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Review of  Productive Foreign Language Skills for an Intercultural World


Reviewer: Kristin Lange
Book Title: Productive Foreign Language Skills for an Intercultural World
Book Author: Michał B. Paradowski
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 27.2940

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

SUMMARY

Michel B. Paradowski’s “Review of Productive Foreign Language Skills for an Intercultural World” provides fourteen chapters by researchers, educators, and teacher trainers from diverse settings on teaching and language skills that “are crucial to 21st century language instruction” (p. 7) but often neglected in the classroom. Five sections focus on different skills sets; section one is about advanced speaking skills, section two about communicative competence for the workplace, section three about facilitating cultural exchanges, section four about intercultural competence from the teacher’s perspective, and section five about writing skills. The majority of the chapters report on research studies; however, terms, concepts, and policy, and teaching recommendations are addressed as well.

The first section of the volume features three contributions investigating the development and promotion of advanced speaking skills in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classrooms, specifically discourse markers, foreign language anxiety, and speaking skills in Business English courses. Do Thi Quy Thu and Richard B. Baldauf Jr. researched the use of discourse markers (DM) in Vietnamese non-native speakers (NNS) and learners of English and compared it to the use of Australian native speakers (NS) of English. DM found in the recorded and transcribed conversations were categorized according to Fung and Carter’s (2007) functional paradigm into interpersonal, referential, structural, and cognitive DM. Using repeated measures ANOVA the researchers found a significant difference between NS and NNSs’ frequency of DM with “substantially lower frequency rate of all DMs” (p. 21) in the NNS data. The frequency of the four categories of DM also differed significantly, with NS using more interpersonal and referential DM, and NNS producing mostly DM for formal functions. Do Thi Quy Thu and Baldauf Jr. hypothesize that textbook-based learning and lack of interpersonal communication with NS could explain their results and suggest a few possible pedagogical implications.

The following chapter in this section, written by Michael B. Paradowski, Klaudia Dmowska, and Dagmara Czasak, deals with foreign language anxiety and how it relates to speaking in the FL classroom. Drawing from data collected through questionnaires that were issued to EFL learners in various institutional settings, the researchers could generate types and reasons for foreign language anxiety and learners’ coping strategies, as well as differences among women and men, and adults and teenagers. The researchers include the most favorable methods for conquering foreign language anxiety from the learners ’perspective and discuss how those could be implemented in the FL classroom. The authors also suggests a variety of strategies applicable to several instructional contexts and forms of anxiety.

The third contribution to this section by Agnieszka Dzięcioł-Pędich offers a theoretical and argumentative piece on the challenges English instructors face when teaching Business English at institutes of higher education. After summarizing the design of many tertiary language courses based on communicative language teaching (CLT) frameworks and European language policies, as well as outlining what the development of speaking skills in CLT encompasses, Dzięcioł-Pędich lists several challenges instructors of Business English often face, such as requirements set by government institutes, the scope and quality of speaking activities in coursebooks, lack of opportunity for practical application, and teachers’ professional training. The last part of this chapter gives some useful suggestions about the way teachers could overcome these challenges.

The second section of the volume also addresses speaking skills, but with a focus on communicative competence for intercultural business settings. Veronika-Diana Armaşu suggests several activities within a task-based framework as understood by Ellis, that not only prepare language learners for their future as intercultural business language users, but also aim to incorporate learners’ previous knowledge and their environment to the best effect. After giving brief summaries of her students’ profiles, oral proficiency, and task-based language teaching (TBLT), Armaşu suggests and describes five types of tasks that can be part of a larger speaking project. A short evaluation and reflection of TBLT for promoting oral proficiency in intercultural business settings in general follows.

In the other contribution to this section, Miya Komori-Glatz expands on TBLT and incorporates an innovative and interdisciplinary approach when looking at productive/speaking skills not only from an EFL perspective, but also from human resource management (HRM) and how this paradigm understands communicating effectively. Using research studies from both fields Komori-Glatz argues that language teaching should be a part of business programs and that traditional language teaching should be complemented with “pragmatic and skill-based intercultural competence” (p. 100). She also discusses activities that incorporate strategies such as backchannelling, repetition, or the use of discourse markers.

The third section in Paradowski’s edited volume offers two discussions that aim to promote learners’ intercultural skills through direct intercultural encounters. Gregory Thompson introduces the idea of adding a service learning component to an advanced language course. Collecting data with reflective journals and surveys throughout five years, Thompson’s research addresses whether service learning could promote not only oral proficiency, but also students’ cultural awareness and intercultural competencies. He was also interested in finding out if students could apply the knowledge they had gathered in the classroom to the service learning context (p. 123). The analysis of the data showed that service learning can have very positive effects on student learning in terms of conversation and intercultural skills; and it also allows them to connect classroom learning to authentic contexts.

The second paper in this section, a contribution by Constanza Tolosa, Helen Villers and Martin East, looks at a school in New Zealand which has integrated a telecollaboration component with English learners from Colombia into their Spanish classes. The reciprocal peer-tutoring project aimed to promote students’ writing skills as well as to “provide authentic opportunities for foreign language interaction and intercultural communication” (p. 133). Through interviews with the school’s principal, teachers of Spanish, and students who participated in the online project, the researchers could evaluate the program. Although Tolosa, Villers, and East do not explain on how the program was developed and implemented, they could show through their data analysis that online-peer tutoring especially promotes intercultural communication and skills.

The fourth section of the volume features four chapters with a focus on fostering intercultural communicative competence, and especially the teachers’ perspective. The four chapters use Michael Byram’s (1997) and/or Claire Kramsch’s (1993) work to frame their studies. The first contribution, a case study by Chiu-Hui Wu, investigates the practices that three EFL teachers at a college in Taiwan employ to promote intercultural communication, and also focuses on the beliefs these teachers hold and how those inform their teaching practices. Through the analysis of qualitative data (interviews, classroom observation, student documents), Wu found two recurring themes in EFL teachers’ practices and beliefs: understanding author/teacher bias and the use of stereotypes to foster cultural sensitivity. She then suggests several strategies that can promote intercultural competence, as well as implications specifically for the EFL context.

Extending the EFL-context to Spain, Isabel Alonso-Belmonte and María Fernández-Agüero analyze the internationally oriented textbook series Real English; however, they also use their chapter to provide foreign language instructors with information on the theories and frameworks of intercultural competence. Framing their study in the grounded theory approach, the textbook analysis identifies several limitations and weaknesses in Real English, although internationally oriented. To compensate for those, Alonso-Belmonte and Fernández-Agüero suggest several activities, techniques and material focusing on experiential learning, ethnographic research, and task-based activities.

Connecting to the previous contribution is Ewa Maciejewska-Stępień’s analysis and evaluation of the Sokrates- Lingua PICTURE project (Portfolio Intercultural Communication: Towards Using Real Experiences). The project was specifically designed to compensate for the limitations of foreign language textbooks in regard to intercultural communication and offers language teachers alternative modules that they can integrate into their classrooms. Her evaluation, for which she used feedback questionnaires and interviews with teachers, focuses on the quality of the PICTURE project. Although learners and teachers gave the PICTURE project a generally positive evaluation, some weaknesses could be identified, such as learners’ self-assessment throughout the different modules. These weaknesses are addressed in Maciejewska-Stępień’s suggestions for an intercultural syllabus.

The final contribution in this section, written by Ewa Bandura, looks at a self-assessment tool for foreign language teachers, the European Portfolio for Student Teachers of Languages (EPOSTL). Although the EPOSTL aims to stimulate several areas of didactic knowledge and teaching skills, Bandura was especially interested in the role of intercultural competence and how the EPOSTL enhances student teachers’ professional awareness in this area. Bandura started her evaluation with discourse analysis methods of terms such as “inter-”, “cross-”, and “socio-cultural”. She then used Byram’s model of intercultural competences as well as descriptions of intercultural competence in the Common European Framework of reference for languages (CEFR), to investigate in how far these concepts are represented in EPOSTL. In the next step, nine teacher trainees evaluated themselves and also reflected on the EPOSTL as a tool for self-evaluation and on how far intercultural communication played a role in it. The analysis of this qualitative data reveals that the EPOSTL is a useful tool for self-evaluation; however, it does not necessarily further a teacher trainee’s understanding of intercultural competence.

The final section of this volume features three chapters related to the development of writing skills. Sabina A. Nowak investigated how self-evaluation can be used as a tool to develop ESL students’ academic writing skills. Using the homework assignments from 30 English Philology students that specifically asked them to reflect on their writing, Nowak analyzed the data according to students’ needs, problems, strengths, and weaknesses. Nowak’s study also included an evaluation of the writing course itself and self-reflection as an effective strategy for writing development. In her findings, Nowak reports that the majority of the students could use the self-evaluations as a learning experience and reflect on their writing skills, and it affected their self-confidence. Furthermore, the self-evaluation assignment not only encouraged reflection about the course but about students’ own learning.

In the following contribution, Agnieszka Leńko-Szymańska compares the use of connectors in writing samples from Polish EFL learners and British native speakers, including expert writers and students. Leńko-Szymańska used three different corpora to gather her samples, the International Corpus of Learner English (ICLE), the Louvain Corpus of Native English Essays (LOC-NESS), and the Freiburg-London-Oslo-Bergen (FLOB) corpus. The quantitative analysis of this data indicates that Polish EFL learners use linking expressions most frequently, followed closely by native speaker student writers. British expert writers use linking expressions three times less than the other two groups. The qualitative analysis found that both student groups used linking expressions correctly; however, unlike the expert writers, they often relied on them heavily to mask “a more global problem of the lack of logic in the structure of the argument” (p. 237). As her analysis indicates that the overuse of connectors is a novice writer issue, rather than L1 influence, Leńko-Szymańska suggests that the role of connectors in writing coherent discourse should be de-emphasized and other strategies, such as semantic relationships, should be focused on.

The final contribution in this volume comes from Behzad Ghonsooly and Seyyed Mohammad Reza Adel and investigates the effects of modes of discourse (narration and exposition) in the L1 and EFL writing of advanced Iranian EFL learners. This discourse analysis study asked 40 Iranian EFL learners to produce narrative and expository texts in their L1 and EFL. Their writing was then rated according to a scale adopted from Engelhard, Gordon & Gabrielson (1992), which involved an overall rating of the written texts as well as specific elements (content, organization, sentence, formation, mechanics). Statistical analyses of these ratings indicate that it is more difficult to write an expository text than a narrative text in both languages and that the learners’ L1, although influential, has a variant effect on learners’ ability to write in English. In their conclusion, the authors point out the complexities of writing as a skill, and suggest that writing studies need to include several variables in their design (not only proficiency and modes of discourse), and that writing competence may differ across different genres.

EVALUATION

Productive Foreign Language Skills for an Intercultural World (2015) is a great resource, reference, and inspiration for foreign language educators and scholars as is already indicated in its subtitle - “a guide not only for teachers”. The 21 contributing authors cover a wide range of topics within speaking, writing, and intercultural skills, including language anxiety, corpora, teacher training, and English for Business, to name just a few. The thematic scope and target audiences differ in the individual contributions, with some focusing more on the research methods and discussion, the study design, or specific suggestions and implications for teaching, but each individual contribution finds an effective balance in theory and practice for a broad audience. Although nine of the 14 contributions situate themselves in Europe, and eleven specifically focus on English as a foreign language, they are still applicable to several teaching and language contexts. The individual authors succeed in giving just enough information about relevant language policies in their respective countries and about their teaching institution; this allows readers to follow their narrative without being caught up in minor or exhausting details about their specific teaching contexts.

However, there are also a few limitations within this volume. Particularly for an edited volume, it is important that the individual contributions are synthesized and structured in a manner that allows coherence. Although the editor provides an introduction to the volume, introductions to the five sections of the volume and a discussion or closing section, as well as an author or subject index, are missing. These elements could have pointed out connections between the different studies more clearly. Furthermore, how the individual studies have been categorized is not always clear, and sometimes their connection to the theme of the section is questionable, or individual contributions in sections seem too distinct from each other to build onto each other. For instance, Dzięcioł-Pędich’s and Armaşu’s studies both focus on oral proficiency and business English; yet, they are in two separate sections. Short introductions to each of the five sections, in which the editor and/or the authors highlight the contributions’ connection to the volume section and to each other, could have facilitated a more cohesive edition.

Another aspect that could have been addressed more clearly is the editor’s definition of productive skills. He does address important aspects of the term from several contexts, i.e. productive skills as literally the skills that produce language (writing and speaking), skills based on learners’ needs and expectations, and skills that are in higher demand in the 21st century. Yet, it is not clear to the reader how and to what extent the variety of topics featured in the collection, such as the use of discourse markers, language anxiety, advanced writing, or service learning fit this definition. Similarly, the frameworks that are used by the individual contributors are coherent and well-applied to the specific study contexts; however, there is a lack of clarification of why these frameworks (task-based language teaching, Byram’s model of intercultural communicative competence, 1997) have been chosen over others. Most of the contributions in the volume endorse a CLT approach and focus on native speakers as the ideal for language learners (Komori-Glatz is an exception); however, none of the authors position their study within these frameworks or give reasons why they chose them over others.

In sum, I found the book very interesting, relevant, and accessible for anyone interested specifically in writing and speaking skills, and intercultural competence, and recommend it as a great resource to everybody interested in foreign language learning and teaching.

REFERENCES

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

Engelhard, George, Belita Gordon & Stephen Gabrielson. 1992. The influences of mode of discourse, experiential demand, and gender on the quality of student writing. Research in the Teaching of English 26. 315-336.

Fung, Loretta, & Ronald Carter. 2007. Discourse markers and spoken English: Native and learner use in pedagogic settings. Applied Linguistics 28(3). 410-439.

Kramsch, Claire. 1993. Context and culture in language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Kristin Lange is a Ph.D. candidate in the interdisciplinary doctoral program in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT) at the University of Arizona, pursuing a major in Second Language Pedagogy and Administration and a minor in German Studies. Her research interests include everyday literacies, literary texts and film in foreign language education, technology-enhanced language learning, and intercultural competence in foreign language education.

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