Developing and assessing intercultural communicative competence

A guide for language teachers and teacher educators

1 Introduction

Ildikó Lázár

In the last two decades many language teachers, teacher educators and second language acquisition researchers have expressed the belief that the primary aim of second and foreign language acquisition is to enable learners to communicate with people coming from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds in a multicultural world. Since there is an increasing need to be able to deal effectively and appropriately with cultural diversity, students also need to acquire intercultural communicative competence. Therefore, we can safely recommend that while teaching linguistic skills, second and foreign language instructors should also integrate a variety of cultural elements in their language lessons.

Despite the recommendations of the Common European Framework of Reference (2001) and the national curricula for language teaching in many countries, the focus of language learning and teacher education is still, to a large extent, the development of grammatical and lexical competence. However, a good knowledge of grammar rules, a rich vocabulary, a few memorized speech acts and cultural facts will not sufficiently help non-native speakers of a foreign language to socialise, negotiate or make friends in the foreign language. Furthermore, native or near native fluency alone will not necessarily help native or non-native speakers of a language to successfully communicate with people from other cultures either.

Unfortunately, there is still very little emphasis placed on the cultural dimension of language learning because very few teacher training institutions include intercultural communication training in their curriculum, and intercultural competence usually does not feature among their graduation criteria.

But what exactly is this cultural dimension? How can we define and develop intercultural competence? How do we incorporate it in our courses or workshops? What are the materials that can best help us to develop students' or trainee teachers' intercultural competence? And finally, how can we assess whether our course- or workshop participants' intercultural competence has sufficiently developed? The aim of this guide is to give some answers to these questions and help language teacher educators as well as pre- and in-service language teachers to incorporate intercultural communication training into their teaching more systematically.

This guide can be used by language teachers and teacher educators as a practical and theoretical resource book in itself or it can supplement the intercultural communication textbook entitled Mirrors and windows and published in English and French by the European Centre for Modern Languages of the Council of Europe.

The printed booklet of the present guide contains the introduction to each of the following chapters: how to plan intercultural communication courses and workshops, materials and activities to use literature, films and songs to develop intercultural competence, and guidelines and sample tasks for assessing intercultural competence. The bulk of the materials can be found on the accompanying CD-Rom. These include the theoretical background to intercultural communication training in language teaching, the workshop and course planning guidelines, teaching materials and activities, assessment tasks and descriptors of competences, research articles, workshop reports and our reflections on the lessons we learnt from the intercultural communication workshops we had held in twelve European countries within the framework of the ICCinTE project of the European Centre for Modern Languages between 2004 and 2006.

Regardless of the coursebook that you use or the target audience you work with, if you believe, like the authors of this guide do, that intercultural communication training should be an integral part of language teaching, you will find a great number of practical ideas and food for thought for yourself and for your students in the present publication.