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Module:  Acquiring Intercultural Competence
Introduction & Acronyms
Syllabus Structure
Assessment  Strategy


Module: Acquiring Intercultural Competence



           Acronyms are listed at the end of this introduction

Interpretations and formats of IAR currently practised in UK institutions are very varied. Whilst many institutions run preparation courses ranging greatly in duration and intensity, it is clear that many HE language teachers fail to make the distinction between learning about another culture and acquiring intercultural competence. Cormeraie (1998) underlines a dangerous tendency in modern language teaching to view "Culture 2" from an ethnocentric perspective and states categorically : "Teaching about other cultures as a strategy for reducing prejudice does not work. Nor does it address the issue of cultural bias which can be detected in those selected aspects of the other culture that teachers ethnocentrically choose to indict or advocate in their course reinforcing in so doing stereotypes and polarities".

The starting point for this module is the argument that the approach to intercultural preparation for the PRA must be interdisciplinary and that "capability in one’s own culture is a necessary starting point for developing cross-cultural capability" (Jordan 1998). Intercultural awareness begins with an awareness of oneself and one’s own culture; this implies an awareness of the role of the self in interaction and the ability to learn from interaction.

The aim of the module is to equip students with the tools which will enable them to gain greater awareness of their own cultural values and of intercultural issues and to develop a working knowledge of life in the country or countries in which they intend to spend their period of residence abroad . As a framework, the module uses the four

Savoirs composing Byram and Zarate’s (1997) model of Intercultural Competence:

  • Savoir apprendre Understanding otherness; using and creating opportunities for observation, analysis and interpretation.

  • Savoirs Cultural knowledge, including sociolinguistic competence; awareness of non-explicit reference points such as values, beliefs, meanings.

  • Savoir ętre Understanding how an identity and a culture are socially constructed; setting aside ethnocentric attitudes and perceptions; openness and interest towards others; intercultural mediation.

  • Savoir faire Integration of the three into L2land interactions.

The role of the modern language teacher and the responsibility for building "cross-cultural capability" into the curriculum is a recurrent element in the intercultural debate.

It is often argued that no amount of preparation could ever ensure a successful PRA and that individual attitudes and personality are the key factors in success or failure. Motivation, a positive attitude, purposefulness and commitment are said to be key factors in the success of the Year Abroad. IAR - the development of intercultural awareness through educational methods - needs therefore to concern itself with knowledge, feelings, attitudes and behaviours. Activities should be varied, memorable and engage students on an affective and experiential level. The activities presented below aim to achieve this goal. Activities are designed to enable students to reflect upon themselves as individuals and as members of the social groups to which they belong. Exploring their behaviour within their micro-cultures in their home country will enable them to find strategies to cope independently with life in a foreign environment. The process of reflecting upon expectations - others’ as well as their own - and the attribution of a role for themselves is a crucial element at all stages of IAR, before, during and after residence abroad (Hall and Toll 1999 ICP sub-project report).

Whilst most workshops in this module can be led by language teachers, activities relating to the investigation into one’s personality necessitate the expertise of a trained counselling psychologist. At the University of Central Lancashire, where the module was first presented for validation, the cooperation of a counsellor from Student Services has been enlisted. Four workshops (three before and one after the PRA) will be led by a Student Services counsellor with a solid background in intercultural issues. One workshop will be led by a lecturer in Careers. The specialisms of the tutors involved in this module will reflect its inter-disciplinarity. Students will also be expected to use the web as a forum for discussing intercultural issues.

(See appendix for the format in which the module was presented for validation at the University of Central Lancashire)

The module spans the three stages of preparing for, experiencing and returning from the Period of Residence Abroad (PRA). Debriefing is seen as an integral part of the programme; the transferable skills acquired will be of benefit not only in terms of employability but will become an important part in the process of the students’ personal development.

Preparation during the semester preceding the PRA will consist of 12 workshops; the PRA will be followed by six sessions, mostly in the workshop format (see appendix for details). As the acquisition of intercultural competence is its focus, it is suggested that the module run concurrently with existing workshops and activities for the PRA rather than replace them.

The module provides a framework for developing intercultural awareness and competence by using the resources presented on the ICP website, particularly the databases of students’ experiences of the year abroad.


List of acronyms

B/D/A      before, during, after the period abroad

C2           culture of the "other" country

IAR          intercultural awareness raising

ICP          Interculture Project

L2            language of the other country

LL            learning log

PLL         personal learning log

PA           period abroad

PRA        period of residence abroad

PP(R)A   preparation for the period (of residence) abroad

SARA     Student Accounts of Residence Abroad database

STEFE   Student Teachers' Experiences in France and England database

T              task(s)

YA           year abroad