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Review of  Culture and Identity through English as a Lingua Franca


Reviewer: Sofia Rüdiger
Book Title: Culture and Identity through English as a Lingua Franca
Book Author: Will Baker
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 27.1501

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Review:
Reviews Editor: Robert Arthur Cote

SUMMARY

This monograph, entitled ‘Culture and Identity through English as a Lingua Franca’ by Will Baker, contemplates the fields of intercultural communication and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and is part of the De Gruyter Mouton series on Developments in English as a Lingua Franca. The text consists of eight chapters, which move from theoretical considerations of culture and identity through ELF to the concept of intercultural communicative competence. In the course of the text, Baker introduces his own concept of intercultural awareness (ICA) before arriving at an attempted blending of the previously mentioned fields and a case study on a course of ICA and ELF for English language learners in Thailand. The book also includes several appendices, which mainly provide additional material and information on the case study.

The introductory chapter not only sets the agenda of the book but also provides a seven-page overview of the field of ELF. Baker mainly addresses an audience who is already familiar with the frameworks and concepts associated with ELF (p. 5) and therefore purposefully keeps the overview succinct. He also explicitly states the questions he endeavors to answer in his work: i.e. how well do ELF and intercultural communication research go along with each other, how can they inform each other and what are the implications for language teaching specifically for teaching English as a foreign language?

In Chapter 2, “Intercultural communication and ELF”, Baker begins with an anecdote from his own experience as an English teacher in Thailand, illustrating real-life assumptions regarding nationality and culture and how they influence intercultural interactions. He then sets out to characterize intercultural communication and culture in general. Baker pointedly avoids the term ‘definition’ though, as the concept of culture has been used in various academic fields to divergent ends and with different denotations. Baker succinctly gives an overview of fields where the concept of ‘culture’ has been of central relevance: business and management studies, politics, and applied linguistics, including intercultural pragmatics and discourse studies. The rest of the chapter is devoted to differentiating cross-cultural and intercultural communication from each other and critiquing the terminology and approaches in intercultural communication. Third places/spaces, transcultural/transnational flows and Interculturality are introduced as alternative approaches. Of particular interest to ELF and intercultural communication researchers is the sub-section in which Baker brings both perspectives together and explicates areas where the fields can be brought in agreement with each other and where not.

The third chapter, “Understanding culture through ELF”, is devoted to an extensive overview of the notion of culture in academia and its initial development. Different perspectives on culture are introduced: as a product, as discourse, as practice, and as ideology. Furthermore, the chapter explores the interrelation between culture, nation, and globalization. The subsequent sections deal with the relationship between language and culture (i.e. linguistic relativity) and the engagement with language and culture in ELF research.

The next chapter, “Culture and identity through English as a lingua franca”, presents the notion of identity, the concept of cultural identity, and how they relate to ELF and interculturality. Baker further connects cultural identity with several other keywords in the field, such as ethnicity, race, nationality, and globalization. These notions are accompanied by examples from previous research by Baker and other researchers.

Chapter 5, “Re-examining intercultural communicative competence: intercultural awareness”, is one of the central chapters in the monograph as it re-examines the notions of communicative competence, intercultural competence, and intercultural communicative competence as well as some alternative approaches such as symbolic competence. Baker then introduces his own alternative approach labeled ‘intercultural awareness’, which consists of twelve elements on three different levels indicating basic, advanced, and intercultural awareness. This model is explained in detail and illustrated with examples and diagrams.

Chapter 6, “ELF and intercultural awareness: implications for English language teaching”, applies the model of intercultural awareness to ELF and explains the theoretical implications that this has for teaching English as a foreign language. Baker also provides suggestions for employing the results on ICA and ELF research into the language classroom.

In Chapter 7, “Putting it into practice: a study of a course in ELF and ICA for language learners in Thailand”, Baker completes the previous theoretical chapter with a report on a practical case study. Baker surveyed several Thai university students enrolled in an online ELF and ICA course, which was preceded and followed by questionnaires and in-depth interviews with selected individuals. Baker extensively describes the Thai setting, the course itself, and the course evaluation. He then interprets the results with a view on the development of ICA.

The conclusion brings all concepts together one more time and succinctly summarizes the answers to the questions brought up at the beginning of the monograph.

EVALUATION

This monograph does not try to describe and analyze structural features of ELF, as has been attempted by many previous books in the field (e.g. Prodromou 2008, Cogo and Dewey 2012, Vettorel 2014). Rather, it aims to establish how the two fields of intercultural communication and ELF can inform each other and subsequently what kind of consequences this can have for the teaching of English as a foreign language. Consequently, Baker introduces his concept of intercultural awareness (ICA). Especially valuable are his suggestions for incorporating ICA into language teaching by offering five recommendations to grow intercultural awareness of students in the classroom: “exploring the complexity of local cultures”, “exploring cultural representations in language learning materials”, “exploring cultural representations in the media and arts both online and in more ‘traditional’ mediums”, “making use of cultural informants” and “engaging in intercultural communication both face to face and electronically” (pp. 195-198). Importantly, Baker is aware of the contextual and situational differences of language teaching and emphasizes that these recommendations might not be applicable to every classroom and that it is often impossible to devise absolute guidelines. Nevertheless, this monograph is highly relevant for teachers and material developers in the language teaching field even though most chapters are of theoretical nature. In fact, only Chapter 7 has a real practical focus using an online course as an example for developing awareness of ICA in students.

Due to the many different contexts of language teaching and learning and the more theoretical focus of the monograph, a follow-up work including more case studies from diverse backgrounds would be appropriate. As the conclusion states, researchers need to “avoid neat, simplistic answers in understanding culture and identity in intercultural communication through ELF” (p. 232). Both ELF and intercultural communication studies and their relevant concepts are characterized by a high degree of complexity and dynamism. It is therefore not surprising that some of the chapters in this monograph are also very complex in nature and very dense in informational value. This in itself is of course not problematic, and Will Baker should be applauded for his succinct overviews of the intricate topics. However, the complexity of most chapters makes the monograph very advanced reading, which might not be suitable for most undergraduate students and could even be a challenge for advanced students. As such, it is more suitable for researchers who are already familiar with at least one of the fields of the book, i.e. intercultural communication or ELF.

Unfortunately, the text contains a high number of typos. Examples in the first two chapters alone include the following: ‘though’ instead of ‘through’ (p. 2), ‘Mauranen explain it’ instead of ‘Mauranen explains it’ (p. 7), ‘give the wide range’ instead of ‘given the wide range’ (p. 17), ‘Hofstede influential research’ instead of ‘Hofstede’s influential research’ (p. 19), ‘it is important not oversimplify’ instead of ‘it is important not to oversimplify’ (p. 22), ‘empahsised’ instead of ‘emphasised’ (p. 23), ‘similar critical question’ instead of ‘similar critical questions’ (p. 23) and ‘to dominant the interaction’ instead of ‘to dominate the interaction’ (p. 35). Although the typos do not subtract from the general value of the monograph, they should be corrected in future editions of the text.

REFERENCES

Cogo, Alessia and Martin Dewey. 2012. Analysing English as a Lingua Franca: A Corpus-Driven Investigation. London/New York: continuum.

Prodromou, Luke. 2008. English as a Lingua Franca: A Corpus-Based Analysis. London/New York: continuum.

Vettorel, Paola. 2014. English as a Lingua Franca in Wider Networking: Blogging Practices. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Sofia Rüdiger obtained her M.A. in Intercultural Anglophone Studies from the University of Bayreuth in Germany, where she is also currently employed as a research assistant at the English Linguistics department. At the moment she is working on a PhD project on ELF use by Korean speakers. Her research interests include varieties of English, ELF, English in the Korean context, corpus linguistics and computer-mediated communication.