Developing Intercultural Competence

This post summarizes and discusses an article by Alvino Fantini in the July 2008 issue of The Language Teacher (Vol. 32, No. 7), a monthly publication of the Japan Association for Language Teaching.

Alvino Fantini, professor emeritus at SIT Graduate Institute, is a featured speaker at the upcoming 2008 JALT International Conference this fall in Tokyo.  His article entitled “Developing intercultural competence: Reexamining the goal and role of language education,” suggests that traditional language education is not structured to foster intercultural communicative competence (ICC) in language learners.

Alvino asserts that language competence, while playing an important role in ICC, does not equal ICC.  Instead, it is the second of three areas of competence necessary for ICC.  The three areas are “the ability to establish and maintain relationships, the ability to communicate with minimal loss or distortion, and the ability to cooperate to accomplish tasks of mutual interest of need” (p. 22).  In addition, he says understanding the four dimensions of the KASA paradigm (Awareness + Attitudes, Skill, Knowledge) is central to developing ICC.  As teachers of language and culture, he encourages us to go beyond the small culture lessons mixed in with our language teaching and strive to develop a curriculum that encourages ICC in our students.

After reading Alvino’s thought-provoking article, I imagined redesigning the English communication class I taught in Japan last year to better incorporate the other areas essential for ICC.  What activities could I add to encourage the development of ICC in my students beyond occasional mentions of culture in class? I brainstormed some ways in which I might apply his ideas to my own classes.

  • Assign reflective journals for my students to think about their attitudes toward English and American culture (and other cultures too!)
  • Encourage the use of non-verbal communication factors (gestures, level of eye contact and so on) that are consistent with the target language and culture
  • Provide opportunities for my students to work in groups on projects with native (or native-like) speakers of English in the area (possibly a cooking night or an outing that they plan together)
  • Arrange correspondence activities with students in a country of the target language in which students can achieve real communication using their knowledge of the target language and culture (pen pals, cultural exchange projects, etc.)

I am looking forward to implementing these ideas and coming up with more ways to include ICC development activities in my internship this winter and my future career as a language educator.  This really is an exciting time to be studying language education!

A short biographical statement is available at SIT’s web page.

The full article is available at JALT’s web page.


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One Response to “Developing Intercultural Competence”

  1. matadmissions Says:

    Thanks very much for the review of the Alvino’s article in TLT. I worked with all of the authors on that issue and he’s a star! He was a great author to communicate with and his ideas are valuable. I really appreciated his contribution to that issue of TLT and felt it was particularly strong.

    I passed the review on to all of our staff, too.


    Ted O’Neill
    Editor, The Language Teacher

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