An intercultural approach to teaching and learning Chinese

In Chapter 7, I move forward to consider interculturality in relation to inter-cultural education and in particular to approaches to the teaching and learning of Chinese. I consider two questions to help understand why an intercultural approach is relevant: one concerns the purposes of Chinese language teaching and learning through a discussion of education ideologies; the second examines the role of culture in an intercultural approach to teaching and learning Chinese. In this chapter, I offer insights from eight lecturers and 18 students interviewed about how cultural and intercultural elements have been included in then- Chinese language courses. The perspectives of lecturers and students interviewed provide strong evidence that pedagogic and curricular adjustments to Chinese language courses are needed. From the perspectives of students in particular, I discuss how openness to interpretation and learning, and an ethnographic approach are effective elements of an intercultural approach to the teaching and learning of Chinese.

This book argues that a primary purpose of universities is to facilitate the development of intercultural understanding and exchange. Examples of universities supporting the globalization and internationalization of curricula, as shown in a study by Bourn, McKenzie and Shiel (2006), reveal how recognition of a multi-polar world benefits intellectual and cultural exchange. This move towards internationalizing and globalizing the curriculum is witnessed in some British universities where students and staff increasingly reflect transnational diversity. For about 70 years, including an internationalizing vision in university mission statements has been advocated by successive British governments as necessary for language teaching and learning, as discussed in Chapter 3; however, as Byram (2019) has argued, educational values based on internationalism need to be considered in relation to the curriculum development of language teaching. It is within the framework of this wider political context that this book, and in particular this chapter, focuses on the relevance of strengthening an intercultural approach towards teaching and learning Chinese. The students interviewed in this study identified the value of intercultural language teaching and learning where interactivity with teachers, rather than sole reliance on received cultural content, was held as contributing towards an intercultural language pedagogy.

Interculturality and intercultural education

Interculturality has become a key concept in global educational discourses. Perucca (2010: 29) describes interculturality as ‘an educational task in global society’, aiming for greater social cohesion when facing social crises in the global context. Cots and Llurda (2010) provide a useful summary of Portera’s (2008) views on multicultural or pluricultural and intercultural education as follows:

Whereas multicultural/pluricultural education aims to promote knowledge and tolerance of people with different cultural backgrounds who form part of the same socio-political unit (e.g. a school, a city, a country, etc.), the aim of intercultural education is to promote relationships, interaction and exchanges among people in a global society, where the notions of identity and culture are not considered as a given adscription but as dynamic attributes which are constructed and re-constructed in interaction with the other in the course of our lives.

(Cots & Llurda, 2010: 51, emphasis in original)

Within this conceptualization of intercultural education, cultural characteristics and qualities are perceived not in terms of simplified essentialist attributes defining certain peoples and gr oups, but instead as attributes which are part of a wider-global, human inheritance that can enrich the lives of peoples in a globalizing world. There is a positive re-evaluation of ‘the other' during everyday interactions. Thus, Portera (2008: 481) has argued that ‘education, in an intercultural sense, is currently the most appropriate answer to globalization and interdependence’. It is this conceptualization of intercultural education that this book adopts.

It is helpful to understand interculturality by distinguishing it from the notion of liberal multiculturalism identified by Holliday (2012: 41) as being aligned with a neo-essentialist view of culture which focuses its ‘interest in the celebration and sharing of artefacts, festivals, ceremonies, dress, food, and customs'. Holliday argues that this liberal approach, ‘has been widely criticized as hiding a deeper racism’ (p. 41), because it presumes a western-centred position with other cultures existing in a peripheral or subordmate position in relation to it. In contrast to this simplifying and over-generalizing celebration of co-existing cultural diversity which ‘others’, interculturality moves towards a philosophy and practice of genuine sharing and equal participation (see Nakayama & Martin, 2014). There is an increasing awareness that Western-centric or Eurocentric ideology needs to be deconstructed and repositioned (e.g. Holmes, 2008; Tridimas, 2020; Yang, 2015).

During the process of learning a language, learners are able to reflect upon their identities and experiences of cultural elements that differ from those with which they may have previously engaged, and then learn through the process; thus there are educational values embedded in the teaching and learning of the language. This awareness is something a number of studies, such as those by Byram, Golubeva, Hui and Wagner (2017), have promoted, where the focus is on intercultural citizenship as a key aspect of‘foreign' language education. To quote Byram

Teaching and learning Chinese 125 (2012: 90): ‘the relationships among groups are crucial and the ability of individuals and groups to live and interact with individuals and groups of other identifications has been described as “intercultural citizenship”'. Byram (2008) emphasizes the experiential and political aims of intercultural education and states that there is an expectation of creating change in the individual. Learners are encouraged to develop intercultural awareness and sensitivity in increasingly multicultural and multilingual circumstances. Ultimately, the aim of this educational process is to enable the learner to be critically self-reflective in order to develop how they see themselves and how they respond to the changing world around them. Star-key (2011) has described this process as cosmopolitanism, a shift of focus from nationalist to cosmopolitan perspectives. Referring to English-language education in the UK and Europe in a post-colonial, globalized and multilingual world, the English language has ceased to be English in a national sense and has instead become the property of an international community of users. Developing a transnational identity and shifting a focus towards interculturality is important while learning a language, especially in the case of Chinese, which, as I have argued, is increasingly becoming a world language. It should be noted that interculturality also emphasizes, as discussed in earlier chapters, that the learning process must have a social basis, rather than being focused solely on the individual learner.

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