Integrating intercultural communicative competence in the languages classroom.


Back in the day, as a high school student learning French, I loved it when our lessons touched on French culture and ways of life. As a young adult travelling to France, seeing it all come to life before my eyes was really exciting! Later, as a French teacher myself, I frequently reflected on how I could instil that interest in culture in my students while effectively integrating it with language learning. How could I make it really meaningful for them? I was aware of various principles and theories of intercultural language teaching, but most weeks just keeping my head above water while dealing with assessments and everyday school pressures kept me 100 percent occupied, and I found I never had the time to reflect for long on how best to implement intercultural teaching and learning strategies into my classes.

Newton et al (2010) produced the Principles for Intercultural Communicative Language Teaching which aimed to be a guide for teachers on how to interweave culture into language learning.


How can you implement this in your teaching? 

The above framework provides great insight and direction, but how about exploring some activities which would help to implement these principles and get our students developing their intercultural communicative competence? Some of the following ideas are inspired by the recent case study put together by a group of New Zealand researchers (East, Tolosa, Biebricher, Howard & Scott, 2019), who observed and documented stories from a number of teachers on their journey to integrating iCLT in their classroom programmes. I would recommend reading their full report linked above as there are heaps of practical examples for your classroom.

Students direct the learning:

As discussed in the Enhancing Language Learners’ Intercultural Capability: A study in New Zealand’s schools report (East et al., 2019), when beginning a topic start by asking your students to come up with questions about the language they want to learn and what they’d like to find out about the culture related to it. Record these questions in a shared document such as a Google doc or a Google slideshow and then students can update this when they have found the answers to the questions. It is great to then reflect on this at the end of the topic and discuss the cultural differences the students have discovered.

Videos, images and other genuine stimuli to generate observations and discussion:

For a new topic, find images and videos that focus on different aspects of life and culture in various places where a language might be spoken. Use these images and photos to generate discussion. Ask students to make observations about what they notice in the images and videos, and then think about similarities and differences between their culture and daily life.

Emails with students in the country where the target language is spoken:

Establish a relationship with a school in a country where the target language is spoken. Students can communicate via email and discover more about each other’s lives and cultures. Depending on the language level of the students, this could be done in the target language or in English, or in a combination of both. You would have to provide detailed instructions on the kinds of things that were appropriate to ask the people at the other end. Reflect regularly as a class on what has been learned from this exchange of emails.

Pairing with an ESOL/EAL class:

Juliet Kennedy, teacher and researcher, suggests joining up with your ESOL/EAL teacher and getting the students to prepare questions to ask each other about their culture and daily life. This would be the most effective if there were speakers of the language you are teaching in the ESOL/EAL class – but even if there are not – it’s a great way to get your students to reflect on their own culture and become aware of other cultures and ways of living. At the same time this is an opportunity to help the ESOL/EAL students integrate into school life, and make connections. They benefit by learning some more about the culture of their new country and get a chance to share things that are important to them with others. Once again this would require input from you to guide the questions and interactions and the reflection following the interaction.

Video exchange: 

Work on a collaborative video project where students are required to make videos about aspects of their culture and daily life (either in the language they are learning, or in English, depending on their language level). Then share these videos with a class in the country where the language is spoken. Invite your ‘partner class’ to do the same and send their own videos back to you. Perhaps share these videos in an online community, such as a Facebook group or a blog where students can discuss and ask questions. You would have to provide guidelines for the task and also monitor the questions and discussion in the online forum. I have experimented with this particular concept in my own classroom and found it to be a particularly engaging activity for students. It does require a lot of teacher guidance and I think it is important to make sure the reflection is included at the end of a particular cycle of videos.

Local exchange:

If you’re not able to establish a connection with a school overseas, why not consider doing a video exchange locally – either with students at a nearby school or even with another class within your own school – you could make videos either in English or the target language about what you have learned about a particular target culture and then share these with another local school or class.

These are just a few ideas on how to promote intercultural communicative competence in the classroom. Do you have any great ideas to share? It would be wonderful to create a bank of ideas. Perhaps this forum could also be a place to share online communication and be used to connect teachers and students? Feel free to post a message in the comment area below if you are interested in finding a class in another part of the world to connect your students with. Your thoughts and ideas on getting our students to communicate interculturally are very welcome!

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