LINGUIST List 12.3004

Sun Dec 2 2001

Review: Byram, Nichols & Stevens, ed. (2001)

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  1. Lia Blaj, review of Developing Intercultural Competence in Practice

Message 1: review of Developing Intercultural Competence in Practice

Date: Sun, 2 Dec 2001 22:25:56 +0200
From: Lia Blaj <>
Subject: review of Developing Intercultural Competence in Practice

Byram, Michael, Adam Nichols, and David Stevens (2001) Developing
Intercultural Competence in Practice. Multilingual Matters,
viii+283pp, paperback ISBN 1-85359-536-5, Languages for
Intercultural Communication and Education 1.

'Developing Intercultural Competence in Practice' is a
commendable book for the task it sets out for itself, namely to
provide examples of good practice in the teaching of foreign
languages and intercultural competence. Although the majority of
the contributions are underpinned by theoretical considerations,
the book is, as its editors point out, not a collection of
academic texts but rather a compilation of stories from
classrooms all over the world, stories that are to be taken as
encouragement by practitioners aiming to include the cultural
dimension in their teaching. In order to help the readers take an
informed plunge into the world of intercultural communication,
the editors summarise in the Introduction the 'intercultural
competence' model (comprising attitudes, knowledge, skills of
interpreting and relating, skills of discovery and interaction,
and critical cultural awareness) that Michael Byram put forward
in a previous book, 'Teaching and Assessing Intercultural
Communicative Competence' (Multilingual Matters, 1997). The
contents of the various chapters range from large-scale projects
with substantial institutional back-up and already widely
publicised output (for e.g., Chapter 14) small-scale series of
activities limited to a one- classroom context. As expected,
there is also variation in terms of the quality and style of the

The book is structured in three main parts:
1. In the classroom (Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced)
2. Beyond the classroom ('Using new technologies' and 'In the
3. Developing resources

The first part of the book contains reports on a project of
exchange of self-made materials on the topic of 'law and order'
between an English and a French group of students approximately
14 years old (Chapter 1, Carol Morgan), a series of four
intermediate-level EFL lessons based on a short story about a
family of Mexican migrant workers who are illegally staying in
the US, held with a group of 14-15 year-olds in a comprehensive
school in Germany (Chapter 2, Eva Burwitz-Melzer), and the
adaptation, for intermediate level EFL classes in Bulgarian
schools, of a lesson about the role of the mountain for Bulgarian
identity, initially designed to familiarise British students --
12 to 16 years old -- with Bulgaria (Chapter 3, Elena Tarasheva
and Leah Davcheva). Advanced-level EFL classes are also given a
place in the book, namely in Chapter 4, where Maria Metodieva
Genova discusses a series of lessons based on the comparison
between British and Bulgarian TV news broadcasts with a group of
17-18 year-old learners of English in Bulgaria. In Chapter 5
(Iskra Georgieva) we are told about the way in which classroom
observation of two culture-centred lessons, with a group of 17-18
year-old students of English, in a Bulgarian high school
encouraged teachers to introduce a cultural dimension in the
teaching of EFL in Bulgaria. Still for advanced level learners,
but this time in French language classes, a project focusing on
the collection of ethnographic material about French families and
French regional identity is discussed; the project was developed
at Durham University and implemented in upper secondary education
in Britain (Chapter 6, Sylvia Duffy and Janet Mayes). Another
chapter explicitly aimed at teacher training (Chapter 7) is
written by Mary Williams, who reports on a series of cultural
awareness activities held with native English speakers in the
four week direct contact phase of a TESOL teacher education

It is a truism to say that, although much of the cultural
learning takes place within an institutional educational setting,
the genuine intercultural competence can only be fully achieved
if classroom contact time is supplemented with 'beyond the
classroom' encounters with a different culture. However, the six
chapters included in the second part of the book demonstrate that
theoretical truisms can be viewed from new perspectives in
practice. Computer-technology-based activities that are discussed
here include an EFL education television programme for elementary
school pupils in Japan, aimed at the creation of positive
attitudes towards intercultural communication (Chapter 8, Lynne
Parmenter and Yuichi Tomita), the use of a multimedia software
package (The Virtual Ethnographer) in USA in a public high school
during French classes (Chapter 9, Sheila Carel), an Anglo- French
tandem e-mail project with a group of 12-13 year-olds (Chapter
10, Clare Dodd) aimed at motivating low-achieving learners, and
the cooperation between cultural studies experts on the one hand
and technical experts on the other in putting together a
multimedia British Studies course package (CD-ROM, workbook and
accompanying website) aimed at second and third year students of
English as a major or minor subject at Palacky University in the
Czech Republic (Chapter 11, Paul Whittaker). Activities involving
fieldwork are discussed in Chapter 12 (Jane Woodin), where we
find out about a face-to-face tandem language learning project in
a university, with a group of non-specialist students (i.e.,
studying subjects other than foreign languages) and in Chapter 13
(Judith Parsons and Peter Junge), which reports on ethnographic
work done by adult immigrant second language learners of Danish
focusing on life as a senior citizen in Denmark.

I must say that it is quite difficult to draw a clear-cut
distinction between the parts in which the book is divided,
because each contribution to the book contains both an 'in the
classroom' and a 'beyond the classroom' component, and most of
the articles refer, at least briefly, to materials created for
use with learners. The chapters included in Part Three, however,
do seem to place a clear emphasis on the development of resources
rather than on classroom-based teaching procedures or fieldwork.
Chapter 14 refers to the design of cross-disciplinary materials
for cultural understanding, for English, French and German
language classes in Denmark, aimed at problem-oriented project
work (Leon Aktor and Karen Risager), in Chapter 15 (Tanya
Madjarova, Magdalena Botsmanova and Tanya Stamatova ) we read
about a lesson based on an authentic magazine article about a
cultural phenomenon not familiar to the Bulgarian pupils, in
Chapter 16 Krassimira Topuzova discusses the combination of
simple artefacts (Christmas cards) and two literary works to
analyse and contrast Bulgarian and British cultural values
related to Christmas, while in Chapter 17 Francoise Vigneron
presents an interdisciplinary approach bringing together
geography and mother- tongue lessons in a French primary school.

Overall, the book's main merit is that it contains contributions
written from a variety of positions, from researchers intervening
in an educational context to actual classroom teachers reporting
on work with their students, from teacher trainers to materials
writers. Consequently, language educators of any description will
find something of interest in the book. Similarly, variety can be
found in the wide range of focuses of the interest towards
developing intercultural communicative competence skills, for
e.g.: intercultural awareness, developing an empathetic
understanding of otherness, gaining deeper awareness of one's own
culture through the medium of a foreign language, critical
understanding of differences and similarities of a given cultural
aspect -- TV news broadcasts -- in two different countries,
analysing the familiar through different eyes and acquiring
skills in interpreting rather than knowledge of a different
culture, learning how to conduct ethnographic data collection and
awareness of the dynamic nature of cultural values.

What seems a common point throughout the book is the nation-based
definition of culture with which authors operate, though this is
not explicitly stated, and neither is the concept of culture
clearly defined, though the term does seem to cover almost every
cultural aspect, from literary works included in the canon to
everyday life customs and practices.

For a great majority of the chapters included, the main strengths
consist in: clarity of exposition (i.e., sufficient details are
given, in a reader-friendly manner, to allow context-sensitive
replication of the project), multiple angle (i.e., the author
offers suggestions for adaptation of the project to various
contexts) and depth of analysis (i.e., there is evidence of going
beyond the surface behaviour of the participants to the project
and taking a critical look at the findings). I will single out
for discussion Chapter 8 and Chapter 11. However, I would like to
state from the beginning that the comments regarding these two
chapters result from their placing against a specific framework,
which may well not be the criterion according to which the
editors initially chose the material to be included in the book.

I was slightly intrigued by Chapter 8, which reads like an
objective account without letting transpire the relationship
between the writers of the article and the television programme
they describe, or their own point of view for that matter. As for
Chapter 11, it seems to allocate too much space to discuss the
relationship between the cultural studies experts and the
technology experts involved in the project, experts rather
schematically labelled 'culties' and 'techies' without context-
illuminating details being offered, and too little for the output
of that cooperation or the results achieved by the students and
their response to the new tools employed.

As a closing remark, I would like to refer to the very useful
annotated 'Further Reading' list at the end of the book, compiled
from suggestions made by the authors of each individual chapter.
One of the items on the list is Clare Kramsch's 'Context and
Culture in Language Teaching' (Oxford University Press, 1993),
which has a balanced combination of theoretical principles and
practical examples while putting forward a model of teaching
language along the cultural faultline. Perhaps a more theoretical
work that could be added to the list as recommended reading is
Scollon and Scollon's Intercultural Communication, 2nd ed.
(Blackwell, 2000) [see review at --Eds.], not only
for the clear distinction it draws between cross-cultural and
intercultural communication, but also for suggestions as to how
ethnography can be used in a classroom context.

Lia Blaj is a junior lecturer and PhD student at the University
of Timisoara, Romania. Her current research interest is connected
with discourse analysis for EFL language teachers (with a focus
on critical discourse analysis and its relationship to language
awareness in the EFL classroom).
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