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Review of An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching
Date: Wed, 23 Mar 2005 14:26:18 -0800 (PST) From: Karma C. Dolma Subject: An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching
AUTHOR: Corbett, John TITLE: An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching SERIES: Languages for Intercultural Communication and Education 7 PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters Ltd. YEAR: 2003
Karma C. Dolma, Ed.D.
John Corbett presents in ''An Intercultural Approach to English Language Teaching'' a theoretical examination of ELT (English language teaching) paradigms and provides practical examples of intercultural teaching and learning methods, techniques and strategies. The chapter topics which are both succinct and comprehensive explore ELT pedagogy through a study of casual conversations, written genres, ethnographies, literary studies, media, visual and cultural pedagogies influence ELT theory, practices and assessment.
Chapter 1: An Intercultural Approach to Second Language Education The first chapter provides a synopsis of significant trends in ELT in different continents such as i) Linguistics in North America, Britain and Australia, ii) Literary, Media and Cultural Studies and iii) The Rise of British Studies. Some major trends are described and explained, such as how linguistic interaction in the age of international travel, performance and assessment standards based on the concept of communicative competence, and cultural interaction have influenced the field of ELT. ELT programs have different goals and therefore different curricula to meet those teaching and learning goals. An intercultural ELT approach prioritizes the need for a critical, multicultural curriculum which actively educates and facilitates the construction of learners' personal and social identities in the process of developing speaking, listening, reading and writing skills.
Chapter 2: Implementing an Intercultural Approach The second chapter major influences in ELT such as intercultural competencies, academic and social benefits of intercultural learning, the use of ethnographic research to implement ELT, issues in adapting curriculum to situational learning needs, and designing tasks in an intercultural classroom. Corbett draws on Byram's (1997) 'five savoirs' which facilitates the development of intercultural skills in negotiation and mediation. The intercultural curriculum utilizes ethnographic methods and critical thinking to develop culturally contextualized knowledge. Second, it motivates learners by making learning topics and activities more complex, thereby challenging learners to build higher levels of intercultural competencies. The 'five savoirs' provide a framework for developing analytical, reflective and critical thinking skills. These skills help English language learners acquire and negotiate intercultural experiences in new social environments and help them position their social identities through critical analyses and self reflection.
Chapter 3: Culture and Conversational English Corbett describes ways to integrate intercultural ELT activities through casual conversations in the classroom. Historically, Intercultural Communication approaches have often overlooked a critique of socio- politics such as race, gender and economic inequities between individuals and groups of people. The ELT field challenges practitioners on how best to integrate into its curriculum authentic cultural topics and activities that provide opportunities for reflection and critique of both native and target cultures. Casual conversations are difficult to analyze because of its wide variations across cultures and complexities in language usage that leads to multiple interpretations and implications, and therefore different conclusions. Ethnographic methods developed by Hall (1999) and Judd (1999:162) provide useful models for developing data analysis and interpretations. Casual conversations often seem circuitous and multidirectional in development but it provides authentic data on how participants mediate self identities and group memberships. Conversation genres include examples of talk during mealtimes, chat, stories in conversations, storycapping, gossip, etc. The design of curriculum materials should integrate the key characteristic that marks interactional conversations, that is, the influence of power relations in shaping cultural situations, and the influence of participants' identities and roles in different casual conversations and cultural situations. Corbett concludes this chapter with some useful guidelines on how to develop an interactional syllabus to achieve both linguistic and humanistic goals.
Chapter 4: Culture and Written Genres Corbett here provides a brief history of English for general and specific purposes, how education systems and curricula differ, and development of genre studies and its applications to an intercultural approach to teaching writing skills in ELT. Linguistic genres cover three main traditions of systemic-functional, applied linguistic and new rhetorical. This chapter focuses on the genre of writing academic English in the sciences. The genre-based approach accepts that language usage occurs in social places and serves individual's cultural goals, thereby resulting in the formation of different discourse communities which provide evidence of shifting individual and group memberships. Writing is a formal genre since it has to be taught to both native and second language speakers of English. The process approach to writing is a favored method to develop writing skills since it includes such strategies as writing through trial- and-error, experiential knowledge and research, and developing writing through re-writing, peer feedback, and accessing other writing skills resources such as writing centers, language centers, and CALL laboratories.
Chapter 5: Ethnographic Approaches to Culture and Language This chapter provides a summary of the different uses of ethnographic research methods in a variety of disciplines such as linguistics, cultural studies, media studies and ELT education. The adoption of an intercultural ELT approach requires most educational organizations to provide teacher development and curricular changes. In addition, new teaching practices and rationales also need to be introduced to learners and other stakeholders who may be unfamiliar to an intercultural ELT approach. The author provides useful examples of ethnographic activities that can be used in the classroom and in more large scale educational projects. Examples of intercultural ELT activities using small-scale ethnographic research include concept training, making cultural associations and cross-cultural comparisons, and problem identification through analysis of critical learning incidents.
Chapter 6: Exploring Culture Through Interviews Highlights here include some intercultural ELT perspectives in the use of interviews, how to conduct interviews and analyze interview data. Interviews are a source of cultural information and are gained through direct interaction with native speakers in the community. Though speech genres are imbedded in and are influenced by cultural influences, casual conversations help elicit a variety of socio-cultural information such as learner identities and group memberships whereas interviews are directed to discovery of specific information. Corbett also describes briefly the research process in conducting an ethnographic investigation based on interviews with English language learners on how they apply speech genres to present their selves through narration, comparison, or argumentation with the purpose of mediating and constructing their identities through culture specific situations. Intercultural activities using an interview form help to identify and explore multiple cultural assumptions and interpretations which are usually not expressed directly but emerge through weaving conversational segue ways. Significant barriers to data gathering are the influences of insider/outsider roles, cultural assumptions and bias held by participants, the use of unintentional leading questions, and the influences of unequal power relations and contexts, all of which need to be explored in data analysis and interpretation. Corbett recommends that speech content be given equal importance to speech styles in interaction during the course of the interviews and in recording interview data. Intercultural activities in the classroom range from listening to taped interviews, analyses of recorded data, and role-playing authentic real-life situations.
Chapter 7: Developing Visual Literacy Visual literacy is defined through socio-economic knowledge and use, linguistic purposes and textual presentations, and its applications in ELT in developing countries. Visual literacy is the study of signs or semiotics which serves to raise awareness of intercultural factors and influences in ELT. The use of visual literacy in ELT has a long history through its influences in developing reading, writing, listening and comprehension skills in ELT. The traditional focus on developing 'content learning' has shifted in the last decade to an emphasis on developing skills such as critical thinking, discovery learning, and multiple perspectives, interpretations and conclusions. Interpretation of visual media requires the development of interpretive skills where visual messages are decoded and a systematic means of linguistic and cultural interpretations are developed. Skills needed to develop visual literacy are identified as observation, interpretation, and critical cultural awareness. It is important to develop analytical and interpretative skills to understand the socio-cultural meanings and influences of the symbols and images in the environment. The ease in which visual media materials can be brought to the classroom and introduced to learners make it a viable ethnographic learning resource. In addition, the influences of western linguistic traditions as well as western popular culture on visual media provide a framework for multicultural interpretations and critical analysis. In developing countries, the English language is generally associated with power, wealth, scientific advancement, glamour and popular culture. However, media in developing countries also use indigenous scripts and images as well as those inspired by local popular culture. Corbett recommends that ELT curricula use visual images of diverse people through an analysis of the relationships, associations, significance, meanings, and interpretations they represent in both popular, native and other sub-cultures.
Chapter 8: Using Literary, Media and Cultural Studies Literary, media and cultural studies share some common methodologies, practices and controversies, and these contribute to the field of education and ELT. Discourse conventions include cultural texts such as speech, writing, images, art, performance, etc. which inform learners of specific discourse conventions and prompts exploration of how different audience construct meanings and understandings. Interpretative competencies can be developed by using Stuart Hall's (1980) model of ''encoding-decoding'' of discourse production and reception to clarify aims and outcomes of intercultural ELT activities. Corbett distinguishes unmediated discourse as spontaneous conversations and interviews, and mediated discourses as texts in cultural studies such as TV interviews and sitcoms. Corbett illustrates how cultural texts can be incorporated into ELT syllabus design. Gajdusek (1988) adapted MacDonald's and his colleagues ''Four Phase Learning Cycle'' which include: pre-reading activities related to the content, small group or pair question and answer response activity, and small group discussions on key aspects of content reading followed by sharing new information in a large group, with follow- up activity of small group projects shared while in progress and on completion. Corbett notes that research on this learning cycle has provided evidence of a high degree of learner satisfaction and sense of achievement. Developing learners' competencies in encoding-decoding, semiotics and ethnographic methods provide useful tools in discovering, analyzing and interpreting cultural texts in media.
Chapter 9: Assessing Intercultural Communication The role of assessment in intercultural ELT consists of subjective and objective test formats, and formative and summative assessments. Factors to consider in determining learners' progress are test validity and content validity on both languages and cultural knowledge being assessed. Corbett reminds us that cultural rewards are often realized in the classroom as well as reaped over time. Though Communicative ELT approach is generally accepted, its assessment methods are still challenged. Corbett has synchronized the book chapters to Byram's (1997) ''Five Savoirs'' which are how interaction occurs in different contexts, how images in literary media and cultural studies are interpreted and relate to different types of information, critical reflection, and developing open-minded inquiry to promote understanding and tolerance through linguistic and intercultural studies in ELT.
Intercultural communication goals in language education emphasize the need to increase language proficiency, gain factual and cultural knowledge, promote acculturation, and mediate between different cultures. Test formats include pre-tests, on-going assessment, and post-test at different stages of the course. Tests may also combine both objective and subjective types. Objective tests consist of multiple choices, true /false questions, and short questions and answers. Difficulties in testing and quantifying subjective tests and in combination subjective /objective tests lie in differences in subjective judgments made by assessors. Corbett provides a helpful guide on how teachers can test students on this book by using the following test types: i) identifying genres by grouping /justification; ii) selecting appropriate language; examples are gap filling, cloze exercise, and justification; iii) transformation and rewriting tasks to produce genre specific texts, editing test, rewriting and shifting genres; iv) reflective essay tasks such as essays on personal experience, different points of view, evaluating alternative systems, and describing key characteristics; v) role plays and simulations using conversations, interviews and retelling stories; and vi) student projects and portfolios which use formative, multiple skills assessment, reflective writing, using media, literary and cultural images to assess developmental progress and come to an accumulative summative assessment.
Formative assessments are used to provide student-centered guidance and to assess on-going progress. These tests help increase student motivation and collaboratively draw attention to their learning needs and strengths. Corbett adds that cultural learning does not develop through a step-by- step process, but falls into place metaphorically like a jigsaw puzzle, through time and maturation of learners. Summative assessments provide an overall or concluding assessment of what the student has learned at the end of a term or period of education. Significant recent developments include the efforts of Byram and his colleagues to develop assessments to measure a 'threshold' for establishing intercultural competencies in different contexts.
Chapter 10: Prospects for Teaching and Learning Language and Culture The last chapter provides an overview of past and future directions for intercultural ELT. Intercultural ELT approach is associated with the works of Byram and his colleagues in Europe through the International Association of Language and Intercultural Communication (IALIC) and launching of the Journal for Language and Intercultural Communication. A review of literature indicates that intercultural language education is common in teaching languages other than English. Educational patterns show that state institutions focus more on teaching English as the target language compared to commercial institutions. Byram (1997B: 50) outlines curricular goals for intercultural ELT approach with the following assumptions and ethical implications that: i) individuals relate to each other as equals, ii) develop multiple and critical perspectives about one's native and host cultures, iii) are willing to question one's and others values and assumptions, and iv) readiness to engage in intercultural communications.
Though intercultural ELT is practiced more in liberal democratic societies and less in totalitarian regimes, it is becoming popular in newly liberalized societies, such as in Eastern Europe. Moral dilemmas in introducing and continuing ELT in developing nations are the imperialistic assumptions of status, power, glamour and marginalization of local languages and cultures. Corbett notes that ''It would of course be facile to say that intercultural language education can solve the problems of global inequality'' though English language education does have the potential to empower learners by giving them access to a broader humanistic education. Intercultural ELT offers the development of English language proficiency and multicultural competencies through critical and reflective thinking, thereby enabling learners to make more informed decisions in their lives. White (1988:24) describes intercultural ELT as a 'neo-humanistic' approach which places respect for individuals and their cultures at the heart of its enterprise where learners are empowered and enriched by their education. Intercultural ELT provides a process to better understanding individual and cultural diversity. Most importantly, Corbett adds, it has the potential to make a modest contribution to broadening individual perspectives and promoting open minds and societies.
This text clearly channels language teaching through various cultural contexts and emphasizes the need to switch from the traditional goal of linguistic assimilation to learning English for lifelong learning and survival needs. The clearly outlined presentation of topics and sub- topics at the beginning of each chapter provide a useful visual guide. Theories, concepts and examples culled from an array of multi-disciplinary fields make reading this book interesting and lively and the prospect and practice of ELT an exciting and challenging one.
The inclusion of some challenges that learners face provide a valuable addition to intercultural ELT since theoretical literature on language teaching often alienates learners and presents it generally from a teaching perspective only. Secondly, critical ELT educators should aim towards developing English language fluency for academic purposes or ESP rather than furthering the notion of a fixed Standardized English since the context for many English language learners is an international and/or a culturally and linguistically diverse one. What intercultural ELT needs then is an opening up of and reconceptualization of Standard English towards a more broad-based goal of developing intercultural learners who are knowledgeable, competent and fluent in English and its usage in intercultural contexts.
This book takes the reader on a comprehensive and insightful tour of ELT through three steps consisting of a historical, methodical and practical approach to the uses of intercultural ways of learning in the English language classroom. Each of the chapters provides a thoughtful study of its topics and invokes and encourages further reading. This text is a useful guide for orienting new teachers to the field of ELT and for added reading for experienced ELT professionals.
Byram, M. (1997) Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Hall, J. K. (1999) The prosaics of interaction: The development of interactional competence in another language. In E. Hinkel (ed.) Culture in Second Language Teaching and Learning (pp. 137-51). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Judd, E. L. (1999) Some issues in the teaching of pragmatic competence. In E. Hinkel (ed.) Culture in Second Language Teaching and Learning (pp. 152- 66). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hall, S. (1980) Encoding/Decoding. In S. Hall, D. Hobson, A. Lowe and P. Willis (eds.) Culture, Media, Language (pp. 128-38). London: Hutchinson.
Gajdusek, L. (1988) Towards a wider use of literature in ESL. TESOL Quarterly 22, 227-57.
MacDonald (2000) Strangers in a strange land: Fiction, culture, language. In K. Seago and N. McBride (eds.) Target Language - Target Culture? (pp. 137-155). London: AFLS/CILT.
White, R. V. (1988) Introduction. In R.V. White (ed.) Academic Writing: Process and Product (pp.4-16). London: British Council.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
I graduated with an Ed.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in May 2001. I have been working in the field of ESL language teaching for the past ten years, and more recently in ESL/EFL teacher training and research. My research and teaching interests are ESL, SLA and intercultural communication.