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Review of  Assessing Intercultural Language Learning

Reviewer: José Ignacio Aguilar Río
Book Title: Assessing Intercultural Language Learning
Book Author: Veronika Timpe
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Linguistic Theories
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 26.2027

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Review's Editors: Malgorzata Cavar and Sara Couture


Timpe's work is a genuine piece of research. The focus is on intercultural language learning, which depends on the development of intercultural communicative competence. The author tries to measure the link between intercultural language learning and classroom-based foreign language teaching. The book consists of seven chapters of unequal length. It is completed by lists of tables and figures, appendixes and references.

The book opens with an introductory chapter in which basic notions used throughout the study are presented – intercultural communicative competence (ICC), pragmatics and (teacher-fronted, classroom-based) language learning. The author intends to surpass the classroom context in order to “account for what types of input support the development of cross-cultural pragmatic competences” (Timpe, 2013: 3). She also aims at “providing new means of assessing and/or diagnosing receptive and productive intercultural pragmatic abilities in L2 learners” (ibid.).

Chapter 2 introduces the first set of underpinning theories, namely concerning the field of intercultural communicative competence. The interconnectedness between language and culture is first discussed by reviewing the literature on the subject. The author draws on anthropological and communication studies models, to define notions such as “adaptation,” “community,” and “identity.” Models originating within second and foreign language studies are also commented on , namely that of Byram's (1997), which the author draws on throughout the book.

Chapter 3 is the longest. It presents another set of theories concerning pragmatic competence. Timpe first reviews classic literature to distinguish cross-cultural and interlanguage pragmatics. The first, lengthy part of the chapter introduces pragmatics-based constructs such as “communicative competence,” “pragmatic competence,” “transfer,” “speech acts,” “routine formulae,” “politeness,” and “discourse,” as discussed by classical scholars of the field. The author focuses on how these may influence the learners' language comprehension and production. The second part of chapter 3 introduces an acquisitional perspective, as the author discusses the link between “input,” “learning contexts” and the development of “interlanguage pragmatics.” Both the “study abroad” and the “foreign language” contexts are put forward as those that seem to be more favourable for learners acquisitionally. Chapter 3 concludes with a review of studies about pragmatics assessment.

Chapter 4 presents the research design and methodology. The author provides details about the aims and the objectives of her original study, the research questions, the participants, the measuring instruments, and the conditions in which the data were produced, collected and processed. The author's three research questions concerned: a) the “relationships between general language proficiency, receptive socio-pragmatic competence, and discourse competence, as developed by German university-level learners of English” (Timpe, 2013: 109); b) the participants' variation “in receptive sociopragmatic competence and discourse competence depending on different types and amounts of English learning opportunities and contexts” (ibid.); c) the “types of target language input [that] contributed to higher levels of receptive sociopragmatic competence and discourse competence” (ibid.). As for the participants, they were 105 male and female university-level students at a German university, to whom four assessment procedures were administered, namely: a self-assessment questionnaire, an English language proficiency test, a sociopragmatic comprehension test, and, finally, four Skype role-play tasks to accomplish.

In chapter 5, the author presents the main results of the data analyses. The chapter is divided in two parts. Part one features the results originating from the four assessment tools; it accounts “for the quality of the test scores obtained” (Timpe, 2013: 145). The second part of the chapter “presents the findings that illustrate distinct answers to the research questions” (ibid.). Chapter 5 contains a wealth of charts, graphics and tables, which allow the author to quantitatively illustrate the results of the study. It is a technical chapter that requires the reader to have specific knowledge on statistics and quantitative research.

Chapter 6 features a discussion of the findings presented in the preceding chapter. The author recalls each of the three research questions, one at a time, in order to elaborate answers. Concerning question one, Timpe confirms the interconnectedness between receptive and discursive pragmatic abilities insofar as “higher levels of language proficiency in English were associated somewhat with higher levels of (socio)pragmatic ability in English” (Timpe, 2013: 193). As for question two, “it would seem that exposure to L2 input played a major role in the development of pragmatic competence – maybe even more than abroad experience” (Timpe, 2013: 195). “Target language input” and “study abroad experience” appear as “factors that may support instructive and diagnostic processes in intercultural EFL/ESL education” (Timpe, 2013: 200). Finally, as regards question three, the author observes that “audiovisual media was the only type of input that was found to contribute statistically significantly to higher levels of sociopragmatic awareness” (Timpe, 2013: 205). Timpe underscores the “unique qualities” of this type of input (ibid.), which allow it “to provide unique learning experiences that offer valuable opportunities for pragmatic learning” (ibid.). Stemming from Timpe's answers, chapter 6 concludes with some pedagogical implications, namely concerning discourse competence development within the EFL/ESL classroom.

Chapter 7 is the last one of the book. It states the limitations of the study, presents some concluding remarks, and suggests directions for future research. As regards the limitations, Timpe first acknowledges the lack of homogeneity of the sample chosen. “The tests' reliance on a native speaker norm” is another drawback put forward by the author. Timpe gives some indications to test developers in order to attain greater authenticity – namely by using spoken input, as well as audiovisual if possible, rather than written input, since this type of input offers “a richer contextualization of the sociopragmatic phenomena” (Timpe, 2013: 213). One last aspect that could be improved concerns the practical conditions of the Skype role-play tasks, namely the need for a correspondence between the number of tasks – 4 in this study – and the number of interlocutors deployed – only two, which lead to undesired, unexpected discursive productions. Finally, Timpe underscores some achievements of her study, which “provides empirical evidence for relationships between three partial components of ICC as outlined by Byram's model: linguistic, sociolinguistic, and discourse competence” (Timpe, 2013: 215), and “contributes to new assessment tools to the still very limited pool of instruments available to measure pragmatic competence” (Timpe, 2013: 216).


Notions such as “knowledge,” “competence,” and “performance” are central to the book. However, without explicit indicators as to what constitutes pragmatically appropriate discursive behaviour, the nature of the acquisitional processes binding together these three constructs seems unclear. As regards the limited scope of the native speaker norm, the author insists on the relationship between context, input and the presence of pragmatically adequate discourse indicators. However, a didactic intervention is missing. The reviewer expected more concrete pedagogical implications concerning the assessment of the discourse-based pragmatic-knowledge elements at the heart of the study. Thus, the book's subtitle – “The Dependence of Receptive Sociopragmatic Competence and Discourse Competence on Learning Opportunities and Input” – seems more appropriate, yet somewhat less promising, than its main title – “Assessing Intercultural Language Learning” – which comes across as more general, yet not quite fulfilling the concrete pedagogical expectations it generates. The reviewer expected a deconstruction of American Standard English discourse and pragmatics, which would somewhat resemble the language(s) deconstruction task achieved by the scholars authoring the European Common Framework. All in all this does not seem within Timpe's current aims.

“Authenticity” is another construct evoked by the author. Again, the authenticity suggested by Timpe seems to align with the notion of a native speaker's (pragmatic) norm – or competence. The reviewer agrees with the author, who finds this model insufficient. If pragmatic authenticity is to be modelled and made into a learning (and knowledge) object, ethnomethodology-based approaches for studying discourse seem appropriate. In effect, it is the task of ethnomethodology, namely of conversation analysis, to describe “culture(s)” as a situated phenomenon, which comes to flesh and bone around specific discursive practices. Some references to ethnomethodology and conversation analysis literature are found within Timpe's book, which may have been completed by studies at the crossroads of conversation analysis and foreign/second language learning and teaching, such as Schegloff et al. (2002), Seedhouse (2005), or the articles within the special issue of “The Modern Language Journal” edited by Markee and Kasper (2004).

Finally, the way the author seems to address the language acquisition process(es), as she formulates her second research question – concerning the relationship between the participants' variation “in receptive sociopragmatic competence and discourse competence” and the “different types and amounts of English learning opportunities and contexts” (Timpe, 2013: 109) – left this reviewer under the impression that the author regarded language acquisition as a linear, accumulative, phenomenon, not explicitly taking into account non-linear, systemic, language acquisition theories (cf. Aguilar and Brudermann, 2014; N. Ellis, 2008; Miras and Narcy-Combes, 2014).

Timper's book presents a thoroughly empirical attempt to measure discourse-related constructs, the very nature of which make them more difficult to manipulate than, for example, form-related ones, such as those of a grammatical, morphological or phonological nature. These discourse-related constructs concern a group of learners' observed or supposed production and comprehension, as regards pragmatic adequacy. This is a thought-provoking book, which addresses profound questions concerning the relationship between knowledge, identity, learning and membership. Some chapters may prove to be difficult reading for undergraduates – or even postgraduates, for that matter. Doctoral candidates and scholars will find it a wealth of information. Ultimately, Timpe's work has the merit to pinpoint zones where more discourse-based research --both qualitative and quantitative -- is needed in order to attain a more complete picture of what knowing, learning and teaching a foreign or second language mean.


Aguilar Río, J. I. and Brudermann, C. (2014) “Language Learner”. In Manual of Language Acquisition. C. Fäcke, (ed). pp. 291–307. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.

Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Ellis, N. C. (2008). “The Dynamics of Second Language Emergence: Cycles of Language Use, Language Change, and Language Acquisition”. The Modern Language Journal 92(2). pp 232–249.

Markee, N. and Kasper, G. (2004). “Classroom Talks: An Introduction”. The Modern Language Journal 88(4). pp. 491–500.

Miras, G. and Narcy-Combes, J.-P. (2014). “Conséquences sur les pratiques d'une prise en compte intégrée des théories socio-constructivistes et émergentiste”. Travaux et documents 46, pp. 15-26.

Schegloff, E., Koshki, I., Jacoby, S. and Olsher, D. (2002). “Conversation Analysis and Applied Linguistics”. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 22. pp. 3–31.

Seedhouse, P. (2005). “Conversation Analysis and Language Learning”. Language Teaching 38. pp. 165–187.

Timpe, V. (2013) Assessing Intercultural Language Learning: The Dependence of Receptive Sociopragmatic Competence and Discourse Competence on Learning Opportunities and Input. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
Jose Ignacio Aguilar Río is a Senior Lecturer at Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3 University in France. He teaches undergraduate and post-graduate courses in education and applied linguistics. His research interests are in classroom interaction, foreign language teacher education and research methodology. He has presented papers at international conferences in Europe. His works have been published in international reviews.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9783631650080
Pages: 335
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