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Review of  Intercultural Competence


Reviewer: Katie Beth Angus
Book Title: Intercultural Competence
Book Author: Arnd Witte Theo Harden
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Sociolinguistics
Cognitive Science
Book Announcement: 23.3855

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EDITORS: Witte, Arnd; Harden, Theo
TITLE: Intercultural Competence
SUBTITLE: Concepts, Challenges, Evaluations
SERIES TITLE: Intercultural Studies and Foreign Language Learning - Volume 10
PUBLISHER: Peter Lang
YEAR: 2011

Katie B. Angus, Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT)
Interdisciplinary PhD Program, The University of Arizona

SUMMARY

This edited volume is the result of a September 2010 conference about
intercultural competence (IC) at the National University of Ireland in Maynooth.
In its introduction, the editors, Arnd Witte and Theo Harden, give a brief
history of the concepts of culture, competence, and IC. They then provide a list
of questions (7-9) that had been supplied with the call for papers to inspire
proposals. The following articles are based off of presentations at this conference.

This volume is comprised of four sections which group together twenty-seven
articles from authors around the world. The first section, ‘Intercultural
Competence: The Broader Picture’, begins with an article written by Michael
Byram entitled ‘A Research Agenda for “Intercultural Competence”’, in which he
explains frameworks and approaches that can be used to explore different issues
in IC and the research questions that should be prioritized (i.e. a survey of
handbooks, defining the concept itself, and assessment).

In the second article, ‘Intercultural Competence in Foreign Language Classrooms:
A Framework and Implications for Educators’, Darla K. Deardorff relates the
results of her research (Deardorff 2006, 2009), which determines a consensus
among primarily American scholars about what IC is and discusses practical
issues such as identity, how to move students to observe and analyze using the
Observe/State/Explore/Evaluate (OSEE) Tool (Deardorff & Deardorff 2000), and the
importance of critical reflection.

In the third article of this section, ‘Intercultural Competence: A
Phenomenological Approach’, Werner Müller-Pelzer uses the work of Hermann
Schmitz (2005) to claim that IC cannot be learned because it is not a skill but
rather an ‘organ’ that establishes relationships.

The fourth article, ‘The Perception of Competence: A History of a Peculiar
Development of Concepts’, by Theo Harden, discusses the transition from
Chomsky’s notion of competence as an innate ability to newer concepts like
communicative competence, which is seen more as a skill focusing strongly on
linguistic ability, and IC, which has not been clearly defined. Due to its
ambiguities, Harden questions the emphasis in the classroom on assessing and
even teaching this form of competence.

In the final article of this section, ‘On the Teachability and Learnability of
Intercultural Competence: Developing Facets of the “Inter”’, Arnd Witte asks,
within a sociocultural framework, whether IC can be taught and/or learned. He
enumerates several difficulties with IC: assessment, the simplification of the
concept itself, the amount of tacit and therefore unteachable knowledge
involved, the context-specific and dynamic nature of IC, and the amount of
motivation needed on the part of the students. To counteract some of these
difficulties, he suggests a few teaching and curricular organization tips.

The second section of this book is about IC and institutional teaching. Its
first article, ‘Does the Revised English MFL Curriculum Give Us Reasons to be
Optimistic about Fostering Intercultural Understanding Amongst Key Stage 3
Language Learners?’, by Gillian Peiser, describes texts and interviews with
education officials about recent attention to interculturality in the official
policy of England’s secondary schools. Using Byram and Zarate’s (1994) and
Bryam’s (1997) savoirs, she considers whether the initiatives laid out in these
policies will foster IC and determines that they would be successful if teachers
truly believe in the importance of IC and are provided with professional
development about it.

In the second article, ‘Intercultural Competence: A Major Issue in Foreign
Language Teacher Training’, Clarisse Costa Afonsa considers some reasons why
teachers might not discuss cultural issues in class, emphasizes the importance
of the teacher’s intercultural skills, and explains how a teacher can use a film
(e.g. ‘Nowhere in Africa’) to bring cultural issues to students’ attention.

The third article, entitled ‘How to Teach It? Proposal for a Methodological
Model of Intercultural Competence’, by Claudia Borghetti, gives a theoretical
model for IC, including a graphical representation of how cognitive processes,
affective processes, and awareness interrelate. The author also suggests
activities for different times in a student’s learning process.

In the fourth article, ‘Can One Swallow Make the Summer? Teaching Intercultural
Competence in an English Writing Course’, Mary Georgiou’s study of a university
class in Cyprus concludes that while it is possible to have an effect on
students’ IC in one course, bigger curricular changes and lifelong learning need
to exist in order to create more lasting effects.

Undine S. Weber and Rebecca Domingo, in the next article, ‘Adding Another Colour
to the Rainbow: An Attempt at Imparting German Cultural Competence in a South
African University Context’, explain the achievements and limitations of efforts
to deal with culture in the already multi-cultural South African context.

In the next article, ‘Teaching “Intercultural Competence” to “Generation X”’,
Heidi Zojer explains the characteristics of this group of students and how they
affect classroom activities and learning. She also explains a few possible
activities, such as chatrooms and online newspapers, that can be used with
technology to foster IC with these students, but emphasizes that despite their
reputation for being technologically savvy and having numerous media options,
many students are not able or willing to take advantage of what is available to
them.

The next article in this section is ‘Developing Language Teacher Capability
Through Immersion Programmes and the Impact on Student Language Learning,
Cultural Knowledge, and Intercultural Competence’, by Annelies Roskvist, Deborah
Corder, Sharon Harvey, and Karen Stacey. In this article, the authors explain
how language teachers have been positively affected by their own study abroad
experiences, yet miss opportunities to share their resulting knowledge with
students.

In the following article, ‘Measuring Intercultural Competence’, Joke Simons and
Yunsy Krols describe their use of interviews and surveys to compare the views of
IC in both business and educational domains. Their findings show that IC in the
business field is basically regarded as synonymous with language competence and
is therefore seen as only relevant to enterprises that conduct business
internationally. In the educational field, teachers define IC more broadly, but
most still interpret it literally. Based on these results, the authors developed
a self-reporting questionnaire to measure different components of IC.

The final article in this section is ‘A Framework for Analysing Observation
Data: Language Teacher Provision of Opportunities for Learners to Develop
Intercultural Competence’, by Heather Richards, Clare Conway, Annelies Roskvist,
and Sharon Harvey. The authors use the Intercultural Language Learning (IcLL)
framework to look at the types of opportunities teachers give their students to
become interculturally competent. The tool seems to be capable of revealing
differences in teacher output, but also reveals that in the observed lessons,
there is little to no teacher provision for developing cultural knowledge in
students.

In the third section, ‘Intercultural Competence and the Target Culture’, the
first article, ‘Intercultural Learning in the Study Abroad Context’, by Kristin
Brogran and Muiris Ó Laoire, looks at the linguistic and intercultural
development of Irish students studying abroad in Germany. They report overall
positive, yet slightly contradictory results, as some students did not exhibit
improvements in their linguistic proficiency despite high self-ratings.

In ‘An ILP Investigation of Disagreement Politeness Strategies Performed by
German Working Professionals (GWP)’, Sabrina Mallon-Gerland looks at German
professionals’ pragmatic abilities in several role play and discourse completion
tasks in which they had to express disagreement with people of various levels of
power, social distance, and imposition. The fact that participants’ responses
are often considered verbose and confrontational suggest that explicit
instruction/input could be beneficial to foster interculturally competent
language users.

In ‘Learner Identity Construction, Intercultural Competence, and Study Abroad’,
Lisa Stiefel provides a brief literature review about study abroad research,
focusing on students’ identity, access to the L2 culture, and the linguistic
benefits of studying abroad.

Théophile Ambadiang and Isabel García Parejo, in their article entitled
‘Interculturality, Linguistic Culture and Alterity: A Further Look into
Intercultural Competence’, write that current conceptualizations of IC are
idealized and omit cognitive and communicative aspects.

In ‘Towards the Development of Awareness in Intercultural Communicative
Competence: A Tandem Exchange Experience’, Áine Furlong and Fionnuala Kennedy
use sociocultural theory to consider the tandem language partnerships of several
university students and eventually focus in on one student’s experience in
particular. The authors write that awareness is crucial to the development of IC
in these partnerships, and that tandem language can provide an important
opportunity for meaningful communication and intercultural development.

Thomas Johnen, in his article entitled ‘What Can Cross-Cultural Conversation
Transcript Analysis Contribute to the Development of Intercultural Competence?’,
tries to show how useful the opening sequences in telephone conversations can be
in developing IC in early stage language learners due to its situationally
contextualized nature.

The next article, entitled ‘Culture? Communication? The Intercultural? A
Comparative Study of Basic Concepts in ICC Education in Germany, Japan, and the
US’, by Margit Krause-Ono and Sylvia Wächter, uses questionnaire and interview
data to explore conceptualizations by professors and perceptions by students of
the terms ‘culture’, ‘communication’, and ‘intercultural’ in Germany, Japan, and
the US. While US authors are cited in materials in all three of the countries
studied, the conceptualizations and perceptions vary among the countries.
Students’ perceptions depend on the models and concepts taught and the culture
in which the students live.

In ‘“Eat ye, O people”: The Role of Food, Religion and Hospitality in
Intercultural Relations’, Marie Gervais recounts three intercultural food and
hospitality narratives to show that situations revolving around food can offer
the potential to explore cultural differences in a common space.

Helen O’Sullivan, Gillian S. Martin, and Breffni O’Rourke use conversation
analysis in ‘The Irish are Too Polite: Analysing Stereotype and Identity
Dynamics and in Student WebChat’ to explain how German and Irish students deal
with stereotypes and identity in online chats. Discussing intercultural
differences in an intercultural conversation proves sometimes challenging, as
the Irish and German students approach the task of discussing stereotypes
differently.

Finally, in the last article in this section ‘Aspects of English and German
Sociable Selfhood’, Rob Philburn used Goffman’s (1969) ideas of ‘self’ to
explain IC as the ability to align aspects of the sociable selfhood.

The last segment of this book, ‘Intercultural Competence and the Role of
Literature’, only contains three articles. In ‘Intercultural Competence: A
Mirror for Literature? Some Thoughts on Václav Havel’s Play
“Unveiling/Vernissage” in Two Guises’, Marketa Goetz-Stankiewicz explains how IC
manifests itself in this 1970s play, and its sequel, written thirty years later,
through politics, socioeconomic status, and language. Since both plays include
the same characters, the audience can easily observe what happens to people when
their cultural context changes dramatically.

In ‘Empathy and Recognition: Two Concepts of Intercultural Learning in
Literature Teaching with Rafik Schami’s Fable “The Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing”’,
Sieglinde Grimm shows how the concepts of empathy and recognition could
facilitate intercultural learning through the teaching of literature.

Lastly, in the final article of this book, entitled ‘Current Readers and
Intercultural Learning’, Ana Gonçalves Matos offers an argument for the use of
literature in interacting with other worlds and developing IC.

EVALUATION

The editors began by emphasizing the growing importance of intercultural
competence (IC) in language study and in other domains. There have recently been
several handbooks dedicated to the topic, as well as conferences focused solely
on it, such as the conference this book was a result of, and the biennial
conference organized by the Center for Educational Resources in Culture,
Language, and Literacy (CERCLL) at the University of Arizona. The topic of IC is
particularly relevant and timely in light of the 2007 Modern Language
Association (MLA) Report, which framed language study in the post-September 11th
world.

The 2007 MLA Report also draws attention to the continuing language-literature
divide in foreign language departments. I had hoped that the last segment of
this book would bridge the gap and, to a small extent, it did. This section was
unfortunately the smallest in the volume, with only three articles addressing
the role of literature in fostering IC, despite the fact that the majority of
classes that address IC are located in language/literature departments.

In addition to developing an argument for studying IC and explaining the
evolution of the concept, the editors provide the list of questions used to
inspire contributions to the conference. For scholars, this list offers not
only topics for reflection and further research, but could also be used as a
starting point for a seminar or workshop for in-service teachers, if not a full
length course. The third set of questions focuses on assessment, and even though
Byram (1997) has dedicated a whole book to teaching and assessing IC, in our
current age of accountability, this question remains crucial and many authors in
this volume acknowledge its importance and, at the same time, the difficulty of
assessing it.

This volume very appropriately starts with articles written by Michael Byram and
Darla Deardorff, whose work about the conceptualization of IC has been the most
widely cited among IC scholars. Despite their work, there still seems to be a
lack of consensus about what it means to be interculturally competent, which is
evident in the remaining articles in this volume, which explain flaws or
ambiguities in current conceptualizations of IC and varying ways of assessing it.

This book is of obvious interest to scholars of language study, but there are
also articles that could raise points of reflection for professionals in
international business. As a teacher and teacher educator, I found several
articles to be particularly useful. In addition to the opening list of
questions, Deardorff’s article provides a list of questions in the appendix to
help instructors reflect about their teaching practices. Borghetti’s article
also would help teachers understand what kinds of activities could be used at
different stages in a language learner’s development.

Each article is not long, and because of this, authors are sometimes forced to
treat their particular subject rather superficially. To get a complete picture
of each study, particularly details regarding the data collection methods, the
reader must consult outside references. On a very positive note, this book
offers a much needed international perspective (called for by Deardorff in this
volume), as it explains IC in contexts that are less-typically published about
and includes only one article from an author working in the United States.

REFERENCES

Byram, Michael. 1997. Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative
competence. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Byram, Michael, and Geneviève Zarate. 1994. A Common European framework for
language teaching and learning. Definitions, objectives, and assessment of
socio-cultural competence. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.

Deardorff, Darla K. 2006. The identification and assessment of intercultural
competence as a student outcome of internationalization at institutions of
higher education in the United States. Journal of Studies in International
Education. 241-266.

Deardorff, Darla K. (ed.) 2009. The Sage Handbook of Intercultural Competence.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Deardorff, Darla, and D. L. Deardorff. 2000. OSEE Tool. Presentation at North
Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.

Goffman, Erving. 1969. The Presentation of self in everyday life. London: Allen
Lane.

MLA Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Languages. 2007. Foreign Languages and Higher
Education: New Structures for a Changed World.

Schmitz, Hermann. 2005. Situationen und Konstellationen. Wider die Ideologie
totaler Vernetzung. Freiburg/M:unchen: Karl Alder.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Katie B. Angus is a PhD candidate in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching at the University of Arizona where she majors in Pedagogy and Program Administration and minors in Linguistics. She is currently writing her dissertation about the real and perceived professional development needs of foreign language teaching assistants from the perspectives of the TAs themselves, language program directors, graduate advisors, and language program faculty. In addition to teacher education, she is interested in multiliteracies, study abroad, and computer-assisted language learning.

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