ICIS Newsletter

ICIS News, Volume 5:3 (December 2007)

by User Not Found | 10/26/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Notes From the Coeditor
    • Letter From the Chair
  • Articles
    • Exploring and Assessing Intercultural Competencies
    • Anticipating Spanish-Speaker Rhetorical Assumptions in the College Essay
    • Building Intercultural Communicative Competence and English Skills With Foreign Pen Pals
  • Announcements
    • Call for Pen Pal Partner Classes
    • Call for Manuscripts: ICIS Winter 2008 Newsletter
  • About This Member Community
    • ICIS Steering Committee Members

Leadership Updates Notes From the Coeditor

Mary Huebsch, Santa Ana College, Santa Ana, CA, USA, maryhuebsch@hotmail.com

I hope you will enjoy and benefit from the practical and thought-provoking articles we offer you in this newsletter. The newsletter brings teachers a comprehensive definition of intercultural communicative competence and its components, insight into the perspective of educated Spanish learners of English, and an engaging technique for helping students develop intercultural communicative abilities. 

Our newsletter begins with greetings from Chair Donna Fujimoto. It continues with Alvino E. Fantini's behavioral definition of intercultural communicative competence (ICC) and a description of the many components of ICC. Fantini also discusses an outcome-based assessment tool, the Assessment of Intercultural Competence, which can be used to track an individual's progress in developing ICC (and is available for free online).

In their article, Mabel Illidge and Gina Macdonald help U.S. English writing teachers understand the perspective of their Spanish-speaking students. Differing assumptions between U.S. English teachers and their Spanish-speaking students about audience have led to a conflict regarding what comprises good writing. Because switching to a new style of writing is counterintuitive for Spanish speakers, teachers need to make an effort to explain why this new style is necessary with a U.S. audience.

Finally, Joshua Borden summarizes the findings from two semesters of international pen pal activities. Borden developed this project for his EFL students at National University in Taiwan to teach intercultural communication and to improve English skills. The next installment of the project is in spring 2008. You are encouraged to consider having your class participate in this exchange.

My coeditor, Rebekah Muir, and I hope that you will find the articles in this newsletter useful and stimulating.

Letter From the Chair

Donna Fujimoto, Osaka Jogakuin College, Japan, fujimotodonna@gmail.com

Dear ICIS members,

Proposals for the TESOL Convention have been vetted and presenters were recently notified if their sessions would be on the program for April 2008 or not. Apparently the acceptance rate was only 23%, so a hearty congratulations is in order for those of you who received the good news from the TESOL office. For those who received the "regret letter," just remember that the process was quite competitive. Perhaps the draw of being in New York City was a factor in the great number of proposals. At any rate, be sure to file your proposal away somewhere and a few months from now, take a look at it again and see if you can rework it for a future conference or move on to something new.

The ICIS received a healthy number of proposals. TESOL decides how many time slots each Interest Section will have at the convention based on the total number of proposals received by that IS. For next year, our ICIS will sponsor 11 papers, 5 workshops, 4 demonstrations, 10 discussion groups, and 1 colloquium. Every year we are also allowed to put together one Academic Session. This year our Academic Session is entitled "Theorizing Privilege in Intercultural Communication." The panelists are Suhanthie Motha, Ryuko Kubota, Angel Lin, Rachel Grant, Stephanie Vandrick, and Gertrude Tinker-Sachs. This session will look closely at the concept of privilege and will explore its links with class, race, gender, and language. 

In addition to the Academic Session each IS can collaborate with one or more Interest Sections to set up an InterSection. We can be the primary sponsor for one InterSection and, in addition, can participate as a secondary sponsor for one or more InterSections. This type of event encourages communication and exchange among the various Interest Sections and in general encourages TESOLers to think and act beyond their own IS. This year for our main InterSection we will be working with the Bilingual Education IS and the Video and Digital Media IS on a session titled "Learning Across Cultural and Geographic Borders." Harry Markowicz of Gallaudet University and Sue Livingston of LaGuardia Community College will report on a project in which an online virtual community was formed involving deaf students from the United States and hearing students from Israel. Mike Morgan, from the Ishara Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Mumbai, will talk about working with deaf teachers from India. The ICIS will be a secondary sponsor for a session with the Program Administration and the English as a Foreign Language ISs. So, be sure to put April 2–5, 2008, New York City on your schedule.

One more urgent matter needs your attention. The ICIS needs people to help on the coordinating committee as we make preparations for the convention next year. We need members who like brainstorming and who like meeting people face-to-face and via the Internet. The organizational tasks are fairly easy and will be much easier the more people join. Please volunteer and send me your name and e-mail address. Thank you.

All the best,


Articles Exploring and Assessing Intercultural Competencies

Alvino E. Fantini, Professor Emeritus, School for International Training; currently Professor, Graduate Program in Language Communication, Matsuyama University, Matsuyam, Japan, Alvino.Fantini@worldlearning.org

About Intercultural Communicative Competence

Contact with another language and culture provides excellent opportunities to foster the development of intercultural communicative competencies. Once contact begins, the development of intercultural communicative competence (ICC, or intercultural competence, for short) generally evolves as an ongoing and lengthy process, normally with no end point and hopefully with positive results. Different individuals bring varying goals and motivations to the intercultural experience, which result in the attainment of differing competence levels. Some, for example, aspire to native-like behavior in the host culture, others are content simply to gain acceptance, and for still others, mere survival is adequate.

Generally, however, the more deeply one engages in a second language-culture (LC2), the greater the effect it has in turn on one's first language-culture (LC1). During the process, individuals often reconfigure their initial perspectives and understanding of the world. Willingness to engage in a new situation during a cross-cultural sojourn can promote both transcendence and transformation of one's original mode of perceiving, knowing, and expressing regarding the world and interacting within it. Developing intercultural competence aids this process.

But what exactly is intercultural competence? Although the term is in wide use today, no clear consensus exists about what it is. Some researchers, for example, stress global knowledge, others sensitivity, and still others point to various skills. ICC, however, is more complex than any one of these views.

A Brief Definition

Briefly stated, ICC entails the complex of abilities that are needed to perform effectively and appropriately when interacting with those who are linguistically and culturally different from oneself. Whereas effective relates to one's view of one's own performance in the LC2 (i.e., from an "etic" or outsider's view of the host culture), appropriate relates to how one's performance is perceived by hosts (i.e., from an "emic" or insider's view). Though these two perceptions often diverge, comparison is always instructive precisely because these differing perceptions arise from differing cultural approaches to the same situation.

The Components of ICC

As previously stated, ICC is a complex phenomenon encompassing multiple components:

  • various traits and characteristics
  • three areas or domains
  • four dimensions
  • proficiency in the host language
  • varying levels of development attainment

Traits and Characteristics
It is important to make a distinction between traits (i.e., innate personal qualities) and those characteristics developed later in life that are related to one's cultural and situational context—a sort of "nature vs. nurture" distinction. This distinction is especially relevant for training and educational programs because it poses the question: Which abilities form part of an individual's intrinsic personality and which can be further developed or modified through training and educational efforts? Some commonly cited ICC characteristics include flexibility, humor, patience, openness, interest, curiosity, empathy, tolerance for ambiguity, and suspending judgments, among others.

Three Areas or Domains
ICC involves ability in three areas or domains (which, not surprisingly, are equally relevant to success in one's native LC1 as well):

  • the ability to establish and maintain relationships
  • the ability to communicate with minimal loss or distortion
  • the ability to collaborate to accomplish something of mutual interest or need

Four Dimensions
ICC also has four dimensions:

  • knowledge
  • (positive) attitudes/affect
  • skills
  • awareness

Of these, awareness is especially critical to developing intercultural competence. Awareness can be enhanced through reflection and introspection in which both the individual's LC1 and LC2 are contrasted and compared. Awareness differs from knowledge in that it concerns the "self" vis-à-vis all else in the world (e.g., other things, other people, other thoughts) and helps to clarify what is deepest and most relevant to one's identity. Awareness is enhanced through developments in knowledge, positive attitudes, and skills while it in turn also advances their development.

Proficiency in the Host Language
Ability to communicate in the host language greatly enhances ICC development in quantitative and qualitative ways. While grappling with another language, one confronts how one perceives, conceptualizes, interacts, and expresses, and, in the process, one may develop alternative communication strategies on someone else's terms. This challenging and humbling process facilitates transcending and transforming how one understands the world. On the other hand, lack of a second language—even at a minimal level—constrains one to continue to think about the world and act within it, only in one's native system, and as a result, the individual is deprived of one of the most valuable aspects of the intercultural experience.
Developmental Levels
ICC normally develops over a lengthy and continuing process, occasionally with moments of stagnation and even regression. Much depends on the strength of the individual's motivation (e.g., instrumental vs. integrative) with regard to the host culture. For this reason, the identification of benchmarks may help to monitor and measure one's progress. Several levels that have proved useful in my own conceptual organization are posited to mark one's journey along the way:

  • Level I: Educational Traveler—for example, participants in short-term exchange programs (1–2 months)
  • Level II: Sojourner—participants engaged in extended cultural immersion such as internships of longer duration, including service programs (3–9 months)
  • Level III: Professional—appropriate for individuals working in intercultural or multicultural contexts; for example, staff and faculty employed in international institutions or organizations
  • Level IV: Intercultural/Multicultural Specialist—appropriate for trainers and educators engaged in training, educating, consulting, or advising multinational staff and participants

Other levels may be added or substituted as useful, and other terms might also be used, such as basic, intermediate, advanced, and native-like (akin to those in the ACTFL Proficiency Scale (cf ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines 1985).

Assessing Intercultural Competence

Because ICC is still a fairly recent notion, the term is often used with varying meanings, or it may be referenced by other labels such as global competence, international competence, multicultural competence, and so forth. The term and definition used here, however, purposely employ words like competenceand performance. In one view, competence is abstract and cannot be witnessed directly; consequently, it must be inferred by observing how one performs. Hence, competence and performance are interrelated, one being abstract and the other observable. In this view, one infers competence by observing and monitoring performance, rather than by only talking about it in abstraction.

Moreover, criteria by which intercultural competence is sometimes identified, monitored, and assessed are not always clear or consistent. To increase clarity and consistency, then, assessment tools may be helpful. One such tool is the Assessment of Intercultural Competence (AIC) Form (Fantini 2006). This FORM, presented in a "YOGA" format (Your Objectives, Guidelines, and Assessment), may be used as a guide before, during, and after an intercultural experience by helping the user to monitor the development of the multiple aspects of intercultural competence. It helps in three ways: (a) it establishes objectives for the intercultural experience that can be critically examined, (b) it serves as a periodic guide while the intercultural experience unfolds, and (c) it provides assessment criteria for use at the end of a program. As such, the assessment approach is normative, formative, and summative.

Background and Rationale of the AIC

Language and intercultural training and educational programs normally prescribe some manner of assessing participant performance-competence in a variety of academic and professional areas. However, educators often overlook or undervalue the most important area: the holistic development of intercultural competence. Valuing and evaluating ICC development is consistent with recent trends in higher education to address competencies needed for our global age that extend beyond the academic and professional. The AIC Form cited above helps to do just that by shifting the focus from teaching to learning, from input to outcome, and from evaluation to development. Moreover, it engages the learner as a partner in the teaching-learning process, it stresses outcomes, and it is consistent with co-constructive educational approaches.

The AIC Form was compiled in various stages over a number of years. First, a task force at the School for International Training collected empirical observations. These observations were then checked against a review of the intercultural literature. And, finally, the resultant items were validated through a 2-year research effort conducted by the Federation of The Experiment in International Living involving various countries. (See the References section for information on retrieving the complete research report and the AIC Form itself.)

Finally, a few additional thoughts about the construct of this tool: Although the form is about assessing developmental levels of ICC, its completion is based on both observation and performance. It is not about what participants think they might do in a given situation, but rather it is about what is actually done and observed—by participants themselves and by others. This approach responds to differences between professed intentions (what one thinks or says one might do in a given situation) and expressed behaviors (what one actually does). Abstract notions about competence are substantiated by observed behaviors. Second, it is anticipated that few intercultural sojourners ever attain "native-like" behaviors, nor might they desire to do so. (This is especially true of adults; less so of younger individuals.)

The intercultural experience allows but does not demand native-like behavior, recognizing that individual choices are both complex and personal. Nonetheless, it will help to clarify how far one is willing to go and why, as well as the consequences that result from one's decisions. Often, the result is a clarification of those values most central to oneself and one's identity. Yet, a minimal expectation for all who embark on an intercultural sojourn, it would seem, must be understanding and tolerance of the host culture (that will, at the very least, allow the participant to be able to stay), whereas not everyone may also develop similar levels of respect and appreciation.

In the end, the intercultural experience provides a marvelous opportunity. It is both powerful and provocative, often producing a paradigm shift, a change in one's worldview, that many claim to be the most important educational experience of their lives.


American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages. (1985). ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines (Rev. ed.). Hastings-on-Hudson, NY: ACTFL Materials Center.

Fantini, A. E. (2006, December). "Assessment of Intercultural Competence." In Exploring and Assessing Intercultural Competence (Appendix G). Final Report, The Federation of The Experiment in International Living, Brattleboro, VT. December 2006. Retrieved August 2007 from http://www.experiment.org and <http://www.worldlearning.org/> (scroll down to publications).


Anticipating Spanish-Speaker Rhetorical Assumptions in the College Essay

Mabel Illidge, Instructor of Spanish, Nicholls State University, Thibodaux, LA, USA, mabel.illidge@nicholls.edu, and Dr. Gina Macdonald, Associate Professor of English, Nicholls State University, Thibodaux, LA, USA, virginia.macdonald@nicholls.edu

A highly intelligent intensive English program (IEP) student from Mexico protested that her writing teachers were asking her to think differently, to throw out patterns used all her life, and to substitute an "inferior" way of writing with "lower standards" for a "less cultured" audience. She was not sure she wanted to become a person who could write that way. This attitude sums up a major problem language teachers face: Assumptions about audience expectations differ across cultures. Robert Kaplan's diagram of the typical Romance-language essay with its pattern of digressions reported in "Cultural Thought Patterns in Inter-Cultural Education" (1966, 1987) claims to capture the essential differences in ways of thinking about writing between native-language Spanish speakers and native-language English speakers. Whether Kaplan's diagram is correct is secondary to his central assumption: There aredifferences in how the two languages frame discourse at the paragraph level, differences that at least conflict with, and at worst negate or impair, communication. However, Kaplan's insight does not provide the details that will help American English teachers deal with ESL students in advanced IEPs or at college English levels. In these programs, teachers encounter students grounded in a different conception of what characterizes good writing and how one goes about producing effective essays. For these students, audience assumption issues play out in tactical decisions about sentence length and complexity. These issues include embedding/subordinating questions and degree of permissible digression, that is, the "distance" from the topic that is allowable. All this is conflated by Kaplan into his zig-zag line graphics representing a cultural and linguistic tolerance for digression and for intuitive leaps of thought and argument. Though there is much to say on this topic, in this article we examine just one significant difference in assumptions that teachers of native-language Spanish speakers need to understand: the difference in assumptions about audience, including what readers know and share with the writer and how they respond to texts and feel about language.

Whereas American writing classes put great emphasis on identifying audience in order to determine language level, allusions, and approach to argumentation, students writing essays in classes throughout Spain and Latin America focus on the degree of topic coverage (i.e., assigned length). In these regions, the audience for university-educated writers is a known quantity: people like themselves, with a similar level of education, shared readings, and, to a great extent, shared cultural and literary knowledge. The readership presumed is thus homogenous and imaginable, in complete contrast to the wildly diverse college audience that is the North American conceptual norm. The language register among the university-educated in Spanish language regions will clearly and inevitably be formal, elevated, and courteous, the high style that even the poorest citizen learns. The father in the Hugo Martinez-Serros short story "Learn! Learn!" (1994) is absolutely right when he trains his children in the stylized formulas of elevated writing, arguing that this skill will extinguish class differences because it crosses all barriers. The allusions of such writing, shared by all, need not be explained. The most effective arguments build on recognized authorities and are abstract and philosophical, the product of shared cultural knowledge and experience. They are not the concrete and personal views of an individual extrapolating from possibly unique experiences to global relevance. Whether they are training to be engineers, scientists, or social workers, all educated Spanish-speaking writers will have read and studied Cervantes; they will have dichos or proverbs at their command for every situation, proverbs drawn from the classical literature of Spain. They will be able to refer to parts of the great epics. No educated Argentine, for example, can imagine an educated person being unable to recite pertinent verses from Martin Fierro (1872).

In light of these shared cultural and literary touchstones, it would be insulting to an educated Spanish-speaking audience to try to explain what everyone knows. Therefore, it is taken for granted that the best writing implies or suggests rather than blatantly or directly states. Moreover, what American teachers criticize as "digressions" are to native Spanish speakers intuitively connected to the central concept of the essay and their relevance is easily understood by readers. Why explain what is patently obvious? Many Spanish-speaking students upon first encountering the American lock-step pattern of thesis statement, topic sentences, concluding statements to paragraphs, and so forth are incredulous: "Are you asking us to insult our readers?" they ask with all sincerity. "Why?" It is understood that the best writing is intuitive from context.

Furthermore, writing in Spanish is based on the premise that it is the job of the writer to write beautifully and well and the job of the reader is to figure out the intricacies and the nuances of the argument. The responsibility for understanding texts rests on the shoulders of the reader, not those of the writer. Clarity, in fact, is not a central goal, and sometimes, as in the writing of Jorge Luis Borges or Gabriel García Márquez, obscurity is an indicator of subtlety, complexity, and erudition. This difference in focus is taken for granted and carries over to students learning to write in English and using English vocabulary, but still thinking in and utilizing the writing patterns instilled in them since elementary school. Related to this difference in writing goals is the idea of courtesy in writing. Spanish requires more courtesy forms than does English. Formal diction in Spanish is highly stylized and depends on a distance between reader and writer, a distance that makes the thesis statement and topic sentence approach to writing seem mechanical and almost rude. When business letters begin with "My very esteemed colleague and friend" or variations of a similar level of politeness instead of the perfunctory English phrase "Dear Sir," it is clear that very different expectations about politeness are at work.

Then too there is the question of orality. While Spanish language composition teachers often enjoin their students to read their papers aloud to hear how their words sound, most U.S. freshman English compositions are written to be read silently (or maybe not even that). For the Spanish speaker, the sound of the essay is as important as the ideas. This oral emphasis comes from the nature of testing throughout the school systems: Spanish-speaking students must be prepared for oral examinations in which they must speak well in a high style. Conversely, the oratorical tradition in English has greatly diminished, appearing only in speech courses and competitions (nothing like the attention paid to writing). For educated Spanish speakers, the oral flow of the paper may be as important as the argument. Then, too, the musicality of Spanish, especially the musicality of Spanish poetry, strongly influences prose composition. In the view of users of Spanish, this phonetic and aesthetic relationship is both describable and proper. Student writers in Spanish-speaking cultures concentrate on sonorous word choice and the rhythm of their sentences. Thus, an ESL teacher will find Spanish-speaking students spending a lot of time revising their English at the sentence level, concentrating on the musicality of the sound, rather than considering how the sentence fits into the whole. They may work for 30 minutes on one sentence until it satisfies them, only to have their English teacher toss it out as not relevant to their central focus, which—by the way—has never been clearly stated in a thesis statement format.

In this short piece we have described some basic differences in writing expectations. Unfortunately for educated Spanish speakers who are learning English, many American university writing teachers interpret these differences in expectations as student errors—errors of planning, layout, diction, and transition and problems with a sense of audience and degree of abstraction. In fact, something very different may be going on. Such so-called "errors" may indicate a clash of assumptions between two cultures: (a) the U.S. English-speaking culture, where the primary aim is clear communication between people from very different backgrounds, and (2) the Spanish-speaking culture, where the main goal is to demonstrate power over language and sound and to win the admiration of readers who share experiences, culture, and a common linguistic identity. Before Spanish-speaking students can be taught a new approach to writing, they need their composition teachers to clarify for them the assumptions under which they will be expected to work in their new language, assumptions that are new and possibly counterintuitive. Such clarification should be reiterated multiple times because the students will have no experience working with the premises that drive the college essay and assumptions are much harder to change than are surface mechanics. Understanding these very different assumptions will be their first important step toward producing an "English-style" essay as opposed to a "Spanish-style" essay.


Kaplan, R. B. (1966). Cultural thought patterns in intercultural education. Language Learning, 16, 1-20.

Kaplan, R. B. (1987). Cultural thought patterns revisited. In U. Connor and R. B. Kaplan (Eds.), Writing across languages: Analysis of L2 text (pp. 8-21). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Martinez-Serros, H. (1994). "Learn! Learn!" In J. Beaty and J. P. Hunter (eds.), New Worlds of Literature (pp. 260-269). New York: W.W. Norton.

Mabel Illidge is a native Spanish-speaker who teaches Americans Spanish. Gina Macdonald has taught Spanish language courses, English as a second language composition courses in an IEP, and freshman composition for international students.

Building Intercultural Communicative Competence and English Skills With Foreign Pen Pals

Joshua Borden, Lecturer, National Central University, Taiwan, joshua@ncu.edu.tw

As I was designing a new intercultural communication class for my university in Taiwan, I kept wondering how to best teach intercultural communication to a homogenous student population who had little personal contact with people from different cultural backgrounds. I established an international pen pal project as an experiential activity to help build students' intercultural communicative competence and improve English language skills by using English as a lingua franca with foreign pen pals. The activity has proven to be very popular among students and successful in relation to the above-mentioned goals. I offer a brief summary of my experiences in the hope that it will be of some interest or use to other teachers.


I have conducted and administered the activity for two semesters; in both semesters, each student in my Intercultural Communication class (a university-wide elective class) was given a pen pal from a partner class in a foreign university. To provide each student in my large classes (about 45 students per class) with a pen pal, I had to find multiple partner classes for each one of my classes. Details of partner schools can be seen in Table 1.

Table 1. Partner Classes

Participating Universities Fall 2006 National Central University (Taiwan) partnered with
+ Chuo University (Japan)
+ Asian University (Thailand)
+ Shimonoseki City University (Japan)
Spring 2006 National Central University (Taiwan) partnered with
+ Chuo University (Japan)
+ Kwansei Gakuin University (Japan)

Activity Details and Assessment

In the project's final form, students were required to send at least two e-mails a week to their pen pal for several weeks, following a regular schedule, and "cc" a copy of each e-mail to an administrative e-mail account (to which all instructors shared access). Students were asked to discuss culturally relevant assigned topics in at least one of their e-mails and make regular entries in a "pen pal journal" about their communicative experiences. For the journal entries, students were to evaluate the success of the exchange and detail any possible differences in communicative style that they might have noticed. Students were allowed to write journal entries in English or in their native languages to ensure the accuracy of answers.

Class instructors discussed the progress of the activity in regular teleconference meetings using Skype, a low-priced Internet communications provider. In addition to general meetings, in which all instructors participated, there were a number of one-on-one meetings between instructors of partner classes to discuss specific progress of individual pen pal pairs and review their journal entries.

At the end of the activity, students were given a questionnaire in which they shared their attitudes toward the activity and their perceptions of what skills they had (or had not) gained. As with the journal entries, students were given the choice to write in either English or their native language. Table 2 summarizes the tasks.

Tasks Requirements Details
E-mail to pen pal 
(& cc to admin. account)
Two times per week
(6 to 8 weeks)
Assigned topic must be discussed in at least one message
Journal Entries Regular intervals
(e.g., one time every 2 weeks)
-Evaluate exchange
-List possible differences in communicative style
-Allowed to write in L1
Follow-up questionnaire One time Given after activity

General Findings

Though students managed to follow the guided topics (with differing amounts of earnestness), many seemed more interested in discussing issues closer to their hearts: music, movies, Japanese soap operas (watched by both Japanese and Taiwanese students), recreational activities, university life, and what I would like to title with a pseudo-academic euphemism "cross-cultural differences in dating practices." Many students supplemented messages with photos (of themselves, pop stars, and aspects of home culture they discussed) and links to music videos, personal blogs, and other Web sites they thought their partner might find interesting. This type of "extra" work and the friendly, chatty communicative style that typically emerged indicated a high degree of personal involvement in the activity seldom found in other assignments.

In addition to observing these general patterns and discussing the progress of individual pairs, Prof. Kurihara of Chuo University and I further analyzed the data from EFL, pragmatic, and IC perspectives and noticed several issues of possible significance to the role of the activity as an EFL and IC learning tool. We spoke about such issues at the SIETAR (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research) conference in Yokohama in September 2007. I briefly summarize the findings below.

EFL Findings

The activity seemed to be a successful tool for building EFL skills, with the vast majority of students responding in the questionnaire that their English skills improved from participating in the pen pal activity (see Q5 in the SIETAR conference handout on my Web site athttp://www.ncu.edu.tw/~joshua/SIETAR_07_Handout.ppt), especially communication skills, English writing, and vocabulary acquisition (Q6). Students felt that their grammar improved least (also Q6), and instructors noticed that students perhaps "learned" incorrect grammatical forms from each other.

The activity was found to be most successful with advanced-level EFL students, but class instructors believe that intermediate students still might benefit as much from this type of activity if it is implemented in a way that is more suited to the students' lower skill levels (for more detailed information, see Q2-Q5; note that Kwansei was the intermediate-level class).

As Japanese and Taiwanese participants were both familiar with Chinese characters from the writing systems of their L1, many Japanese and Taiwanese pen pals periodically code-mixed by lacing their English e-mails with Chinese characters. This practice seemed effective in enhancing mutual intelligibility, but perhaps detracted from the EFL educational component of the activity.

Intercultural Communicative Findings

Participants nearly unanimously agreed that the activity increased their intercultural communicative abilities (Q8). It not only appeared to foster understanding of people from other cultures, but also helped build awareness of the students' own cultural influences by placing students in a situation in which they had to explain aspects of their home culture to inquisitive foreign pen pals.

In general, partners were able to understand each other extremely well, and communicative styles were evaluated to be relatively similar, as participants themselves indicated in journal entries. Participants indeed seemed to dodge misunderstandings that might have occurred between East Asian and Western pen pal pairs, yet analysis suggested that cross-cultural differences in pragmatic features still seemed to slip by unidentified. As a result, patterns of misunderstandings were thought to have emerged, including misunderstandings that might be significant to intercultural communication between Taiwanese and Japanese. Among these, Taiwanese participants appeared to have an erroneous sense of proximity to Japanese communicative norms, and differences of politeness strategies were thought by researchers to account for some "hard feelings" by some Taiwanese toward their Japanese pen pals (e.g., "too distant" or "uncaring").


Overall, the activity turned out to be an enjoyable and educational experience for the students involved. Participants perceived a significant increase in their own communicative skills, both in English and with foreign people. The activity seems to be an especially effective educational tool for homogenous EFL or IC classes. Problems did periodically surface, administering the project was troublesome, and reviewing e-mails and journals was time-consuming, but all in all, it was a rich experience for student and teacher alike.


Questionnaire results can be found in the presentation handout below, also available on my Web site:


Call for Partner Classes
The next installment of the project will be held between early April and late May of 2008. Classes from Taiwan, Japan, and Malaysia plan to participate, and more partner classes are warmly welcomed to join the activity. Past students from Taiwan and Japan indicated that they would like to meet pen pals from all over the world, including North American, European, Middle Eastern, and North African countries. If you are interested, please contact Josh directly atjoshua@ncu.edu.tw.

Announcements Call for Pen Pal Partner Classes

Your coeditors, Mary Huebsch and Rebekah Muir, would especially like to draw your attention to the pen pal project that Joshua Borden describes in this issue of the ICIS newsletter ("Building Intercultural Communicative Competence and English Skills With Foreign Pen Pals").

Here is Mr. Borden's invitation:

The next installment of the project will be held between early April and late May of 2008. Classes from Taiwan, Japan, and Malaysia plan to participate, and more partner classes are warmly welcomed to join the activity. Past students from Taiwan and Japan indicated that they would like to meet pen pals from all over the world, including North American, European, Middle Eastern, and North African countries. If you are interested, please contact Josh directly atjoshua@ncu.edu.tw.

Call for Manuscripts: ICIS Winter 2008 Newsletter

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
Intercultural Communication Interest Section (ICIS)

Call for Manuscripts
ICIS Winter 2008 Newsletter

Topic: Methods for Teaching Intercultural Communication

The audience of this newsletter is composed of intercultural communication (IC) teachers, administrators, and teacher educators in TESOL. Manuscripts for the winter 2008 issue of the newsletter should be centered on the topic of how to teach IC and intercultural communicative competence (ICC). However, manuscripts focusing on other aspects of IC 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.

Below are some subtopics within the main topic that are meant to stimulate submissions, not to be a complete survey of the possible range of ideas.

How can true ICC best be defined?
What might be a comprehensive list of IC skills that can be used to develop IC curriculum in any country and with any kind of student?
What are some of the more successful methods of teaching ICC?
What are the comparative merits of the various methods being used at this time to teach ICC?
Are there any significant differences between teaching ICC to native speakers versus to nonnative speakers of English?
Should ICC be taught as a separate skill in special courses or is it best learned when integrated into language-learning courses?
What are the special qualifications and training of a good ICC instructor?
If, as some have proposed, culture is dead in the ES/FL classroom, then is ICC even necessary or teachable?
What is the ideal IC textbook?
Of the IC textbooks already in print, which are most useful and for what kinds of students?
How can the findings of business-related IC research be incorporated in ES/FL IC material?
What are some successful activities for the IC classroom?

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

The deadline for submission for the winter 2008 newsletter is January 31, 2008. The projected date of publication is February 28. Manuscripts should be around 1,200 words in length (contact the editor first about longer manuscripts) and must be formatted according to the guidelines of the American Psychological Association Publication Manual, Fifth Edition. Manuscripts can be submitted electronically to rebekahmuir@yahoo.com.

About This Member Community ICIS Steering Committee Members

Donna Fujimoto (Chair), fujimotodonna@gmail.com

Usha Venkatesh (Chair-Elect), usha.venkatesh@montgomerycollege.edu 

Susan Coakley (Past Cochair), scoakley@comcast.net 

Sara Keyes (Past Cochair), piratequeen@usa.net 

Rebekah Muir and Mary Huebsch (Newsletter Editors), rebekahmuir@yahoo.com and maryhuebsch@hotmail.com

Eunhee Seo (Webmaster), ellenseo@temple.edu   

Diane Trebing (Secretary/Historian), dtrebing@svsu.edu

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

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

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