ICIS Newsletter

ICIS News, Volume 7:2 (July 2009)

by User Not Found | 10/26/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Message From the Chair
  • Articles
    • Capitalizing the “P” in Pragmatics: A Report on the ICIS Academic Session at TESOL 2009
    • Moving From Gracious Space to Gracious Conversations: An Intercultural Panel
    • Intercultural Communicative English Language Teaching
    • From We to They
  • Community News
    • Renaming Our Newsletter and the Next Call for Submissions

Leadership Updates Message From the Chair

Dear ICIS members and friends,

Greetings from London! I am honored to offer you this welcome message as the current IS chair.

I had the pleasure of meeting some of you at the 2009 TESOL Convention in Denver, an extremely busy conference, packed with interesting and innovative intercultural communication related presentations, materials, and activities. This newsletter is the “post-convention” issue, with a few key highlights; I hope you will enjoy reading it. Much thanks to our new newsletter editor, Geoff Lawrence, for his great help in putting together this issue, and to all of the contributors to this issue.

To give you a brief update, ICIS is already busy with preparations for next year’s convention! We are working on three InterSections with three other interest sections (Material Writers, Applied Linguistics, and Program Administration) and one Academic Session. More about these will be published in the next issue of the newsletter. We also received 112 abstract submissions, which are going through the tail end of the review process now, thanks to the efforts of 45 enthusiastic reviewers from ICIS membership. Although no final decisions have been made at this point, I can safely say that there will be many exciting ICIS contributions in Boston next year!

I would also like to welcome our new chair-elect, Fumiko Kurihara, from Chuo University in Tokyo, who has been organizing the InterSections and providing other valuable assistance to the IS. On behalf of the IS, I would like to offer thanks to her, the new ICIS Steering Committee, the abstract reviewers, and all others who are contributing to the IS this year!

Finally, best of luck to everyone who submitted an abstract for Boston! We will let everyone know of the decisions as soon as possible.

Josh Borden
Chair, ICIS

Articles Capitalizing the “P” in Pragmatics: A Report on the ICIS Academic Session at TESOL 2009


Donna Fujimoto, fujimotodonna@gmail.com

A few years ago, ICIS organized a panel posing the question, “Whose pragmatics should be used when people from different cultural backgrounds interact?” I think this is an important issue to consider, but I was not satisfied. I felt that what was being used was pragmatics in the more vernacular sense. In other words, what was being used was pragmatic, meaning “practical.” According to the Merriam Webster dictionary pragmatic is related “to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters” (Pragmatic, 2009). To the exclusion of intellectual matters? This was the source of my dissatisfaction.

Pragmatics, in fact, is a branch of linguistics that was developed in the late 1970s. It studies language in use and the contexts within which it is being used. It is concerned with meanings intended by a speaker and the meanings perceived by the recipient. Although semantics involves the study of meanings, pragmatics covers areas that are overlooked by this separate area of study. It involves appropriacy—using the language that is “expected” or “most correct” in a particular social situation. Misunderstandings often result from a mismatch of expected behavior and, thus, the study of pragmatics can help uncover where things went wrong. This is exactly the type of work that should be of high interest to ICIS members.

With this in mind, I suggested having an ICIS Academic Session on pragmatics with a capital P for the TESOL convention in Denver in 2009. I called on researcher/teachers who have done substantive work in pragmatics, and I was very pleased when Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig, Andrew Cohen, Noriko Ishihara, Noël Houck, and Donna Tatsuki agreed to participate in the panel, which was titled, “What Pragmatics Contributes to Intercultural Communication and Language Teaching.”

The session was very successful, attracting a standing-room-only crowd despite the fact that it was 165 minutes long. The speakers talked about the work they had done, and they all gave interesting and sometimes rather amusing examples of pragmatic failures and mismatches—the anecdotes that one remembers long afterward. After the session, one teacher told me she wished she had been able to have lessons in pragmatics when she was learning her second language, and another said it was the best session he had attended during the whole convention. Although space will not allow me to share the reasons for these comments, I have asked the panelists to write short summaries to share with all of you.


Pragmatic. (2009). In Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved May 20, 2009, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pragmatic

Donna Fujimoto is former chair of the ICIS (2007-08) and currently works as associate professor at Osaka Jogaku at the University in Japan where she teaches English and comparative culture studies.



Andrew D. Cohen, adcohen@umn.edu

This presentation focused on strategies that learners use to ensure the linguistic input that they process and the output they produce is pragmatically comprehensible. We looked closely at what comprehensibility of language means in terms of intercultural pragmatics. In looking at both the comprehension and production of pragmatic material, we paid attention to the strategies that might be used in order to avoid pragmatic failure. First, we addressed potential strategies to effectively comprehend input pragmatically, whether the input is through language, through gestures, or through silence.

Here is an example of this kind of failure and a strategy to avoid it. An American approached a man on the street in Martinique, as I did a year ago, and directly asked for help in interpreting a confusing parking slip issued by a machine and intended for the dashboard of the car. Instead of responding to the man’s question (asked in fluent French), the Martinique man said, “Bonjour.” So an L2 speaker of French needs to know what bonjour means in this context, most likely being “I was put off by your focusing immediately and exclusively on the parking slip, without going through the courtesy of extending a morning greeting.” So the strategic approach is to get coached on the function and variability of greetings in the given language. It is not enough just to memorize the various greetings for different times of day. It is crucial to know the when, how, and why of using them.

Next, we focused on strategies for diminishing threats to comprehensible output, including the negative transfer of first/other language norms, limited L2 grammatical ability, the overgeneralization of perceived L2 pragmatic norms, the effect of instruction or instructional materials, and resistance to perceived L2 norms. The concern was to ensure strategic pragmatic competence so that the conversation partners interpret the intended pragmatics correctly.

Here is another example of pragmatic failure in production where the nonnative speaker transfers the pragmatic patterns of her first-language speech community. A Korean learner of English responds to an American friend’s compliment about how nice her clothing looks by saying, “No, that’s not true.” Whereas this would be appropriately modest behavior in Korean culture, in U.S. culture this response to such a compliment may make it sound as if the Korean English speaker were flatly rejecting or questioning the friend’s judgment, potentially creating an awkward situation or even sounding insulting. The best strategy would probably be to check with local peers as to the most appropriate ways to respond to a compliment.

The intention of the presentation was to provide teachers and researchers with strategies to develop more effective pragmatic competence among learners. It would appear that part of an L2 learner’s pragmatics is acquired without explicit instruction. Nonetheless, there are pragmatic features that could benefit from explicit instruction if the intention is to have the learners achieve relative control over them within a reasonable amount of time. These could be provided by a teacher or through this type of Web site: www.carla.umn.edu/speechacts/. In cases where more effective pragmatic competence is needed, learners may need to be proactive and seek out special coaching in order to comprehend and produce the pragmatic features of the target language appropriately.

Andrew D. Cohen is professor of second language studies at the University of Minnesota and has co-authored a teachers’ guide to pragmatics (with Noriko Ishihara), Teaching and Learning Pragmatics: Where Language and Culture Meet (due out from Pearson Education in early 2010).



Noriko Ishihara, ishi0029@umn.edu

This paper focused on how IC and second/foreign language (L2) pragmatics overlap as academic disciplines and examined a critical perspective that cuts through both disciplines. As discussed in a current issue of the Journal of Pragmatics and the symposium on pragmatics and IC in Spanish held at the University of London in June 2009, issues related to face, politeness/impoliteness, identity, and otherization are of concern to both L2 pragmatics and IC. While learning and using an L2, learners can experience dynamic shifts in their subjectivities––such as identities, cultural affiliation, social network, and worldview. At the same time, learners’ sociocultural awareness can remain primarily first- (or dominant-) culture based even for proficient L2 speakers (Byram & Morgan, 1994; Hinkel, 2001).

Accordingly, care must be taken in L2 instruction so as not to impose native-speaker norms on learners. That is, an explicit awareness of the range of native-speaker norms and sociocultural variability in the community (i.e., having native-like receptive skills) can benefit learners. This awareness can help learners interpret others as intended in the L2 community. On the other hand, the pragmatics of language production is part of learners’ self-expression and negotiation of their identities, and thus, would best remain each learner’s own prerogative in the L2 classroom. Culturally sensitive assessment of learners’ production in the classroom would avoid penalizing learners for non-target-like behavior for which they deliberately opted. This distinction between learners’ receptive and productive sociocultural skills appears to be highly important for everyday practice.

Current understanding of the nature of learners’ identity that pragmatics and IC share appears to align well with the essence of critical pedagogy. Facilitating the negotiation of L2 speakers’ voices that reflect their bilingual subjectivities empowers them and assists them in drawing on multiple linguistic, cultural, and pragmatic resources, legitimatizing their voices in their local contexts (e.g., Johnston, 2003; Pennycook, 2001). Such efforts in L2 pragmatics, which Ishihara would call critical pragmatics, can lead to recognizing and working to redress unequal distribution of power that often exists in established hierarchy, such as between so-called native and nonnative speakers and between genders. In this regard, feminist and critical pedagogy perspectives have been called for and incorporated into the instruction of Japanese pragmatics (as in the works of Kubota, 2008; Ohara, Saft, & Crookes, 2001; Siegal & Okamoto, 1996, 2003).

As a way of shaping this theoretical argument of critical pragmatics in terms of everyday classroom practice, Ishihara introduced an example of L2 pragmatics instruction/assessment. The primary purpose of this approach would be to help learners approximate their goal and intention as the speaker, and communicate in a way that meets their listener’s most probable interpretation and likely consequences of the interaction (see Ishihara, in press, or contact ishi0029@umn.edu for further details).


Byram, M., & Morgan, C. (1994). Teaching and learning language and culture. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Hinkel, E. (2001). Building awareness and practical skills to facilitate cross-cultural communication. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (3rd ed., pp. 443-458). Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Ishihara, N. (in press). Assessing learners’ pragmatic ability in the classroom. In D. Tatsuki & N. Houck (Eds.), TESOL classroom practice series: Pragmatics volume. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Johnston, B. (2003). Values in English language teaching. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Kutota, R. (2008). Critical approaches to teaching Japanese language and culture. In J. Mori & A. S. Ohta (Eds.), Japanese applied linguistics: Discourse and social perspectives (pp. 327-352). London: Continuum.

Ohara, Y., Saft, S., & Crookes, G. (2001). Toward a feminist critical pedagogy in a beginning Japanese-as-a-foreign-language class. Japanese Language and Literature, 35(2), 105-133.

Pennycook, A. (2001). Critical applied linguistics: A critical introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Siegal, M., & Okamoto, S. (1996). Imagined worlds: Language, gender, and socio-cultural "norms" in Japanese language textbooks. In N. Warner, J. Ahlers, L. Bilmes, M. Oliver, S. Wertheim & M. Chen (Eds.), Proceedings of the 4th Berkeley women and language conference (pp. 667-678). Berkeley: Berkeley Women and Language Group, University of California Berkeley.

Siegal, M., & Okamoto, S. (2003). Toward reconceptualizing the teaching and learning of gendered speech styles in Japanese as a foreign language.Japanese Language and Literature, 37(1), 49-66.

Noriko Ishihara, associate professor of EFL at Hosei University, Japan, teaches a summer institute on teaching pragmatics at the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota and has co-authored a Japanese language textbook for learning pragmatic with Magara Maeda,Communication in Context(in press from Routledge).



Donna Tatsuki, dhtatsuki@rapid.ocn.ne.jp, and Noël Houck, nrhouck@csupomona.edu

Pragmatics has been defined as “the study of language from the point of view of users, especially of the choices they make, the constraints they encounter in using language in social interaction, and the effects their use of language has on other participants in the act of communication” (Crystal, 1985). A major component of pragmatics is speech acts, the use of language to perform some action, such as requesting, giving advice, refusing, disagreeing. However, most teachers are relatively unfamiliar with the field, and may wonder why they should spend precious class time teaching something as seemingly esoteric as speech acts.

One concern is that as students become more fluent, they may produce grammatical utterances that are inappropriate in the context. Inappropriate speech acts can be acceptable but not native-like (e.g., a response of “you’re welcome” to “thanks” when native speakers are more apt to say “no problem” or “it was a pleasure,” depending on the situation). On a more serious note, such misuse of speech acts can result in misunderstanding (e.g., when “It’s difficult” is used to refuse), and most unfortunately, they can leave a negative impression (e.g., the overly direct “I want a letter of recommendation” to a native-English-speaking professor).

Thus, there are often compelling reasons to begin teaching pragmatics. So, why don’t we? One of the main reasons is lack of easily accessible information on how speech acts are actually performed. As Kasper (1997) noted, this knowledge is not consciously accessible to members of the community, so even native-speaker teachers may need some background before attempting to raise students’ awareness. This background will involve familiarity with strategies commonly used in the language, including linguistic forms (formulas such as “pleased to meet you,” embedding grammatical structures after “Would you be so kind as to”) and softeners and intensifiers such as a little (“Could you give me a little help with this?) and so (as opposed to very) in expressions such as “I’m so sorry.” Teachers also need to be able to explain the social factors responsible for the fact that a particular linguistic strategy may be fine in one situation, but not in another.

Another reason that many teachers are reluctant to incorporate activities on speech acts is the dearth of available materials for teaching them. Research indicates that explicit instruction can be quite effective (Kasper, 1997). However, teachers needing access to effective activities are usually required to track down the formal studies in which they were described (e.g., edited volumes, dissertations, conference presentations, Web sites such as CARLA).

As awareness of the importance of speech acts in L2 interaction increases, teachers need access to effective materials that have been developed and tested in classrooms and suggestions on how to use the materials, with possible responses and explanations of unacceptable responses. They need diagnostics, awareness-raising activities, explanations of common strategies for realizing the act, and descriptions of softeners and intensifiers, along with exercises that include both controlled and guided practice.

Fortunately, publishers are beginning to recognize the importance of making information about speech acts and materials for teaching them available. Resources are currently available in books for teachers (Bardovi-Harlig & Mahan-Taylor, 2003; Tatsuki, 2005), including our two volumes from TESOL, forthcoming (Cohen & Ishihara, in press; Tatsuki & Houck, in press; Uso-Juan & Martinez Flor, in press). This is just a beginning as teachers, learners, and researchers finally recognize that pragmatics is a central concern in the development of communicative competence.


Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Mahan-Taylor, R. (2003). Teaching pragmatics. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, Office of English Language Programs. Accessed 07/21/2009 http://exchanges.state.gov/englishteaching/resforteach/pragmatics.html

Ishihara, N. & Cohen, A. (in press). Teaching and learning pragmatics: Where language and culture meet. London: Pearson.

Crystal, D. (1985). A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics. Oxford UK: Blackwell.

Kasper, G. (1997). The role of pragmatics in language teacher education. In K. Bardovi-Harlig & B. Hartford (Eds.), Beyond methods: Components of second language teacher education (pp. 113-136). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Tatsuki, D. (Ed.) (2005). Pragmatics in language learning, theory and practice. Tokyo: Japan Association for Language Teaching Pragmatics Special Interest Group.

Tatsuki, D., & Houck, N. (in press). Pragmatics: Speech acts—From theory to practice. Alexandria VA: TESOL.

Uso-Juan, E., & Martinez Flor, A. (in press). Speech act performance: Theoretical, empirical, and methodological issues. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Noël Houck, associate professor in the English and Foreign Languages Department at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, has coauthored a book on Japanese refusals in English with Susan Gass and is now coediting two books for TESOL on teaching pragmatics with Donna Tatsuki.

Donna Tatsuki, professor at Kobe City University of Foreign Studies in Japan, edited Pragmatics in Language Learning: Theory and Practice (2005) and is currently coediting two books for TESOL on teaching pragmatics with Noël Houck.



Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig, bardovi@indiana.edu

Learners often differ from native speakers in their production of target language pragmatics. In an attempt to better understand the cause of production differences, my colleagues and I have investigated learners’ ability to recognize pragmatic inappropriateness (Bardovi-Harlig & Dörnyei, 1998), the development of grammatical resources crucial to native-like production (Salsbury & Bardovi-Harlig, 2000), and most recently learners’ recognition of conventional expressions used in speech acts (Bardovi-Harlig, in press). The recognition of pragmatics is probably the most basic of a series of steps that leads to a learner’s trying out target-like expressions in the service of pragmatics.

Conventional expressions in pragmatics include conversational contributions such as “Nice to meet you”in introductions; “You too!”in response to “Have a nice day!” in reciprocal closings; and “No problem” used as a minimizer in response to expressions of gratitude.Conventional expressions are used in specific social or discourse contexts and shared by a community. Researchers report that these expressions are often learned late and that mastery may be characteristic of highly advanced learners (House, 1996; Scarcella, 1979; Yorio, 1989). The combination of social relevance and later acquisition suggests that classroom instruction in this area of language use might be particularly helpful to learners wishing to improve their conversational and pragmatic skills.

Before planning instruction in the use of pragmatic expressions, taking an inventory of conventional expressions is a basic step. This can be accomplished by a listening task in which learners report on their familiarity with a list of locally used conventional expressions (see the examples listed below). This helps establish a profile of individual learners or a whole class allowing the teacher to assess the pragmatic needs of the learners. Such an assessment can determine whether learners need to be introduced to unfamiliar expressions, whether the meaning of expressions needs to be clarified, or whether the distribution and use of such expressions need to be reinforced (see, for example, Bardovi-Harlig & Mahan-Taylor, 2003).


Step 1. Select the conventional expressions.

Step 2. Create the modified expressions.

Step 3. Record the expressions.

Step 4. Prepare an answer sheet.

Sample instructions for the answer sheet:

If you hear these words together and in the same order, and you hear them often, circle “I often hear this.” If you hear a phrase less often, circle “I sometimes hear this.” If you never hear these words together or in this order, circle “I never hear this.”

Teach your students how to do this activity by giving them two examples. These are included on the answer sheet.

1. I often hear this I sometimes hear this I never hear this

2. I often hear this I sometimes hear this I never hear this

3. I often hear this I sometimes hear this I never hear this

Step 5. Score the task: Give 2 points for “I often hear this,” 1 point for “I sometimes hear this,” and 0 points for “I never hear this.”

Familiar expressions such as “Nice to meet you” will have high scores (nearly 2.0), whereas unfamiliar expressions will have low scores. Familiar expressions can be incorporated directly into production activities, whereas less unfamiliar expressions need to be introduced first, as learners cannot use expressions that they do not recognize.

To read more about this, see the chapter by the same title in a new volume soon to be published by TESOL, Pragmatics: New Directions, edited by Donna Tatsuki and Noel Houck.


Bardovi-Harlig, K. (in press). Conventional expressions as a pragmalinguistic resource: Recognition and production of conventional expressions in L2 pragmatics. Language Learning, 59(4).

Bardovi-Harlig, K. (in press). Recognition of formulaic sequences in L2 pragmatics. In G. Kasper, D. Yoshimi, H. Nguyen, & J. Yoshioka (Eds.), Pragmatics and language learning (Vol. 12). Honolulu: University of Hawai’i, National Foreign Language Resource Center.

Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Dörnyei, Z. (1998). Do language learners recognize pragmatic violations? Pragmatic vs. grammatical awareness in instructed L2 learning. TESOL Quarterly, 32, 233-259.

Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Mahan-Taylor, R. (2003). Teaching pragmatics. Washington, DC: United States Department of State. Retrieved June 6, 2009, fromhttp://exchanges.state.gov/englishteaching/resforteach/pragmatics.html

House, J. (1996). Developing pragmatic fluency in English as a foreign language: Routines and metapragmatic awareness. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 17, 225-252.

Salsbury, T., & Bardovi-Harlig, K. (2000). Oppositional talk and the acquisition of modality in L2 English. In B. Swierzbin, F. Morris, M. E. Anderson, C. A. Klee, & E. Tarone (Eds.), Social and cognitive factors in second language acquisition: Selected proceedings of the 1999 second language research forum (pp. 57-76). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

Scarcella, R. C. (1979). Watch up! Working Papers in Bilingualism, 19, 79-88

Tatsuki, D., & N. Houck (Eds.). (in press). Pragmatics: New directions. New York: TESOL.

Yorio, C. (1989). Idiomaticity as an indicator of second language proficiency. In K. Hyltenstam & L. K. Obler (Eds.), Bilingualism across the lifespan (pp. 55-72). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig is professor and chair of the Department of Second Language Studies at Indiana University, and is coeditor of Interlanguage Pragmatics: Exploring Institutional Talk (Erlbaum) and Pragmatics and Language Learning (Vol 11) through the University of Hawaii (in press). Her work on formulas appears in Language Learning and Pragmatics and Language Learning (Vols. 11 and 12).

Moving From Gracious Space to Gracious Conversations: An Intercultural Panel

Nancy McEachran, nmceachr@bellevuecollege.edu, and Katherine E. Oleson, koleson@bellevuecollege.edu

TESOL 2009 offered a unique opportunity to share our collaborative project entitled Moving From Gracious Space to Gracious Conversations: An Intercultural Panel. Unfortunately, a Denver airport closed because of snow prevented our arrival from Seattle to present at the convention. This summary provides highlights from our project.

At the community college we serve, adult English language learners request opportunities to practice real-world speaking tasks and discuss cultural practices in the United States. Communication Studies students gain broader perspective about intercultural communication when asked to move beyond textbook theory and interact with speakers of other languages. The foundational concept of the project was Gracious Space (Hughes, 2004). Gracious Space welcomes the stranger by creating an environment of hospitality, encouraging learning in public, and seeing each student as gifted and capable.

In addition to the framework of Gracious Space, the communicative language approach (which emphasizes contextualized communicative competence) and uncertainty reduction theory (which addresses anxieties that may occur during intercultural interactions) shaped our work with English language learners and Communication Studies students. Using these concepts, we combined our classes to create a learning community and intercultural panel with the goal of creating a Welcoming Panel to welcome and orient new English language learners (ELL) to the college. To do this, we combined the ELL and Communication Studies students for a total of two one-hour sessions to meet and plan for two Welcoming Panels of one hour each.

At the first planning session, ELL students and Communication Studies students met together in small groups to learn about similarities and differences in educational systems. To accompany these narratives, all students brought artifacts from their school careers. Some of these artifacts included Russian graduation certificates, Korean class pictures, school award pins, planners, and philosophy textbooks. These artifacts contributed to the intercultural communication process by helping students to initiate conversations with one another, explore content in greater depth, and encourage questions about educational practices. At the second session, our students talked together about advice they would give to new students at the community college. During two final sessions, students from both classes formed a Welcoming Panel and answered questions from new ELL students enrolling in classes the following quarter. ELL students and Communication Studies students then served as small-group leaders to address additional questions and concerns from the new ELL students.

The ELL and Communication Studies students evaluated the project (in written and video form) in terms of what they had learned about communicative and intercultural competence. Feedback indicated that ELL students developed confidence in overall speaking and listening skills with others outside the classroom. They developed leadership skills in preparing for the panel as they encouraged new students entering the ELL program at the college. In addition, they served as cultural informants for new students who so often are tentative in entering a new learning environment. Feedback from Communication Studies students illustrated that they had a greater understanding of how people can competently negotiate and co-create meaning. They reflected on the need to adapt their word choices and the use of idioms in their conversations. Both sets of students were aware of differences and similarities in nonverbal cues such as eye contact and tone of voice throughout the interactions.

Through this learning forum, both ELL and Communication Studies students were able to communicate meaningfully with each other. Student feedback consistently indicated a desire for more frequent joint class sessions. ELL students wanted to practice listening and speaking with other college students. Communication Studies students commented on their appreciation of the difficulty in learning a new language and about their enjoyment found in learning about another culture. As the paths of these two student populations rarely cross on our community college campus, bringing these students together to have conversation and share ideas extended the hospitality inherent in Gracious Space.

For further information or to discuss specifics of the design and implementation of this collaborative approach, please contact Nancy McEachran (nmceachr@bellevuecollege.edu) or Katherine Oleson (koleson@bellevuecollege.edu).


Hughes, P. M. (2004). Gracious space: Working better together. Seattle, WA: Center for Ethical Leadership.

Nancy McEachran teaches English as a second language to adult learners at Bellevue College in Washington State and is a doctoral student in leadership studies at Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington.

Katherine E. Oleson is a faculty member and department chair of the Communication Studies Department at Bellevue College.

Intercultural Communicative English Language Teaching

Jasmina Djordjevic, djordjevic.jasmina@gmail.com

English teaching is increasingly intercultural, leaving English language (EL) teachers with a recurring dilemma of making culture comprehensible and intercultural. Any teacher of EFL (English as a foreign language) or ESL (English as a second language) has probably had the frustrating experience that 25 out of 30 students are put off by the fact that English is hard to understand not because of the language but because of the culture that goes along with it. Underlying cultural concepts behind many English phrases, idiomatic expressions, collocations, and phrasal verbs drive many a student into despair and many a teacher into serious self-criticism because those expressions are miles away from the familiar cultural concepts of the students.

The following article outlines three major principles that can help EL teachers integrate an intercultural communicative language teaching approach into their classes. The suggested principles are based on 14 years of experience in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms in Southern Serbia and on the results of the author’s PhD research (Djordjevic, 2008) conducted on a sample of 486 Serbian secondary-school students. The results of this PhD research, inspired by sociolinguistics (Crystal, 1997; Freire, 1972; Jessner, 2006; Kramsch, 1993; Wertsch, 1985a, 1985b and Vygotsky, 1978, 1986), showed that an integration of the Serbian and the English culture inevitably resulted in higher motivation and finally in a more successful English language learning process. The communicative approach was seen as an ideal foundation because it is a “process which grows out of the interaction between learners, teachers, text, and activities in a classroom context” (Breen & Candlin, 1980, p. 95). When intercultural communication is integrated, the interaction between students’ native and target cultures motivates students to communicate freely in the target language without any fear of mockery because their cultural diversity is acknowledged and legitimized.

The impact of such a teaching method can be identified on linguistic, sociolinguistic, and psycholinguistic levels:

  • The students will learn English more successfully;
  • The level of cultural and intercultural awareness is raised; and
  • Student motivation and engagement are enhanced.


This intercultural teaching framework is based on teaching and research conducted with multicultural Serbian EFL learners. The Serbian speech community is inhabited by members of different ethnic, religious, political, and cultural backgrounds (Serbian, Albanian, Roma, Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian, Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, Muslim, etc.). Mixed marriages are common. Accordingly, the Serbian language is not necessarily the mother tongue of all people living in Serbia. Some members of one ethnic community first acquire their particular mother tongue and then Serbian as their second language. The learning of English adds one more language to a growing list. A more complicated issue with Serbian EFL students is the native culture because the EL teacher has to teach English to members of several different cultures in one single classroom. The greatest challenge is often helping students overcome their own ethnocentrism or cultural inferiority (depending on the prevailing attitude of the larger community, the awareness they have about their own culture can range from a strong sense of superiority to extreme inferiority).

Research conducted with these diverse Serbian students identified three principles underlying an intercultural communicative language teaching approach:

  • Building cultural awareness: the need to identify and work with student cultural backgrounds, building intercultural awareness, in addition to working with cultures of the English language;

  • Actively acknowledging the connection between identity and culture: the need to understand and proactively recognize that cultural background is an integral part of a learner’s personality; and

  • Integrating student cultural experience into the classroom: the need to integrate artifacts of student cultures into classroom work to integrate individual identity into the classroom community.


Building Cultural Awareness

Intercultural interaction is inevitable and should be regarded as a major advantage to the teaching/learning process rather than a problem. Teachers should not assume all students are culturally equal or similar but recognize and work with the cultural diversity their students have to offer.

Actively Acknowledging the Connection Between Identity and Culture

Cultural diversity in a language classroom may be a great obstacle in the English language learning process because an individual of a unique cultural background may feel alienated in a classroom dominated by a majority cultural group. The teacher’s neglect of a student’s cultural background may result in other students perpetuating this alienation. This can result in low motivation and in some extreme cases even failure.

As my research in Serbia showed, if the EL teacher is open-minded and proactively works with diversity in the classroom, the communicative language teaching approach may be turned into a huge opportunity: adding intercultural communication skills and learning. Not only will students feel more motivated to study English but they will also find it easier to integrate into the classroom community.

Integrating Student Cultural Experience Into the Classroom

Intercultural communicative English language teaching can motivate students to talk about their culture in the English language. Every topic may facilitate interaction between the native and the target culture, validating identity and helping students overcome their fear of linguistic performance. Not only do students recognize the challenges their peers have with learning English but they also feel connected with their classroom community, accepted by peers who are different, and they can develop a better understanding of how to coexist with difference.


It is not necessary to change the entire EL syllabus in order to integrate intercultural communication and learning. Teachers of English can prepare a few classes integrating intercultural communication and introduce these into the curriculum. The following sample approaches have been tested by the author and are suggested as a starting point:

  • When the class is reading a text about holidays (a recurring topic in textbooks), the teacher can encourage students from other cultures to share something about students’ holidays celebrated in their culture. In addition, the teacher could prepare texts adapted to the particular learning group contrasting holidays in two or three different cultures, and have students read and discuss them. In that way students are encouraged to critically reflect about cultural patterns and to share their opinions. (For example, texts contrasting Christmas in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Orthodox Christmas in Serbia were used in the author’s research and proved very motivating.)

  • The teacher can choose two students from different cultures and prepare a list of terms related to their cultures. The terms may be presented in the form of a chart, written on a sheet or on the board, asking the other students in the group to match them with the two students’ cultures. In addition to refining English communication skills, the students familiarize themselves with the unfamiliar culture and start building a sense of respect for diversity.

  • The pros and cons regarding particular cultural differences between cultural groups can be elicited from students and written on the board to help students critically reflect on culture.

  • Students may be encouraged to share personal opinions about aspects of culture based on a discussion in class.

  • An essay assignment may be given to advanced students to compare and contrast culturally diverse issues based on ideas elicited in class. Younger students may be encouraged to write short sentences about the similarities and differences that they have learned about.

  • When working with excerpts from literature, students from other cultures (particularly from minority cultures) can translate paragraphs from literary works famous in their cultures and read them to the rest of the class. This can greatly improve the sense of self-esteem of minority culture students and can prompt questions and curiosity about the unfamiliar culture.

  • The last 10 minutes of a class can be used to introduce different cultures. Students can then be encouraged to write a short summary about what they have learned.

  • A chain story may be written in a way that each student writes a comment on a piece of paper reflecting an idea elicited in a class devoted to issues of culture. Later the comments may be put together and the students can be asked to analyze the contradictions and agreements. For instance, the issue of family life in two or three different cultures could be compared to perceptions of family life in the United States or the United Kingdom. The students can write down comments referring to chores, pocket money, leisure activities, living arrangements (i.e., sharing bedrooms), meals, and family time in those different cultures. The teacher then reads the comments and asks students to talk about the similarities and differences, helping them build intercultural awareness and a sense of belonging.


The possibilities are numerous, easy to integrate, and can have a dramatically positive impact on the classroom and language teaching process. An intercultural communicative language teaching approach used in a culturally diverse classroom enables cultural self-reflection, increased intercultural awareness, and communication skills. Acknowledging and proactively working with student cultural identity rather than just focusing on linguistic competence can empower and motivate English language learners, developing intercultural communication skills that are highly needed in today’s societies.


Breen, M., & Candlin, C. (1980) The essentials of a communicative curriculum in language teaching. Applied Linguistics, 1/2, 89-112.

Crystal, D. (1997). English as a global language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Djordjevic, J. (2008). English language learning under the influence of the multicultural Serbian language environment (Uticaj višekulturne srpske govorne sredine na uèenje engleskog jezika). Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Belgrade, Serbia.

Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the oppressed. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin.

Jessner, U. (2006). Linguistic awareness in multilinguals: English as a third language. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press.

Kramsch, C. (1993). Context and culture in language teaching. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1986). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Wertsch, J. V. (1985a). Vygotsky and the social formation of mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wertsch, J. V. (1985b). Culture, communication, and cognition: Vygotskian perspectives. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Jasmina Djordjevic is a lecturer at the Faculty of Legal and Business Studies Novi Sad in Serbia and teaches Culture of Business Communication, Translation Techniques, and Legal English. She has a great interest in the field of multiculturalism and intercultural communication in addition to the methodology of teaching English in culturally diverse environments.

From We to They

Andrea DeCapua’s article, “From We and They to Us: A Pilot Study of Cross-Cultural Awareness in Middle School,” is made available with permission from the online publication Teaching & Learning: The Journal of Natural Inquiry and Reflective Practice, 22(2), 104–118. In this article, DeCapua demonstrates the potential for using experiential, reflective intercultural training with younger student groups, even though this type of teaching is usually reserved for university-level adult learners. In her introduction to the study, DeCapua discusses the difference between multicultural education and cross-cultural awareness. ICIS readers may find this discussion particularly interesting. To read the article in PDF, please click here.

Community News Renaming Our Newsletter and the Next Call for Submissions

Geoff Lawrence, ICIS Newsletter Editor, gpjlawrence@gmail.com

The Intercultural Interest Section is interested in renaming our newsletter to give it a unique identity in the world of TESOL publications.

For example, the CALL Interest Section named its newsletter On CALL (a fun play on words). We’ve had two names suggested so far: The Intercom andIntercultural Communiqués.

If you have any creative name ideas, please forward them to me, and we’ll work at giving our newsletter a new identity. And by the way, our next submission deadline is September 13, 2009, so please consider submitting an article. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions or ideas.

Thanks and enjoy the rest of the summer!