Intercultural Communication in the Language Teacher Curriculum

Our program, at Sookmyung TESOL,  is an intensive TESOL graduate certificate program that combines the 12 initial credits of a TESOL MA into just 19 weeks. Students can choose to transfer those credits on to one of many qualified MA TESOL programs worldwide or stop here and begin teaching with just their certificate. Many do choose to continue on, and I believe that it is due to our unique curriculum, which includes a course on ‘Intercultural Communication for Langauge Teachers.’ This course covers the basics of Intercultural Communication (ICC) , but unlike traditional classes that focus primarily on ‘how to speak to people with different language backgrounds’, the overarching objectives are to help current and future language teachers become more comfortable with uncertainty by developing a higher tolerance for ambiguity in the communicative language classroom. ‘Culture’ is defined as the ‘beliefs,norms,values, and attitudes’ of a group of people. This is not just on a national scale(Korean, American, Japanese), but on a much more personal/local community of practice forefront. Students begin to understand that ‘culture shock’ can happen during group work in the language classroom and that shared values of education and language learning don’t necessarily guarantee shared beliefs about the best way to practice those values in a group atmosphere. Given the widespread persistence of the use of ‘Communicative Language Teaching'(CLT) in most TESOL teacher training methodology courses,we believe that what is lacking to compliment this method is instruction on how to make CLT work in the real world;especially in East Asia where CLT is widely believed to be a ‘western’ approach that may not be applicable in the East. While many ESL professionals may experience multilingual classrooms, where two or three first languages are represented, in the EFL context, it is usually a homogenous language learning environment. While the class does hit on some major key ICC points such as pragmatics, semantics, and sociolinguistic competence in English, we believe in taking this a step further. By the end of the semester, our trainees are able to define a ‘classroom’ as a “place where learning can be negotiated.” Their own beliefs about education, group work, and the intended benefits of CLT are continually reflected on in a way that, hopefully, encourages them to consider planning a classroom culture along with their course curriculum. One of the theories that we focus on throughout the semester is by Geert Hofstede. His longitudinal research on cultural dimensions has been cited multiple times in both the international education and business fields. Here is a video of some of our students doing a role play in which they are each assigned one of the 4 main cultural dimensions (Individualism, Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Masculinity), and asked to create a ‘situation’ in which each person represents one of the dimensions while trying to solve a problem. By the end of this unit, students are able to identify aspects of each dimension in themselves, and their classmates, and begin to approach culture from a contextual perspective, rather than a national one.

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