ICIS Newsletter

ICIS News, Volume 4:1 (July 2006)

by User Not Found | 10/26/2011
In This Issue ...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Notes From the Coeditor
    • Greetings From the Cochair
    • Greetings From the Chair-Elect
  • Articles
    • Is Culture Dead in TESOL? Part 1: History and Critiques of Culture in TESOL
    • Is Culture Dead? Part 2: So What’s the Alternative?
    • Is Culture Dead? Part 3: Classroom Implications of Culture Theory
    • Is Culture Dead? Part 4: Identifying Difference in an ESL Classroom
    • How Can Intercultural Competence Be Developed?
  • Announcements
    • Call for Manuscripts
  • About This Member Community
    • ICIS Steering Committee Members

Leadership Updates Notes From the Coeditor

Rebekah Muir, AssociateProfessor, ESL, Cy-Fair College, Cypress, Texas, USA

I was one of the unlucky many who were not able to attend the Tampa conference this year. Because of this, I was eager to read the papers that you will find in this newsletter and in the next newsletter coming out in October 2006. Except for the paper by Piper McNulty, our past cochair, which is the first part of a two-part paper on defining and teaching genuine intercultural competence, all of the papers are based on a presentation given during the TESOL 2006 conference. "Is Culture Dead in TESOL?" has four parts that give a history of the critique of teaching culture in the classroom and some solutions for those unsure of how to bring this important part of ESL to our students. Each paper presents vibrant insights into issues that we deal with as intercultural communication teachers and students.

This newsletter is also a means for you to get more involved in our interest section. To this end, Cochair Susan Coakley and Cochair-Elect Donna Fujimoto introduce themselves and what the ICIS Steering Committee has already begun working on during this next year. If you are interested in helping out with reading proposals this summer and/or volunteering for the conference in Seattle 2007, consult the included list of the committee members for the cochairs's e-mail addresses. We are here to serve your needs/interests in the area of intercultural communication, so your help and input are essential.

The cochairs in particular have asked me to plead with the 80% of our members who have not joined the ICIS e-list within TESOL. Because of issues with bulk mailing, TESOL no longer uses e-blasts to get out ongoing news. This means that the steering committee can use only this newsletter and the e-list to contact our members. Our newsletter comes out only in June, October, and February, which leaves large gaps in our communication with you. For this reason, please go to the ICIS Web site on the TESOL webpage to find the link to join our e-list.

If you enjoyed reading papers by other ICIS members, think how valuable your expertise can be to other members. I invite you to submit your manuscripts for the 2006 fall newsletter by the deadline, September 15. The Fall 2006 Call for Manuscripts details the central topic of "privilege in TESOL" for this newsletter, but feel free to send me papers on other topics related to intercultural communication. In particular, let me know about events and professional development opportunities in your area of the world. This is, after all, a newsletter.

I look forward to hearing from you, whether it be your comments, news, or manuscripts.


Greetings From the Cochair

Susan Coakley, University of Delaware, Maryland, USA, scoakley@comcast.net



To all ICIS members who were in Tampa, and those who were not:


The convention was very exciting, including many sessions that went beyond the "bare bones" of intercultural communication. I hope that TESOL 2007 inSeattle will bring us many more exciting sessions, as you all work on submitting proposals so many months ahead of time. Don't forget to check the TESOL Web site to view video of selected sessions from Tampa, including sessions by Carolyn Graham, Neil Anderson, and Natalie Hess.


The ICIS is not just the few people who meet on the steering committee to plan the next conference. It is not just the group of people who meet in the open meeting and talk about the issues we want to bring up at the next convention. It is not even all the ICIS members who attend the conventions, sharing, learning, networking, and playing. It is all TESOL professionals who observe intercultural interaction in or out of the classroom and think about the implications and the significance of those interactions.


I am very excited to be working with the steering committee at this time, when intercultural communication is more important than ever. As Piper McNulty, past cochair, concluded in the last ICIS newsletter, "We are truly training the citizens of tomorrow for perhaps the greatest challenge they will face in the 21st century: simply getting along."


I want to thank all of you who are working in the field, have submitted session proposals, have volunteered to read proposals, have joined the e-list, and have worked toward better intercultural understanding in your classes and your lives.


I look forward to working with you and learning from you in the coming year.




Greetings From the Chair-Elect

Donna Fujimoto, Osaka, Japan, fujimoto@wilmina.ac.jp




As soon as the Intercultural Communication Interest Section was officially launched in TESOL, I joined immediately because this field not only is close to my heart, but is a constant part of my daily life. I am a Japanese-American who currently lives in Japan, and though I look like the citizens of Japan, many of my habits, my values, and my patterns of thinking contrast with those of ordinary Japanese people. I have learned and made many adjustments living in this society, and the changes that I have been through continue to fascinate me. It has not always been easy, and many things about living in Japan are still rather challenging. Perhaps it is precisely because I am still being stretched that I often get involved in discussions about cultural differences with my friends, colleagues, or my students.


I became involved with the field of intercultural studies more than 10 years ago. I had always been involved in organizing classes that prepare Japanese students for study abroad, but I became more professionally involved when I joined SIETAR Japan (Society for Intercultural Education, Teaching and Research). I began to do research on intercultural education and also on studies that compare the interactions between Japanese and North Americans. In 1999 I became the Coordinator of the Special Interest Group of SIETAR called the Contrast Culture Method. This group conducts intercultural training for teachers, students, and business people, but the bulk of our time is spent as a study group.


I have been an active TESOL member for many years, and from 1998 to 2001 I served on the board of directors as the affiliate representative. That was a busy but most rewarding experience. Looking back, I believe I enjoyed being able to work with teachers from so many different parts of the world the most. Unfortunately, because of my job at a women's college in Osaka, Japan, I was unable to attend the TESOL conference in 2004 and 2005, so I was very pleased to be able to finally come back in 2006 in Tampa. Having been away for a while, I welcome the chance to be involved with ICIS, and I look forward to working with as many members as possible in the next few years. Thank you, everyone, for your great support.

Articles Is Culture Dead in TESOL? Part 1: History and Critiques of Culture in TESOL

Gayle L. Nelson, Department of Applied Linguistics and ESL, Georgia State University, Georgia, USA, gaylenelson@gsu.edu

This introduction and the following three papers from a colloquium at TESOL 2006 grew out of a seminar on TESOL and culture theory that I organized in fall 2005 at Georgia State University (GSU). The seminar consisted of six students who had already taken my graduate IC course. My vision for the seminar corresponded to the reading group in Reading Lolita in Tehran (Nafisi 2004): We'd meet in my house, drink tea, and talk about ideas and issues that were important to us.

Although that's pretty much what happened, at times the seminar was pretty rough going. One purpose of the seminar was to read and discuss theorists who question the construct of "culture." As a group, we looked at Marxist, poststructural, and postmodern theories through different lenses and talked about their relationship or nonrelationship to teaching. At different times, I think each of us got lost in words or theories and wondered if we would ever find culture again.

The act of creating the papers for the colloquium was an important part of creating meaning from that seminar. After questioning so many "truths" or givens, a year later each of us has put the fragments back together in a different way. I begin by giving a brief history of culture in TESOL, the attacks on culture by postmodernists and others, and the reasons the term culture has become problematic.

A Brief History of Culture in TESOL
This simplified history provides context for the papers that follow. In the United States, culture has long been associated with the study of foreign languages such as French, German, and Spanish. Foreign language departments frequently taught "Big C" culture—for example, the literature, art, and music of the target language. In the 1960s and 70s, foreign language educators (e.g., Brooks[1968], Nostrand [1974]) introduced "little c" culture—the culture of everyday life, how to use language in real situations. It was Dell Hymes (1971), however, and his work with communicative competence that legitimized the importance of teaching the social or cultural appropriateness of language forms. Also related to communicative competence is cross-cultural pragmatics-the study of cultural differences in speech acts, politeness, and so forth.
In addition to Big C and little c culture, communicative competence, and cross-cultural pragmatics, other cultural topics in our field have been cultural differences in learning styles and cultures of learning. Jin and Cortazzi (1998) defined culture of learning as "socially transmitted expectations, beliefs, and values about good learning, . . . the roles and relations of teachers and learners, . . . appropriate teaching and methods, . . . and about what constitutes good work in classrooms" (p. 749). As examples, let me offer two quotations from a Chinese student's journal: 

Dr. X brought some snacks to class and I tried one at the very beginning and it tasted really good, but I won't do it again. I wouldn't feel comfortable eating while the class is going on. 
 Our professor stepped on a chair to pull down the screen and I was puzzled. No one  offered to help.

Both entries represent situations in which the student's experience in China contrasts with her experience in her classes at GSU. She is confused by behaviors in her graduate classes in the United States.  The culture of learning, and particularly the role of professors, seems different. Another quotation, also from a Chinese student, comments on the inappropriate classroom behavior of a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer serving as a teacher in China:

I'm a Chinese. As we all know, the Chinese nation is rather conservative. . . . Our foreign teachers—Peter and Adam—came to teach this term. . . . They are more casual than us Chinese. . . . When Mr. Hessler is having class, he can scratch himself casually without paying attention to what others say. He dresses casually, usually with his belt dropping and dangling. . . . It isn't considered good manners in China, especially in old people's eyes. (Hessler, 2001, p. 17)

In addition to these influences, many TESOL programs were affected by a number of other fields and scholars. The field of intercultural communication introduced terms—collectivism, individualism, high power distance, face—meant to help people understand cultural differences. Scholars such as Alptekin (Alptekin and & Alptekin, 1984), Phillipson (1992), Pennycook (2001), and Canagarajah (1999) have voiced concerns about cultural and linguistic imperialism in the teaching of English. In our field, culture is also explicit in contrastive rhetoric, an area of study that examines cultural differences in types of written discourse, the importance of cultural background knowledge in reading and listening comprehension (schema theory), and the importance of understanding culturally appropriate norms related to conversation (issues of turn-taking, silence, speech acts, politeness).

Intercultural ESL/EFL textbooks, such as those by Levine and Adelman (1982, 1993), Levine, Baxter, and McNulty (1987), and Zanger (1985) were common and almost-popular in the 1980s and 1990s. However, these are less popular now for a number of reasons because of a fundamental shift in attitude related to culture in TESOL. What happened? Why are we asking "Is Culture Dead in TESOL?"

Postmodern Critiques of Culture

I have oversimplified this historical overview because postmodernism existed during the whole period I've been talking about, but from my point of view, it did not significantly affect the field of TESOL until the 1990s, particularly in the area of second language writing. The postmodernists ask important questions about the fundamental tenets of modernism and the Enlightenment. Simply stated, they question all received knowledge. They question human rationality, free will, and human control over nature. They question science, the scientific method, democracy, capitalism, and culture. For our purposes, we'll focus on culture.

One of the results of postmodernism has been the effective critique of the received view of culture, usually referred to as the essentialist view: a view of culture in which people are associated with a country; are homogeneous; share a language; behave in defined, relatively static and constrained ways; share values and beliefs; and have a shared history. Culture becomes thing-like, coherent, and timeless.  Essentialist comments might include the following: U.S. Americans are task-oriented; Mexicans are family-oriented; Minnesotans are hard-workers; in schools, Egyptians have a large power distance; Chinese students study hard.

Culture as Problematic 

Ruth Spack (1997) wrote an article for the Forum section of the TESOL Quarterly in which she argues against labeling students as ESL or EFL students or generalizing about students at all. Critical of descriptors such as Chinese or Russian, she stated that "teachers and researchers need to view students as individuals, not as members of a cultural group." Kubota (1999) argued that Japanese culture is often portrayed as traditional, homogeneous, group oriented, and valuing harmony. Self-expression and creativity are underemphasized. At the same time, she says, U.S. culture is characterized as valuing individualism, self-expression, and critical thinking, traits that she argues are presented as more valuable. In her 2001 article in the TESOL Quarterly, Kubota elaborated on the "othering" of Japanese culture, drawing on Edward Said's work on orientalism. Said (1978) criticized the West's construction of the Orient. "The essence of the Orientalism," he asserted, "is the distinction between western superiority and oriental inferiority." Said was a Palestinian Egyptian and a scholar at Colombia University who analyzed how people from the Orient were portrayed by people from the West or by colonial discourse. Many scholars, including Kubota, have drawn on his work. Kubota perceived cultural descriptions of Asian classrooms to be a function of colonial discourses in which Asian classes are represented as authoritarian, rigid, transmission-based, and imitative, whereas U.S. classrooms are described as dynamic, critical, flexible, and creative.

Dwight Atkinson summarized what many TESOL scholars who are wary of the way culture has been taught, discussed, and used in our field have been saying: "Cultural descriptions stereotype, essentialize, homogenize and reduce individuals to cultural types; . . . have roots in colonialism, representing non-Western peoples as "Other"—as deficient; ESL teachers and researchers may be susceptible to these discourses and should ignore them altogether" (personal communication, December 27, 2005).

Conceptualizations of culture in TESOL have shifted dramatically over the past two decades. These shifts ask us to consider carefully the theories as well as the practices that inform our approaches to research and classroom teaching.


Alptekin, C., & Alptekin, M. (1984). The question of culture: EFL teaching in non-English-speaking countries. ELT Journal, 38, 14-20.
Brooks, N. D. (1968). Teaching culture in the foreign language classroom. Foreign Language Annals, 1, 204-217.
Canagarajah, A. S. (1999). Resisting linguistic imperialism in English language teaching. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hessler, P. (2001). River town:  Two years on the Yangtze. New York:  HarperCollins.
Hymes, D. (1971). Competence and performance in linguistic theory. In Huxley, R & E. Ingram (Eds.), Language acquisition: Models and methods (pp. 3-28). London: Academic Press.
Jin, L., & Cortazzi, M. (1998). The culture the learner brings: a bridge or a barrier. In M. Byram & M. Fleming (Eds.), Language learning in intercultural perspective: Approaches through drama and ethnography (pp. 98-118). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Kubota, R. (1999). Japanese culture constructed by discourse: Implications for applied linguistics research and ELT. TESOL Quarterly, 33, 9-35.
Kubota, R. (2001). Discursive construction of the images of U.S. classrooms. TESOL Quarterly, 35, 9-38.
Levine, D., & Adelman, M. (1982, 1993). Beyond language: Cross-cultural communication. New Jersey: Regents/Prentice-Hall.
Levine, D., Baxter, J., & McNulty, P.. (1987) The culture puzzle: Cross-cultural communication for English as a second language. New Jersey: Regents/Prentice-Hall.
Nafisi, A. (2004). Reading Lolita in Tehran: A memoir in books. New York: Random House.
Nostrand, H. L. (1974). Empathy for a second culture: Motivations and techniques. In G. Jarvis (Ed.), Responding to new realities (pp. 263-327). Skokie, IL: National Textbook.
Pennycook, A. (2001). Critical applied linguistics: A critical introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Phillipson. R. (1992). Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Said, E. (1978). Orientalism: Western conceptions of the orient. London, England: Penguin Books.
Spack, R. (1997). The rhetorical construction of multilingual students. TESOL Quarterly, 31, 765-774.
Zanger, V. (1985). Face to face: The cross-cultural workbook. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Gayle Nelson, professor, department of applied linguistics and ESL, Georgia State University, teaches graduate courses in intercultural communication and conducts research on issues related to culture.

Is Culture Dead? Part 2: So What’s the Alternative?

Katherine Moran, Georgia State University, Georgia, USA, kate.moran@gmail.com

Over two decades ago a voice of criticism arose in the social sciences, born of the postmodernist era, a time when thinkers began to call the essence of truth into question. Postmodernism was antirationalism and antienlightenment. The movement took various forms: nihilism, Dadaism, deconstructionism, and critical theory—the anti-anti—which makes even talking about it difficult.

Culture critics in TESOL feel culture has been used to box learners of English into discrete categories. They feel that standard cultural description neglects individuals and makes it easy to lump learners from particular countries into homogenous groups. The critics' fears are based on culture as it has been used in early anthropological studies about Western "civilized" people studying exotic "other" cultures—exotic because they are different from the West; the subtext reads "deficient" and "primitive." The term culture comes preloaded with this history. Today we may think of culture as dynamic, but for the critics, this is not enough. There will always be a sense that culture is being used by the people with power to control and marginalize those without power. This is the danger.

Atkinson (1999) noted the term culture fading from use in TESOL literature over the past 20 years. Culture has become a dirty word in the literature, yet the concept of culture is very important to our field. So what is the solution? Discussions of discourses and identity and communities of practice have become increasingly frequent in the literature in culture's absence. These alternatives look specifically at some of the phenomena that are often thought of as part of culture.

Discourse refers primarily to the work of Michel Foucault. Discourses are institutionalized ways of thinking that affect a person's view on all things. Each individual is affected by many different discourses, some of them contradictory, that shape the individual's beliefs about herself and her place in society. They are part of the thinking of masses of people, usually the people with power. Discourses describe those aspects of culture that tell us what to believe and how to act. Identity looks at social thought, or discourses, from the perspective of the individual. How does the individual define himself? What are the discourses the individual believes? What does he reject? Individuals are bombarded every day with self-defining images that shape their identity.

For a better understanding of discourse and identity, consider this example from a women's magazine. On the cover is a picture of a female celebrity. She is Caucasian, thin, dressed in a revealing gown, in a provocative pose. What discourses are at work here—an institutionalized definition of female beauty? The cover advertises a feature titled "Is your body normal?"  Inside is a thin, young, Caucasian woman in a bikini with arrows pointed at parts of her anatomy and a description of the U.S. average for that body part for young women. The circle at her belly reads "the average young woman's waist is 34 inches." Clearly, the model doesn't have a 34-inch waist. What are the discourses here? In print, is it normal not to look like the model of what it is to be normal? On the basis of this one spread in a magazine, a person who identifies herself as a young woman is faced with mixed messages. Does she accept the image of the thin, White model as what she should be as a young woman? Does she read the descriptions and see herself there? Is that a positive identification or a deficient one? The magazine has no shortage of examples of conflicting discourses. There are many articles of strong women doing positive and important acts in the world in between pictures of rail-thin models with perfect skin and instructions on how every woman can have amazing hair.

A third concept found in the literature, communities of practice, or COP, refers to socialization based on group membership. Groups form their own social networks, use their own language, and have symbols meaningful only to members of the group. Membership in groups leads to learning, according to Etienne Wenger, a leading COP theorist. People belong to many communities of practice throughout their lives. One example is through their jobs. People involved in the same job share and create knowledge and learn from this created knowledge. People may unwittingly be a part of a COP; for example, a group of operating room nurses who regularly eat lunch together and talk about their practice are sharing knowledge and learning from each other. They are all contributing members of this community that increases their knowledge and betters their practice.

The knowledge valued by a group may not be shared outside the group membership. Consider Wenger's (1998) example of a youth gang. The learning cocreated by the group and the shared knowledge valued by the group-how to survive on the street, for example-may not be of value to people outside the COP, but is shared, passed on, and added to by the group members.

Wenger also described the negotiation of meaning that occurs within a group. This can be very difficult for nongroup members to understand when they haven't been a part of the negotiation. The following example is from an MA student at Georgia State University who spent a semester studying in Mexico. This excerpt is taken from a web-based discussion board, as part of a course in intercultural communication focusing on COP.

When I first got here, I didn't kiss my suitemates on the cheek. One day one of my suitemates was leaving for class when I was walking back to my room from the shower. We greeted each other, but I was in a towel and was trying to open my door, so I didn't think that she would want to be so formal about a good-bye (notice that I think kissing on the cheek is formal). As I was trying to get my card to open the door, I noticed that she was walking toward me. I didn't know what was going on. I had already greeted her. What did she want? Anyway, I was like a deer in headlights as she approached, and then as she went to one side of my face I realized what was going on. I swear she thought I was crazy because I was so still; I didn't know what was happening, so I didn't move. After that day, I began to expect it. Most of the time they kiss, but not always, so I'm still wondering about why it isn't always done, even when it seems that there's no reason not to. 
This community had already negotiated the meaning and accompanying practices of greetings and good-byes long before I arrived. However, natives in whichever country unconsciously expect visitors to act the same or respond the same as natives do, but this is not the case. Nonnatives just don't know the negotiated meanings.

The COP theory encompasses many of the characteristics traditionally conceptualized as part of culture, while avoiding culture's alleged negative features.

Terms such as identity, discourse, and communities of practice are important when discussing specific aspects of how humans function as societal beings, but they can coexist with culture. Culture in TESOL, in my experience, is dynamic, individual, complex and contradictory—wholly at odds with the static, monolithic, homogenizing concept the critics are arguing against. Is it possible to free culture of its historical misuse and change the term's reputation?


Atkinson, D. (1999). TESOL and culture. TESOL Quarterly, 33, 625-654.
McHoul, A., & Grace, W. (1993). A Foucault primer: Discourse, power and the subject. Melbourne, Australia: University of Melbourne Press.
Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity and the ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly, 31(3), 409-429.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
http://www.ewenger.com/theory/index.htm Communities of practice. Information retrieved on February 10, 2006.

Katherine Moran is a doctoral student in the applied linguistics/ESL department at Georgia State University.

Is Culture Dead? Part 3: Classroom Implications of Culture Theory

John R. Stowe, Georgia State University, Georgia, USA, jrstowe@mindspring.com

A critical understanding of culture theory is important for teachers who wish to address the topic in their classrooms. Yet busy ESL/EFL teachers might well ask why we should examine culture theory at all. Will it help our teaching? Will it help us meet our students' needs? How can teachers, especially new ones, translate the numerous, sometimes-conflicting theories of culture into effective classroom practice? These questions have no simple answers, but considering them might help teachers make informed decisions about culture in the classroom.

Why Do We Need to Address Culture at All? 
Does the concept of culture still have a valid place in our profession—or is it so flawed that we should discard it in favor of concepts more effective in helping us understand our students? I argue, for several reasons, that we should keep culture, although with a much broader definition.

In the first place, whether we call them cultural or not, many of the differences in expectations and experience students bring to our classrooms are real. I first became aware of these differences while interviewing a student from Mexico:

We just speak to teachers about the school. We don't have interpersonal relationships, only for the school. We don't have something like friends between teacher and student. There is like a barrier between us.

Nothing earthshaking here, but it totally changed my view, helping me to realize that what I'd misinterpreted as unfriendliness from my students might actually be something entirely different. It helped me stop imposing my own interpretations onto student behaviors.

Second, the term culture has widespread popular use in our society. Without specific instruction in culture theory, new teachers can easily fall back on their own unexamined experience as language learners—meaning either the "Big C, little c" model or the essentialist views informing popular use. The pitfall is that well-meaning teachers might presume to know who students are because of where they come from. Even a seemingly innocuous statement such as "Claudia, how does your family celebrate the Day of the Dead?" might be disturbing. Indeed, a teacher cannot know how the student relates to such ideas at all; the relationship could be very complicated, personal, or just not relevant. Yet, most students wouldn't feel comfortable expressing all that to a teacher, much less in a language they are just learning.
Third, teachers are also acculturated beings. Without some understanding of our own biases, expectations, and assumptions—using, for example, Bennett's (1993) IDI Profile—we might wrongly expect our own views to be shared by students. Notions such as individuality, however, or the place of competition in class, or many other ideas are by no means universal. Until we reach what Bennett calls ethnorelativism and realize that students may be operating by ground rules that are valid but different, there is a strong temptation to see them as deficient. For instance, if students don't speak up in class—the expectation for most native-speaking Americans—we might judge them as lazy or uncooperative.

Culture in the Classroom
Once we recognize that a need to consider culture in the classroom, how do we approach it? New teachers, especially, might keep the following, simplified considerations in mind.

1. Culture is complex
The first consideration is to realize that culture is more complex than essentialist views would hold. One especially useful concept is the notion of identity explored by Norton (1997, 2000) and others. Identity focuses not on group characteristics, but on unique individuals influenced by a host of factors. This view of identity as multifaceted and ever-evolving asks us to question the assumptions behind even the simplest statements, such as the familiar "Hispanics are family oriented." Even the label "Hispanics" represents a great oversimplification, considering that it encompasses more than 300 million people in over 20 diverse countries. Within each country, individuals are influenced by numerous factors including social class, gender, economic status, education, family background, personal history, religion, immigration, self-identification, and positioning within the group. All those people might have highly diverse ideas about the importance of family.

2. Students may resist discussions of identity or "native culture" 
Postmodernists speak of the power differential between teachers and students. In light of the impossibility that teachers could actually understand all the influences affecting students, it is not our place to label them in any way. Some students could find statements about their identities disturbing—and because of the power differential not feel able to state their own truths. For example, a student who left her native country for difficult reasons might not want to be reminded of that. One who is trying hard to become "American" might resent being singled out as "different."

Sometimes, too, students just don't have words to articulate who they are. As learners of a new language, often in a new county, students are in transition. Their ideas about themselves may be changing continually. When one of my composition classes read a passage by Amin Maalouf, many students said that this was the first time they'd even thought about identity, and a good number had a hard time saying how it related to them. For students, as well as teachers, identity can be an ongoing exploration. We need to give students tools to explore it, but not force it on them.

3. Ask. Don't tell. 
Students are often more articulate about identity if we approach the topic indirectly, inviting and giving opportunities for them to approach it in their own ways. Last semester, my composition students turned in papers about perception and human behavior, including some that related to personal identity. One student addressed what he saw as overly positive stereotypes about Japan.

When I watch TV programs which introduce Japanese society or culture . . . they broadcast that it has developed industries, sophisticated public transportation, and an exotic and unique culture. . . . Whenever I see those images of Japan, I have an impulse to modify them because I am Japanese and I know the reality of Japanese society. Recently, Japanese society has had serious problems; including suicide, prostitution, and NEET [a term describing those not currently engaged in employment, education or training].

This student and others rejected what they saw as inaccurate labeling by others. I wonder if they would have felt as free to object if the offensive statements had come from the teacher assigning their grades.

When asking about students' values and attitudes, we can minimize teacher-induced bias by allowing them to speak as individuals, rather than asking them to characterize themselves as members of a national or ethnic group. This can be a good communicative exercise. In Beijing last summer, I asked small groups of students to tell me the most important things they would share with my U.S. students. I specifically used the word you instead of Chinese students. Responses ranged from statements of general wisdom such as "it is important to respect the old and cherish the young" to statements characterizing Chinese students as a group: "Our Chinese students consider studying to be very important, and we also have our passions, such as NBA, soccer, F1, computer games, and so on." Interestingly, students tended to view themselves as part of a whole, even though I felt uncomfortable addressing them that way. They had an interesting time discussing who they were and I as their teacher learned even more.     

Avoid Essentializing the English "Target Culture" 
Just as we can never describe students' backgrounds in simple terms, it is also unrealistic to present our own that way. Instead of presenting a single set of characteristics to describe Americans, say, we might present various authentic materials—TV programs, political speeches, articles—and have students discuss the values they find there. Students could thus see the outlines of general discourse related to concepts such as individuality or freedom, gain some idea of the various positions taken toward them by native speakers, and thereby gain a more nuanced view of their linguistic surroundings.

Similarly, we might consider giving students strategies to help them investigate the language conventions of the different academic disciplines, job situations, and even groups of friends within which they will use English. Rather than teaching one set of rules, why not empower them as independent learners to observe language in use, consult native-speaking informants, and determine the individual speech acts important in their own areas of interest?

Translating culture theory into classroom application is an ongoing concern as teachers design and implement ESL and EFL classes. We need to keep these and other questions in mind as we try to come up with answers that effectively meet our students' needs.

Bennett, M. (1993). Towards ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity. In R. M. Paige (Ed.), Education for the intercultural experience (3rd ed, pp. 1-51). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.
Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly 31(3), 409-429.
Norton, B. (2000). Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and educational change. New York: Longman.

Is Culture Dead? Part 4: Identifying Difference in an ESL Classroom

Meredith H. Bricker, Georgia State University, Georgia, USA, meredith.bricker@gmail.com

As a preservice teacher beginning my master's degree in applied linguistics, I enrolled in the program's intercultural communication (IC) course. This began my strong support for teaching IC to both ESL students and preservice ESL teachers. This support remained unquestioned until my last semester in the MA program, as I simultaneously taught an ESL content course in IC and began studying critical culture theory. During this semester, I first became aware of conflict in this field, specifically in the potential theoretical and practical issues associated with describing difference as "cultural."

What initially surprised me about the IC course I took my first semester was that it was not focused on evaluating the characteristics of particular cultures, but instead was designed to help preservice teachers become more understanding of any kind of cultural or personal difference we might encounter. I became more conscious of the importance of acknowledging and accepting people's actions and behaviors as neither good nor bad but as reflections of membership in particular linguistic and cultural structures. This instruction was crucial to my own instruction of IC in an ESL class in my last semester in the MA program. However, as I acted as both a teacher and a student, my instruction of IC was also strongly influenced by my concurrent study of the history of culture and the idea that classifying difference as "cultural" could be essentializing and reductionistic.

In the ESL course I taught, the students used the textbook, Beyond Language. This text includes chapters about cross-cultural contact with Americans, cross-cultural conflict and adjustment, and verbal and nonverbal communication styles as well as definitions of various cultural terms. The textbook states that it includes "intercultural communication activities designed to promote discussion of the subtleties of cross-cultural communication" (Levine & Adelman, 1993, back cover). 
Clearly, this text is not averse to classifying at least some forms of difference as cultural, a classification that some may believe dangerously borders on or, in fact, constitutes essentialism. After using this textbook while studying postmodern approaches to difference, I can see how this text could be viewed by some as essentializing and overgeneralizing students' and teachers' experiences. It is possible that I, as an American teacher leading this class, could be perceived as using this textbook to assign roles to my international students' ways of life, preaching the values of American culture, and perhaps even subconsciously giving my students the negative impression that their ways that were "different" from my own were not quite as "correct." Studying critical culture theory made me more consciously aware that students might feel otherized or exoticized by my intrusive efforts to highlight or overgeneralize their experiences within their own cultures and languages. 
Throughout the semester, as I attempted to find a balance between guiding my students to understand difference while not exoticizing or otherizing the difference they discovered, I found that they appeared to benefit from and understand the course as a forum to discuss the existence of cultural difference and did not treat the class as an opportunity to group themselves or their peers into culturally based categories. According to my in-class observations of student interactions and student journal entries, I believe that my students' examination and discussion of cultural difference ultimately resulted in a positive classroom atmosphere.
The most notable in-class indication of my students' growing acceptance of cultural difference revolved around a student who sat in the front row, center aisle of the class, and who would typically raise her hand and snap her fingers to get my attention. When I specifically called on another student, this student would sometimes interrupt that student or answer my question more loudly. This behavior quickly created tension in the classroom. When the outspoken student was talking, the other students would roll their eyes. They appeared frustrated when she interrupted them, and it became increasingly difficult to solicit class participation from volunteers. 
Despite repeated attempts to improve class participation, I did not notice a change in the class until we talked about verbal communication styles from a chapter in Beyond Language. Students studied the cultural difference in communication style: the idea that some cultures have "heated" conversation styles and some have "hesitant" styles. The students discussed questions related to conversation style from Beyond Language, including, "Is it acceptable to interrupt others? If so, when? What does silence indicate in conversations?" (Levine & Adelman,1993, p. 93). I asked students to consider what the challenges might be for a teacher such as myself to solicit participation from a class of students who might have different conversation styles.
In the classes following this discussion, I felt the dynamics of the classroom shift. Whereas it had previously seemed that most students had given up trying to respond to my questions, more students now began raising their hands to join the discussion, including students who had never before spoken in class. I also noticed that the outspoken student seemed to consciously give students more opportunities to talk and now seemed to understand when I suggested that I wanted to hear from those people who had not had a chance to speak that day. 
Students' reading journals provided further evidence of a developing understanding of difference and a need for some sort of cultural discussion in class. After a class discussion of cultural adjustment, one student wrote,

I think it is very difficult when you first come in a new country, like different clothing, different food and different culture. For example when I first come in USA, I could not eat any food. Everything I tried to eat was smelled disgusting…Everybody was talking to each other but I could not speak English. It was worse time for me. . . . I was like "fish out of water" that we discussed in the class. It was so interesting for me because all those things were happened to me that we discussed in the class.

Another student described her cultural adjustment experience in the following way: 

A person will experience a variety of emotional 'ups and downs' lasting from weeks to years. . . . I came here a year and a half ago, and I was like the example in the book says. On the first month everything was nice but when the time passed I really missed my country. . . . Some days I cried so much, I needed to speak with my friends but they were in Mexico. I tried to do new friends but I think that the guys had their own close friends and some of them did not accept another person in their group. . . . I think that I always will be the same person with my own values and traditions. However, if I want to live in other country I have to respect their culture. Therefore, I think that it is very interesting and important this class because I could learn more about the American people and understand their behavior.

My increasing enthusiasm for IC from evidence such as this was tempered by my simultaneous awareness of the possibility of essentialism. One of my strategies for overcoming possible essentialism in my teaching was to encourage students, throughout the semester, to analyze and critique the categorizations and "cultural groupings" made by the textbook. I asked them whether they thought the communication styles and cultural categories mentioned in the book were true and whether they were really based on culture. Often, the students would respond that they felt individual personality was more important for determining difference in communication than cultural factors. In one reading journal, a Chinese student wrote, "First, I agree that Chinese is high considerateness, but sometimes it is not too high. We consider whom we talk to."
As a result of this teaching experience, my IC course, and my preliminary study of critical culture theory, I have concluded that both ESL students and MA TESOL preservice teachers need an informed, critical awareness of cross-cultural instruction. My experiences have helped me understand Antonio Gramsci's concerns about hegemony: the way that humans control and are controlled by their society (Gramsci, 1971). Some culture critics have used the inescapability of societal hegemony as reason for eliminating discussion of cultural difference (Atkinson, 1999). I agree with these critics about the important idea of making people aware that we all live under a powerful ideology which we may falsely believe we control (Althusser, 1994).
As people became enthusiastic about IC in the past, I can imagine that the concept could have become distorted. Maybe some of us have been too eager to divide people into categories and exoticize difference in cultures other than our own. However, to turn to the other extreme and say that we should not discuss culture at all because we, as humans, are still learning how to use it appropriately seems like an unnecessary measure. It is likely that nothing will stop us from dividing others into categories; not discussing differences at all will not make this go away.
To me, it seems that "culture critics" and IC proponents have similar goals: to ensure that everyone has an equal chance to communicate and live in a community of one's choice. My main priority for my instruction of IC, from my informed knowledge of difference from my IC course and study of critical culture theory, was for my students to understand more about themselves and their communication partners as people influenced by their life experiences. I believe that the feedback I received from my students' discussions in class, interactions with each other, and personal journal entries demonstrates that critical, informed intercultural instruction is beneficial for both ESL students and ESL teachers.

Althusser, L. (1994). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (Notes towards an investigation).  In Zizek (Ed.), Mapping ideology (pp. 100-140). London: Verso. 
Atkinson, D. (1999). TESOL and culture. TESOL Quarterly, 33(4), 625-654. 
Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the prison notebooks. (Ed. and trans. by Q. Hoare and G. Nowell-Smith). London: Lawrence & Wishart.
Levine, D. R., & Adelman, M. B. (1993). Beyond language: Cross-cultural communication. (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Prentice-Hall.

Meredith Bricker is a visiting instructor in Georgia State University's Intensive English Program; her research interests include intercultural communication and second language writing.

How Can Intercultural Competence Be Developed?

Piper McNulty, Instructor, Intercultural Communication, De Anza College, Cupertino, California, USA, mcnultypiper@fhda.edu

For the past few years I have been fine-tuning an exercise on intercultural discussions. If you observed this exercise you'd see some students practicing lively, no-silence conversation with two or more voices overlapping (decisive), others speaking calmly after careful reflection (reflective), and still others listening attentively but not communicating verbally (receptive; in the receptive style, one high-status person talks)(McNulty [2003]). Does this sound like a discussion you might observe in a heterogeneous ESL classroom? If it does, that's no surprise, as these styles represent the range of discussion behaviors found globally. It is the middle style, reflective, that I would like to see my students adopt as the classroom norm because it seems the happy medium between the decisive, engaged style of some of my Middle Eastern and Southern European students, for example, and the tendency of my East Asian students to be receptive (attentive, but silent). Through this activity, my students can become more competent intercultural communicators.

IC Competence: Knowledge, Attitude, and Skills 
In much of the intercultural communication (IC) literature, intercultural competence is divided into three broad categories: knowledge, attitude, and skills (the cognitive, affective, and behavioral dimensions). Knowledge and attitude are important building blocks that make behavioral competence possible, but the skills themselves are essential. Unfortunately, most of the "culture" and "intercultural communication" texts written for ESL and EFL students do not teach intercultural communication skills. Students learn about culture, communication, intercultural communication, and specific national cultures, and they read about issues such as racism, prejudice, discrimination, culture shock, ethnocentrism, and so on, but they are not asked to demonstrate intercultural competence with appropriate, effective communication behaviors in intercultural interactions. Increased knowledge of other cultures and of IC concepts, increased self-awareness as an intercultural communicator, and increased ethnorelativism (Bennett, 1993) should not be mistaken for intercultural communication skills development. In addition, if a group of individuals of different cultural backgrounds don't all value the same ways of communicating, simply putting these people together to talk about culture can actually lead to negative stereotyping in reaction to unfamiliar communication styles. As a former workplace skills trainer, I argue that until students actually practice strategies for communicating across cultures, until they've had that whole-body experience, they will not really "get" the link between language and culture, and they may be rather unsuccessful in actually interacting with culturally different others. Our job, then, is to determine what communicative competencies our students need, and then how to give them adequate, focused practice in these competencies.
Student Goals
Before choosing which intercultural competencies to teach, the teacher first needs to ascertain the goals of each particular student group. Intercultural communication skills can be divided into two main categories. They either increase general communicative competence in any intercultural context, or accommodate culture-specific norms.  However, as second language acquisition scholar Claire Kramsch (1993) pointed out,

most learners of English as a Second Language in the United States are less interested in gaining a critical understanding of American society than in gaining as quick an access as possible to the technological and economic benefits they have come to the country to seek. (p. 87)

Kramsch's point raises several questions. Wherever we teach English as a second or foreign language, are we supposed to teach "them" to behave like "us"? To quote Kramsch, "Does cultural competence include the obligation to behave in accordance with the social conventions of a given speech community?" (p. 81)

Is "culturally authentic performance" ever a practical goal? Consider the chart below.

Program Location USA, England, etc. (English Language dominated country) Students' Home Country
Student Type Refugees resettled 
in an L1 English 

Voluntary immigrants
International students

Working expatriates



English in
their native
countries, in
EFL classes

Student Goals To live and work 
in an English-speaking
To prepare for work or
study in an English-
speaking country

To prepare for 
multinational work in 
their home country 
(perhaps interacting
primarily with other
To study 
English as 
part of their

No clear 
goals for
language use

To prepare
for work or
study in an 

To prepare
work in their
home country
primarily with 
other NNS)

To study 
English as 
part of a 

No clear
goals for
language use

Do student goals include competence
in host culture communicative norms?

Typically, yes ? ? ? ?
ESL= English as a second language
EFL= English as a foreign language
EIL= English as an international language (McKay, 2000) (not necessarily for use with native English speakers)

From the chart it is clear that many ESL/EFL students may not expect or need to use English to interact with the dominant group in an English-speaking country. With this in mind, how do we determine what aspects of culture or intercultural communication to include in our curricula? What intercultural competence should we be teaching? Culture-general intercultural competence, needed for success in EIL contexts, should not be confused with communicative competence in a given culture. In the chart above, for at least two, and perhaps four of the five categories of ESL and EFL students, communicative competence in a single target culture is not necessarily a goal. To further complicate the picture, McKay (2000) pointed out, "ESL Teachers also need to recognize that there are students who prefer to become bilingual but not necessarily bicultural, even if they plan on living in an English-speaking country." (p.11)

In short, while there is growing awareness that IC in the ESL classroom should be truly intercultural and not simply target culture focused, new and experienced teachers will benefit from reminders to choose texts and activities that address the goals of their students, and respect their students' first cultures. Some ESL texts published in the United States that purport to be "multicultural" in focus in fact teach American dominant culture norms, or discuss the pluralistic nature of American society, but do not in fact address norms of behaviors not commonly found in the United States.

How, Then, Should We Define Intercultural Competence for ESL/EFL Students?
Byram, Nichols and Stevens (2001) defined an intercultural communicator as someone who

has an ability to be conscious of their evaluations of difference, to accept other perspectives and perceptions of the world, to interact with "others," and to mediate between different perspectives. (p. 5)

Recognizing the move toward teaching English as an international language that is not tied to the behavioral norms of any given English-speaking culture, we can teach specific skills that will increase our students' effectiveness in "interacting with others" regardless of who those "others" might be. The interculturally competent student, then, is someone who can interact effectively with culturally different others. I have therefore been using activities with my students that build culture-general intercultural competence, rather than teaching the norms of English-speaking countries such as the United States, England, or Australia.

Acknowledging Our Own Goals
Hess and Snow (2003) asked, How can we "fashion the kinds of climate in which students can project their own cultures and also move towards the cultures of others"? With this in mind, my goals are (a) establishing an egalitarian learning community, (b) affirming students' first cultures, and (c) leveraging students' bicultural skills. The activities I will describe in the next newsletter meet one or more of these goals, and can be used to develop culture-general intercultural competence rather than helping students learn the norms of a given English-speaking country such as the United States, England, or Australia.

Bennett, M. (1993) Towards ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity.    
In Paige, M. (Ed.), Education for the intercultural experience (2nd ed.). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.
Byram, M., Nichols, A., & Stevens, D. (2001). Introduction. In M. Byram, A. Nichols, & D. 
Stevens (Eds.), Developing intercultural competence in practice (pp. 29-43). Tonawanda, 
NY: Multilingual Matters. 
Hess, N., & Snow, D. (2003). Cultural competence in TESOL. Intercultural communications e-
section. ICIS Newsletter. Alexandria, VA: TESOL.  Current availability has not been determined. 
Kramsch, C. (1993). Context and culture in language teaching. Oxford, England: Oxford 
University Press. 
McKay, S. L. (2002). Teaching English as an international language: Implications for cultural 
materials in the classroom. TESOL Journal, 9(4), 7-11.
McNulty, P. (2003). Communication style clash in the ESL classroom:
Decisive/reflective/receptive exercise. Workshop at TESOL Annual Conference, 2003, 
Baltimore, MD, USA.

Piper McNulty is the past TESOL ICIS cochair, has MAs in TESL and intercultural relations, and coauthored The culture puzzle: Cross-cultural communication for ESL (Prentice-Hall/Regents). This article is adapted from a speech given at the ICIS Academic Session, "What is Intercultural Competence?" TESOL International Convention, 2003, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.


Announcements Call for Manuscripts

Topic: Privilege in TESOL

The audience of this newsletter is composed of intercultural communication teachers, administrators, and teacher educators in TESOL. Manuscripts for the fall 2006 issue of the newsletter should be related to the topic of privilege in TESOL. Below are some suggested subtopics within this subject. However, manuscripts focusing on other aspects of intercultural communication not addressed below are welcome. Manuscripts will be carefully reviewed before being published, to ensure that their content and style are of a suitable quality and usefulness for the ICIS newsletter.

Subtopics Within Privilege

In what ways is White privilege visible in classroom discussions, lessons, and activities that ESOL teachers design and implement for their students?

How are evaluations of ESOL students influenced by the White racial identity and dominant culture membership of ESOL teachers?

What are the characteristics of models of ESOL teacher preparation that not only address privilege and social stratification but also incorporate models for students to counteract negative stereotypes held by colleagues?

What are the interconnections and departures between racial and cultural identity and how does this relationship intersect with language learning and language identity?

What is the relationship between the various types of privilege (racial, cultural, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, nonnative status, religious, etc.) and the ways that ESOL teaching is influenced by them?

What are some existing examples of ESOL teacher preparation and development that focus on teacher racial identity and the process of racial awareness?

How much does the teacher's privilege play a role in what happens, or doesn't happen, in the classroom? 

In what ways do differing amounts of privilege among students influence classroom interactions, learning, and the classroom environment in general?

What responsibility do teachers have to use their privilege in the interest of social change?
(Subtopics thanks to Tonda Liggett and Rick Kappra)

Authors submitting manuscripts should be aware that some journals, including TESOL's own Essential Teacher, will not accept a manuscript that has been previously published in the ICIS newsletter.

The deadline for submission is September 15, 2006. Manuscripts should be approximately 1,600 words in length and must be formatted according to the guidelines of the American Psychological Association Publication Manual, Fifth Edition. Manuscripts must be submitted electronically torebekah.r.muir@nhmccd.edu.

About This Member Community ICIS Steering Committee Members

Susan Coakley (Cochair), scoakley@comcast.net

Sara Keyes (Cochair), piratequeen@usa.net

Donna Fujimoto (Chair-Elect), fujimoto@wilmina.ac.jp

Piper McNulty (Past Cochair), pipermcn@aol.com

Nancy Tumposky (Past Cochair), tumposkyn@mail.montclair.edu

Rebekah Muir and Mary Huebsch Newsletter Editors, rebekah.r.muir@nhmccd.edu and Huebsch_Mary@sac.edu

Eunhee Seo (Webmaster), ellenseo@temple.edu

Usha Venkatesh (Secretary/Historian), usha.venkatesh@montgomerycollege.edu

Don Snow, Victoria Tuzlukova, and Armeda Reitzel (Members at Large), donsnow48@hotmail.comtuzlukov@jeo.ru, and acr1@humboldt.edu

Natalie Hess (Past-Past Chair), Natalie.Hess@nau.edu