Developing Critical Languaculture Pedagogies in Higher Education: Theory and Practice

Developing Critical Languaculture Pedagogies in Higher Education: Theory and Practice

by Adriana Raquel Diaz


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783090341
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 09/17/2013
Series: Languages for Intercultural Communication and Education Series , #25
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 16.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Adriana Raquel Díaz is Associate Lecturer at the School of Languages and Linguistics, Griffith University, Australia. Her main research activities focus on the development of intercultural competence, the variables affecting the implementation of intercultural language curricula and teaching methodologies as well as teachers' journeys in the development of intercultural language learning pedagogies.

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Developing Critical Languaculture Pedagogies in Higher Education

Theory and Practice

By Adriana Raquel Díaz

Multilingual Matters

Copyright © 2013 Adriana Raquel Diaz
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78309-034-1


Stumbling Blocks to Bridging the Theory/Practice Gap


Foreign language teachers in universities around the world find themselves at a crossroads. They are required to reconceptualise their role and teaching practices, as well as specific curricular content and objectives, within a paradoxical educational landscape: an increased focus on internationalisation of higher education parallel with a decrease in university offering of foreign language education. Disconnection between the internationalisation strategies of higher education institutions (HEIs) and the provision of language education has emerged as a major gap in the internationalisation rhetoric (Byram, 2012b; Crichton & Scarino, 2007; Pauwels, 2011; Trevaskes et al., 2003). This rhetoric reflects serious discrepancies between an interculturally aware vision for graduates and the practices in place to realise it.

My aim in this chapter is to begin to articulate the pervasive nature of these discrepancies, which I conceptualise as 'stumbling blocks' to narrowing the theory/practice gap in language and culture pedagogy. Here 'theory' refers not only to theoretical concepts and frameworks in the field of language education, but also to the rhetoric endorsed in policy documents, institutional mission statements and descriptions of course curricula. Both aspects represent a top-down perspective on examining the problem. The bottom-up perspective is provided through the actual realisations of 'theory' in the everyday classroom, which is explored in Part 2 of this book.

I begin this chapter with a critical examination of what is now widely acknowledged to be the ultimate goal in language education: the development of intercultural competence. I consider this goal in the context of a field in transition and in light of the imperative currently driving higher education to develop interculturally competent graduates. I then shift the spotlight to examine the international backdrop against which this goal is avowed in various policy documents and institutional mission statements. The underlying argument here is that identification and critical assessment of these 'stumbling blocks' can constitute a suitable starting point to uncover grounds more conducive to innovation and, ultimately, to sustainable achievement of this goal in practice.

Language and Culture Pedagogy: Facing Some Inconvenient Truths

It is undeniable. The last few decades have witnessed the emergence of globalisation processes that have fundamentally changed the nature of human communication and, in so doing, have reshaped, redefined and reconfigured communication across languages and cultures: from population mobility to instant international communication and the ever-increasing frequency of intercultural encounters. Languages education, as an inherently intercultural activity, has been called upon to equip learners to deal with this new reality, heralding significant changes to the field. The most fundamental change is reflected in the underlying goal of language learning, no longer defined primarily in terms of the acquisition of communicative competence (CC) (Hymes, 1972) in a foreign language, but rather as the development of intercultural communicative competence (ICC) (Byram, 1997; Byram & Zarate, 1994). The concept of ICC, now widely spread in the context of foreign language education, signalled a landmark shift in the way language education approaches the integration of a cultural dimension. This competence model attempted to operationalise the place of sociocultural knowledge in the development of learners' linguistic proficiency. As such, ICC is conceived as comprising of four sub-competences, three of which were included in previous models of CC: linguistic, sociolinguistic and discourse competences (Canale, 1983; Canale & Swain, 1980; Hymes, 1972; Savignon, 1983), and, as a new element: intercultural competence (IC). The last of these is conceived as encompassing a set of practices that can be grouped under three dimensions: cognitive (knowledge), behavioural (skills) and affective (attitudes), all crucial to helping learners communicate effectively across languages and cultures and thus to become 'inter-culturally competent'.

Byram and Zarate (1994) explained these dimensions using the French term savoir, which can be translated as 'knowing'. They identified four savoirs. The first, savoirs or 'knowings', represents the knowledge of self and other in interaction, both individual and societal. The second, savoir comprendre, or 'knowing how to understand', concerns the skills for interpreting and relating information. The third, savoir apprendre/faire or 'knowing how to learn/to do', concerns the skills for discovering new knowledge and for interacting to gain new knowledge. The fourth, savoir être or 'knowing how to be', concerns the attitudes involved in relativising the self and valuing the other. Byram (1997) later added a fifth component, savoir s'engager or 'knowing how to commit oneself', which concerns the development of 'critical cultural awareness'. Byram compared this last component with the purposes of politische Bildung in the (West) German education tradition, in which the goal is to encourage 'learners to reflect critically on the values, beliefs and behaviours of their own society' (Byram, 2009b).

Since its emergence in the field of language education more than 15 years ago, 'intercultural competence' has largely eclipsed its overarching ICC model to the point of achieving a ubiquitous yet somewhat elusive presence. IC's ubiquity may be attributed to various factors. One is its significant impact on the field vis-à-vis emerging processes of globalisation, such as the ever-increasing frequency of cross-cultural and cross-linguistic encounters. Second, as a direct corollary, is the influential adoption of it at macro policy level in various educational contexts. IC has been widely adopted as a desired goal for language education in the United Kingdom and across the European education policy context. The Council of Europe's Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) has endorsed this model within the compulsory education system as a framework to prepare learners:

... for interaction with people of other cultures; to enable them to understand and accept people from other cultures as individuals with other distinctive perspectives, values and behaviours; and to help them to see that such interaction is an enriching experience. (Byram et al., 2002: 6, emphasis added) At university level, Deardorff's Delphi study on university administrators and leading intercultural experts led to the identification of Byram's IC definition as the most applicable for formulating university goals in United States tertiary institutions:

Knowledge of others, knowledge of self; skills to interpret and relate; skills to discover and/or to interact; valuing others' values, beliefs and behaviours; and relativising one's self. Linguistic competence plays a key role. (Byram, 1997: 34, cited in Deardorff, 2006: 247)

Yet IC is till elusive, which may be associated with the complexities involved in articulating its manifestation in practice. Overall, despite widespread agreement about its central role in language education, IC remains a largely uncontested concept. Byram himself noted that his model has been 'widely cited, and less widely, critically evaluated' (Byram, 2009b: 322). In so doing, he motivated much reflection on the matter, by both himself and other scholars. As a result, in recent years various aspects of this concept have come under increasing scrutiny (cf Byram, 2009a; Byram, 2009b, 2012a; Coperias Aguilar, 2007; Harden, 2011; Houghton, 2010, 2012; Witte & Harden, 2011, inter alia), gradually giving shape to criticism that I aim to articulate in this section as theoretical and pedagogical 'stumbling blocks'. I have grouped these criticisms under three interrelated categories: (1) conceptual; (2) relational; and (3) developmental.

At the core of this critique lies a pressing question recently posed by Harden (2011: 75). The question asks whether or not it is feasible to continue pursuing IC as an educational goal, as it is currently conceived, when it is diminished by considerable limitations across these categories. These limitations ultimately call into question the reliability and validity (cf. Vijver & Leung, 2009) of the very research that aims to develop IC in practice. In light of this discussion, I argue for a shift away from IC and towards the notion of criticality. This shift foregrounds a key notion already integral to IC (Byram, 2012a) that also seems to underlie common understandings of what it takes to become interculturally competent across disciplines. I argue that a focus on criticality can give shape to a renewed teaching and research agenda driven by critical trends in language and culture pedagogy, which have already been gradually generating theoretical and paradigmatic changes in this field (cf. Byram, 2012a; Dasli, 2011a, 2011b; Houghton, 2010, 2012; Johnston et al., 2011; Levine & Phipps, 2012; Yamada, 2010).

The purpose of this discussion is not to replicate reviews of the literature on conceptualising 'intercultural competence', which are already available in a wide variety of disciplines within and beyond the field of language education (cf. Spitzberg & Changnon, 2009). Rather, here I aim to articulate a formal critique of the limitations of 'intercultural competence' as it is currently conceptualised and applied to research in language education. In so doing, I seek to address the tensions between the field's vision for the development of intercultural speakers and the difficulties of realising this vision in everyday practice.

Theoretical and pedagogical 'stumbling blocks'


This first category concerns the conceptual nature of 'intercultural competence' as articulated in Byram's work (Byram, 1997, 2009b, 2012a; Byram & Zarate, 1994) and as it relates to the ontological assumptions about application of this concept. In unpacking this term, the individual notions of 'intercultural' and 'competence' may be considered separately or as a whole. Ontological assumptions in the use of the term 'intercultural' alone have been widely addressed in the field of intercultural communication (cf seminal works by Bennett, 1998; Gudykunst et al., 1988; Gumperz & Hymes, 1986; Scollon & Scollon, 1995, among others).

In the context of language education, assumptions about the 'intercultural' are largely underpinned by how 'language', 'culture' and their inter-relationship are conceptualised, together with their role in communication and in pedagogical applications for developing 'intercultural speakers' (cf. House, 2007; Kramsch, 1999; Lo Bianco, 2003). The relationship between language and culture and its place in language teaching have long been a focus of discussion (Brooks, 1968; Damen, 1987; Liddicoat & Crozet, 2000; Risager, 2006b; Seelye, 1984). While these discussions continue, the general consensus is that language education can no longer be conceived devoid of an (inter)cultural dimension (cf. Arabski & Wojtaszek, 2011; Byrnes, 2010; Kramsch, 1998a, 1998b). While Byram's model stresses the inseparable relationship between language and culture, it ultimately lacks a systematic view of this relationship (Risager, 2007) in a way that can be mapped onto the mechanics of everyday practice. This is highly problematic.

Claims of 'indivisibility' or of an isomorphic relationship between language and culture have almost become a cliché in languages education, leading to claims that language and culture are 'inseparable', or are 'inextricably linked', or the most frequent that 'language is culture and culture is language'. Significantly, as Fantini pointed out more than a decade ago, although most language educators acknowledge that language and culture are inter-related, '... they often lack explicit understanding of this interrelationship' (Fantini, 1991: 115). This widespread but over-simplified description of the relationship between language and culture is thus highly problematic. It can lead to the assumption that, if targeted effectively, language learning per se will lead to culture learning. Robinson poetically refers to this assumption as the 'magic-carpet-ride-to-another-culture syndrome' (Robinson-Stuart & Nocon, 1996; Robinson, 1978), and it has been challenged by several researchers (Byram et al., 1990; Hall & Ramirez, 1993; McMeniman & Evans, 1997; Risager, 2006b; inter al.). Yet, it is an assumption that continues to be part of the collective subconscious in languages education, not only for teachers, but also for learners (Gieve & Cunico, 2012; Pauk, 2007) and other academics outside the languages field.

Thus, in spite of both espousing IC on paper and being 'favourably disposed' to its integration in practice, teaching curricula and actual teaching practices still reveal a relationship between language and culture largely disjointed (Piasecka, 2011; Sercu, 2007). This is evident in the predominant features of two areas of the curriculum: linguistically oriented learning goals and linguistically oriented assessment tasks and evaluation criteria. Predominance of linguistically oriented practices can be attributed to the field's historical focus on the study of languages as systems of grammatical categories and on their corresponding assessment (Agar, 1994; Risager, 2006b).

Assessment raises another concern about how ICC is conceptualised. Use of the term 'competence' evokes positivist, assessment-driven agendas underlining communicative competence models and associated iterations such as Bachman's model of 'communicative language ability' (Bachman, 1990). Here some observers have suggested that the term 'competence' is itself one of the most controversial and confusing terms in the field. Many have attributed this confusion and conceptual discrepancies to the 'genealogy' of the term (Coperias Aguilar, 2007; Harden, 2011; Rathje, 2007, inter alia). In Byram's ICC model, IC is conceptualised as including cognitive, behavioural and affective dimensions – attributions commonly found in the field of education (Taylor, 1988; Wiemann & Backlund, 1980). However, this conceptualisation of 'competence' is not coherent with the conceptualisation of 'competence' that underlines the rest of ICC's sub-components: linguistic, sociolinguistic and discourse competences. Indeed, although Byram and Zarate developed their model specifically in the context of foreign language teaching, its influential notion of 'intercultural competence' does not specifically deal with the interrelationship of these savoirs and the linguistically oriented sub-components of the CC model they aimed to complement. These sub-components were conceived within predominantly cognitive and psycholinguistic dimensions. The internal conceptual discrepancies thus create confusion over how to approach development of the two competing conceptualisations of 'competence'.


As a direct corollary of these conceptual limitations, relational weaknesses also emerge among the components of ICC. Byram's model assumes, but does not clearly explain, how each of ICC's components – linguistic, sociolinguistic, discourse and intercultural competence – relates to, or influences, the others (Liddicoat et al., 2003: 15-16; Rathje, 2007; Scarino, 2009). While Byram's description makes clear that the model does not 'attempt to represent in two dimensions the complexity of the relationships among all the factors' (Byram, 1997: 72), the model's diagram uses double-sided arrows to join these four components, thus suggesting rather than articulating their interdependent relationships (Byram, 1997: 73). As a result, these relation-ships are never explicitly addressed in the mechanics of the model.


Excerpted from Developing Critical Languaculture Pedagogies in Higher Education by Adriana Raquel Díaz. Copyright © 2013 Adriana Raquel Diaz. Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
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Table of Contents





Chapter 1 — Stumbling Blocks to Bridging the Theory/Practice Gap

Chapter 2 — From Stumbling Blocks into Building Blocks


Chapter 3 — Case Studies of Curricular Innovation

Chapter 4 — The Good, the Bad and the Feasible


Chapter 5 - Articulating the Feasible with Sustainable Innovation

Conclusion - Prospects for a Field in Transition

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