New hats for old: Intercultural competence and the integration of language and linguistics teaching

Authors: Susan Train, Pat Lane and Noëlle Brick


This paper discusses the development, delivery and outcomes of a module in Intercultural Communication aimed at first year undergraduate students of English Language and Linguistics, French, and Spanish at Kingston University. The incorporation of key skills and the integration of the varied linguistic and cultural experiences of the students was central to the module.

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Table of contents

This paper was originally presented at the Navigating the new landscape for languages conference (, 30 June - 1 July 2004.

1. Reasons for developing the module

This first year module for students of Modern Languages and English Language and Linguistics was developed not only in recognition of the importance of intercultural communication as a discrete academic discipline within language teaching, but also as a response to changes in our student base. In terms of the latter, we were motivated by two main factors: the desire to incorporate students' diverse cultural and linguistic experience directly into the programme, and the need to acculturate students of differing educational backgrounds into an academic study culture.

The module was developed in line with Faculty guidelines on the inclusion of key academic skills at Level 1. The priority to develop key academic skills arose within the wider context of Key Skills (Dearing 1997) and a Faculty decision to focus specifically on generic academic skills in all Level 1 fields. Informed by research such as that reported by Murphy (2001), the challenge for the design team was to provide a coherent programme which would develop key academic skills, and yet which was sufficiently subject-specific to appeal to students from different language fields.

The priorities in module design were therefore:

1. to construct a syllabus that would introduce students to the field of Intercultural Communication

2. to address the specificity of the students' degree specialism (French, Spanish and English Language fields).

3. to develop key academic skills.

These three priorities are explored below.

2. Key features of the module

2.1. The syllabus

Jordan (2002) cites Bhabha (1995) and Kramsch (1993) as describing the contribution of cultural and anthropological theory to the idea of a third space between languages and cultures in which experiential learning takes place through the negotiation of meaning or intercultural mediation. It was the drive to 'experiential learning' that underpinned the approach and content of the module.

The syllabus (see Appendix) prioritises the construction and interpretation of meaning across languages and across cultures. The main focus is on the way that shared knowledge, verbal and non-verbal, contributes to (mis)communication between different discourse communities and culture groups. This interplay of issues of language(s), communication and culture provides the theoretical framework for our module, and differentiates it, we believe, from sociological approaches to Intercultural Communication (e.g. as reviewed by Talkington and Lengel (2003)). The strong 'linguistic' focus is balanced by consideration of socialisation processes so that the construct of intercultural communication is viewed from different angles linguistic, sociolinguistic and ethnographic. This linguistic and ethnographic focus is consonant with the specialisms of modern language and linguistics students. It enabled students of diverse backgrounds to compare and reflect on their own cultural practices and interactions, and so to occupy the kind of 'third space' Kramsch describes.

2.2. Degree specialism

The syllabus was delivered through a traditional lecture/seminar programme, in which the lectures introduced basic concepts, and seminars invited exploration of ideas.

Seminars divided students into language specialism French, Spanish, English Language. This enabled variation in the language of instruction and teaching materials. For example the seminar devoted to Terms of address included generic activities to be exploited with all students but was also designed to give specific groups of students an opportunity to discover the cultural practices of their target country and, if appropriate, to discuss them in more depth in the target language. In this way, students could reflect on their own or adopted cultural and linguistic practices as speakers of English (as a first or second language); they could also privilege the study of cultural/linguistic differences in their chosen European language and culture. Crucially, students could validate their personal linguistic and cultural identities and experiences, making the seminars a most dynamic and rich part of the course.

2.3. Academic skills

The academic skills programme was implemented via a series of portfolio tasks closely linked to the syllabus (See Appendix). To support the programme, we used student mentors and a drop-in help centre (both Faculty-wide resources).

Many students find it difficult to adjust to the different, more independent demands of work in Higher Education. We wanted, therefore, to establish a work routine, complemented with regular feedback, to bridge this gap. The portfolio tasks were designed to be completed on a weekly basis and to form part of the assessment for the module.

In selecting activities, we prioritised reading, writing, and research skills as those that are most problematic for students from a range of backgrounds. We attempted to focus on both process and product, integrating writing tasks with other academic skills, e.g. critical reading.

3. Evaluation

The module is still work in progress but the vital signs seem good. We believe that we are on the right track in terms of integrating students from different fields and experience into one overarching module. Student feedback has been positive; they liked the interesting topics which set them thinking about language in the broader context and gave a taster of specialist areas of knowledge which can be studied as options later in the degree programme, or used as a focus for extended essays or period abroad projects. Many commented that the seminars were directly relevant to the course of study of each individual student. Seminar discussions were highly valued for the variety within the group and the range of experiences shared.

There have been some unexpected outcomes. The mediating role of student mentors in acculturating Level 1 students into academic study has been invaluable; the interaction between students of different linguistic, cultural, and academic backgrounds has provided a true 'third space'. In addition, the teaching team has gained insights into the essence and importance of intercultural competence, not only for language and linguistics students but also for ourselves, as members of an academic culture.

Appendix: Overview of Syllabus Topics and Portfolio Tasks

Lecture & seminar topics


Additional material or resource

Task : Academic & Key Skills practices

What is intercultural communication ?

Defining basic concepts.


Chapter 1: Samovar L & Porter R (2000) Intercultural Communication: A Reader. London: International Thomson Publishing.

Reading; using a source text: note-taking and referencing;

Writing: developing an idea in a paragraph.

Referencing; awareness of plagiarism.

Language Families


'The Internet Detective' web address

Research skills: Using the web (& working through Internet Detective ) : evaluating sources (on the web);

Researching a topic on the web ( schema, script )

Communicating the message: the knowledge we 'share' (e.g. schemas, scripts, shared knowledge).


Examples of TV advertisements

Teamworking (choosing & discussing an advertisement)

Planning and drafting a short essay: '[Advertising] coaxes the viewer into accepting a mainstream myth by presenting it tongue in cheek' (Kramsch 1993).

Non-verbal communication: what goes without saying


Anderson P (1997). 'Cues of Culture: The Basis of Intercultural Differences in Nonverbal Communication'. In Samovar L & Porter R (2000). (Full reference in Task 1)

Reading an academic text: (1) focusing on organisation of the text as a guide to reading extensively and intensively, and (2) reading critically: challenging writer's thesis (on 'dimensions of culture').

Writing: (1) re-drafting and clarifying section of source text (2) writing a critique of an argument (on 'dimensions of culture').

Beyond words it's the way you say it...

(prosody in language)


Tutor worksheet: Extract from student essay (on Intercultural Communication ), with notes from the tutor.

Evaluating content and form of academic writing: tasks invite student to comment critically on a piece of academic writing and to 'predict' tutor expectations;

Writing: Evaluating, with reasons content and form of academic writing; re-drafting section of own writing.

Meaning across cultures

(interlanguage pragmatics)



Tutor worksheet

Planning an Essay:

Analysing key words in the title, deciding overall structure, writing the introduction.

Forms of Address

Family (as a primary socialisation process)


Extracts from Written Texts : views of the child (drawn from different genres ; academic, journalistic and sociological)

Reading critically

Synthesising different information

Writing: summarising, commenting critically on perspective

Education (in the socialisation process)


Interview transcript from Willis P (1977) Learning to Labour. London: Saxon House.

Reading critically

Writing : Using sources to inform and illustrate.


Dearing, R. (1997). Higher Education in the Learning Society. Report of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education. London: HMSO.

Jordan, S. (2002). Intercultural issues in foreign language learning and ethnographic approaches [to] study abroad [online]. London: LTSN.

Kramsch, C. (1993). Context and Culture in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Murphy, R. (2001). A Briefing on Key Skills in Higher Education [on-line]. London: LTSN.

Talkington, B. and Lengel, L. (2003). A Snapshot of Intercultural Communication Courses: An International Analysis [online]. London: LTSN.
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