LINGUIST List 23.3855

Sun Sep 16 2012

Review: Applied Linguistics; Cognitive Science; Sociolinguistics: Witte & Harden (2011)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 16-Sep-2012
From: Katie Angus <>
Subject: Intercultural Competence
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Announced at
EDITORS: Witte, Arnd; Harden, TheoTITLE: Intercultural CompetenceSUBTITLE: Concepts, Challenges, EvaluationsSERIES TITLE: Intercultural Studies and Foreign Language Learning - Volume 10PUBLISHER: Peter LangYEAR: 2011

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


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

This volume is comprised of four sections which group together twenty-sevenarticles from authors around the world. The first section, ‘InterculturalCompetence: The Broader Picture’, begins with an article written by MichaelByram entitled ‘A Research Agenda for “Intercultural Competence”’, in which heexplains frameworks and approaches that can be used to explore different issuesin IC and the research questions that should be prioritized (i.e. a survey ofhandbooks, 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 theresults of her research (Deardorff 2006, 2009), which determines a consensusamong primarily American scholars about what IC is and discusses practicalissues such as identity, how to move students to observe and analyze using theObserve/State/Explore/Evaluate (OSEE) Tool (Deardorff & Deardorff 2000), and theimportance of critical reflection.

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

The fourth article, ‘The Perception of Competence: A History of a PeculiarDevelopment of Concepts’, by Theo Harden, discusses the transition fromChomsky’s notion of competence as an innate ability to newer concepts likecommunicative competence, which is seen more as a skill focusing strongly onlinguistic ability, and IC, which has not been clearly defined. Due to itsambiguities, Harden questions the emphasis in the classroom on assessing andeven teaching this form of competence.

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

The second section of this book is about IC and institutional teaching. Itsfirst article, ‘Does the Revised English MFL Curriculum Give Us Reasons to beOptimistic about Fostering Intercultural Understanding Amongst Key Stage 3Language Learners?’, by Gillian Peiser, describes texts and interviews witheducation officials about recent attention to interculturality in the officialpolicy of England’s secondary schools. Using Byram and Zarate’s (1994) andBryam’s (1997) savoirs, she considers whether the initiatives laid out in thesepolicies will foster IC and determines that they would be successful if teacherstruly believe in the importance of IC and are provided with professionaldevelopment about it.

In the second article, ‘Intercultural Competence: A Major Issue in ForeignLanguage Teacher Training’, Clarisse Costa Afonsa considers some reasons whyteachers might not discuss cultural issues in class, emphasizes the importanceof 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 MethodologicalModel of Intercultural Competence’, by Claudia Borghetti, gives a theoreticalmodel for IC, including a graphical representation of how cognitive processes,affective processes, and awareness interrelate. The author also suggestsactivities for different times in a student’s learning process.

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

Undine S. Weber and Rebecca Domingo, in the next article, ‘Adding Another Colourto the Rainbow: An Attempt at Imparting German Cultural Competence in a SouthAfrican University Context’, explain the achievements and limitations of effortsto 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 theyaffect classroom activities and learning. She also explains a few possibleactivities, such as chatrooms and online newspapers, that can be used withtechnology to foster IC with these students, but emphasizes that despite theirreputation for being technologically savvy and having numerous media options,many students are not able or willing to take advantage of what is available tothem.

The next article in this section is ‘Developing Language Teacher CapabilityThrough Immersion Programmes and the Impact on Student Language Learning,Cultural Knowledge, and Intercultural Competence’, by Annelies Roskvist, DeborahCorder, Sharon Harvey, and Karen Stacey. In this article, the authors explainhow language teachers have been positively affected by their own study abroadexperiences, yet miss opportunities to share their resulting knowledge withstudents.

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

The final article in this section is ‘A Framework for Analysing ObservationData: Language Teacher Provision of Opportunities for Learners to DevelopIntercultural 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 tobecome interculturally competent. The tool seems to be capable of revealingdifferences in teacher output, but also reveals that in the observed lessons,there is little to no teacher provision for developing cultural knowledge instudents.

In the third section, ‘Intercultural Competence and the Target Culture’, thefirst article, ‘Intercultural Learning in the Study Abroad Context’, by KristinBrogran and Muiris Ó Laoire, looks at the linguistic and interculturaldevelopment of Irish students studying abroad in Germany. They report overallpositive, yet slightly contradictory results, as some students did not exhibitimprovements in their linguistic proficiency despite high self-ratings.

In ‘An ILP Investigation of Disagreement Politeness Strategies Performed byGerman Working Professionals (GWP)’, Sabrina Mallon-Gerland looks at Germanprofessionals’ pragmatic abilities in several role play and discourse completiontasks in which they had to express disagreement with people of various levels ofpower, social distance, and imposition. The fact that participants’ responsesare often considered verbose and confrontational suggest that explicitinstruction/input could be beneficial to foster interculturally competentlanguage 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 linguisticbenefits of studying abroad.

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

In ‘Towards the Development of Awareness in Intercultural CommunicativeCompetence: A Tandem Exchange Experience’, Áine Furlong and Fionnuala Kennedyuse sociocultural theory to consider the tandem language partnerships of severaluniversity students and eventually focus in on one student’s experience inparticular. The authors write that awareness is crucial to the development of ICin these partnerships, and that tandem language can provide an importantopportunity for meaningful communication and intercultural development.

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

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

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

Helen O’Sullivan, Gillian S. Martin, and Breffni O’Rourke use conversationanalysis in ‘The Irish are Too Polite: Analysing Stereotype and IdentityDynamics and in Student WebChat’ to explain how German and Irish students dealwith stereotypes and identity in online chats. Discussing interculturaldifferences in an intercultural conversation proves sometimes challenging, asthe Irish and German students approach the task of discussing stereotypesdifferently.

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

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

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

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


The editors began by emphasizing the growing importance of interculturalcompetence (IC) in language study and in other domains. There have recently beenseveral handbooks dedicated to the topic, as well as conferences focused solelyon it, such as the conference this book was a result of, and the biennialconference organized by the Center for Educational Resources in Culture,Language, and Literacy (CERCLL) at the University of Arizona. The topic of IC isparticularly relevant and timely in light of the 2007 Modern LanguageAssociation (MLA) Report, which framed language study in the post-September 11thworld.

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

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

This volume very appropriately starts with articles written by Michael Byram andDarla Deardorff, whose work about the conceptualization of IC has been the mostwidely cited among IC scholars. Despite their work, there still seems to be alack of consensus about what it means to be interculturally competent, which isevident in the remaining articles in this volume, which explain flaws orambiguities in current conceptualizations of IC and varying ways of assessing it.

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

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


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

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

Deardorff, Darla K. 2006. The identification and assessment of interculturalcompetence as a student outcome of internationalization at institutions ofhigher education in the United States. Journal of Studies in InternationalEducation. 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 NorthCarolina State University, Raleigh, NC.

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

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

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


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.

Page Updated: 16-Sep-2012