers (e.g. works of Shaun Tan). This contributes to picture books being a way of arts in its own right, worthwhile to deal with within class. So, the meaning does not have to be trivial and sometimes allows a differentiation within heterogenous school classes.

Even ifwe have picture books in English with a less elaborated style, a more simple message or a merely commercial orientation, the works can be useful. We have at least cultural documents from the English-speaking world, allowing us to get to know it better. As English is a globally spoken lingua franca, we have a huge body of English picture books with links and relations to a lot of different cultures on earth.

7. “The Tiger Child”

Joanna Troughton's picture book "The Tiger Child" from 1996, based on a folk tale from Orissa, India (today: Odisha), has quite a potential to develop ICC in the primary EFL classroom. Tobe more precisely, we keep in mind to offer this book material and the linked cultural aspects to German fourth-graders.

Joanna Troughton is responsible for the retold text and the illustrations. To begin with, a little summary ofthe content. A long time ago, the Tiger used to cook his food, when suddenly the fire went out- so he sends his nephew to the humans in the village in order to get some fire from there. When the tiger child arrives, he or she forgets what her or his uncle wanted. To figure out what it was, the tiger child tastes fresh milk, eats fish, lays on a soft cushion, is combed and sleeps at a fire- due to this behaviour the animal turns into a cat and cats live among people ever since, while tigers do eat their meat raw ever since.

The anthropomorphising of animals, as it takes place here, is quite common in tales and fables throughout the world, especially in those from Germany- we come back to this point later.


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Intercultural Communicative Competence. Picture Books in the Primary EFL-Classroom
University of Education Ludwigsburg
Language and Culture for Young Learners Seminar
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Intercultural communicative competence
Quote paper
Alexander Eisener (Author), 2019, Intercultural Communicative Competence. Picture Books in the Primary EFL-Classroom, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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