Culture and pedagogy

What is the culture of ELF interaction, what is its role in the language classroom and how can teachers address it? Baker (2011) has pointed out that for ELF speakers, whose communicative strategies are those of multicultural language users rather than native English speakers, no 'target culture' actually exists. The existence of online communities, for example, where ELF discourse flourishes, calls into question the very notion of 'cultural authenticity' (Kern 2014). Very often English cannot be confined within a single community of practice but is connected to a range of communities where there is no explicit link between nation, language and culture. As a result, Baker argues that ELF users need a flexible model of culture that enables them to adapt their English as it moves between communities and that this kind of 'intercultural communicative competence' can only be achieved by developing intercultural awareness (ICA).

The concept of ICA has considerable pedagogical significance. A high level of ICA is needed by a wide range of communities of practice, particularly business communities and academia, where intercultural expertise needs to be acquired in order to achieve professional goals through the medium of English, and immigrant communities and displaced ethnic groups, where English is used as a lingua franca. ICA, it is argued, enables such communities to deal with communicative situations with which they may not be familiar. As with the teaching of pragmatics and intelligibility, the aim of an ELF-orientation to the teaching of culture is to enhance the flexibility of the ELF user so that they adapt to interactions as they are taking place and are not hindered by cultural stereotyping or expectations as to how interaction should proceed. The practical task of developing this kind of intercultural awareness has now begun to be addressed (see, e.g., Feng, Byram and Fleming 2009). The classroom is now seen as both a source of knowledge of diverse communicative practices and a forum for critical discussion and reflection, and practical suggestions for the teaching of intercultural awareness are illustrated in the Intercultural Awareness section below.

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