Featured topic: Intercultural communication

Topic of the monthRead and listen to a range of information about a particular area of applied linguistics. This month: Intercultural communication.
Research spotlight | Seminar report | Podcast | Articles | Book chapters | Related journal articles | Resources | Related titles

Research spotlight

Seminar organisers

Gibson Ferguson has been at the University of Sheffield since 2000, where he devised the MA in Applied Linguistics with TESOL programme of which he is also the course director. His research in recent years has mostly been in the area of language policy and planning. Most recently, he has been researching aspects of the role of English as a global lingua franca. He is also involved in investigating language use and language practices in the Yemeni community in Sheffield.

Valerie Hobbs has been Lecturer of Applied Linguistics at the University of Sheffield since 2008. Her research focuses primarily on language teacher education and teacher cognition, and she is particularly interested in the phenomenon of the short-term English language teacher certificate course and its impact on professionalism and teacher beliefs in the field of ELT. She is involved in several areas of teaching, including a Intercultural Communication postgraduate module at Sheffield.

Lesley Walker is responsible for the coordination and delivery of all undergraduate modules in French, German, Arabic and Latin in the Modern Languages Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield. Her research interests include language teaching methodology, tandem learning and development of autonomy, collaborative learning, and language teacher education.

Jane Woodin has worked in a variety of educational contexts and is currently Acting Director of the Modern Languages Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield. She set up the MA in Intercultural Communication in 2004 at Sheffield and continues to teach on this and numerous other courses. She is currently working towards a PhD in cultural issues in tandem language learning.

Key Themes in Intercultural Communication Technology
British Association of Applied Lingusitics/Cambridge University Press seminar, University of Sheffield, 9th–10th July 2009

The BAAL/CUP seminars take place three times a year in the UK and are part of BAAL’s commitment to research in Applied Linguistics. Click for more information.

This month's Featured Topic uses material from the Sheffield seminar, along with journal articles and book chapters, to explore the theme of Intercultural Communication.

Keynote speakers

  • Prof. Mike Byram, University of Durham
  • Prof. Helen Spencer-Oatey, University of Warwick

Seminar objectives

To bring together researchers working in the field of intercultural communication pedagogy, particularly – but not exclusively – in higher education, so as to develop a dialogue around the following kinds of questions:

  • What contribution can a discourse approach make to the learning/teaching of intercultural communication?
  • How far is intercultural communication necessarily interdisciplinary in nature? And what are the implications for teaching/learning?
  • How can intercultural communication pedagogy address the mismatch between textbook accounts of intercultural encounters and the reality of such encounters?
  • Within SLA, how easily does an intercultural approach sit with syllabi whose main focus is on language learning?

The discussion will help identify research issues in intercultural communication and SLA and thus lay a basis for future projects.

Programme of speakers

Helen Spencer-Oatey
University of Warwick
Developing 'Global People': Insights from international partnerships
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Mike Byram
University of Durham
Intercultural communication pedagogy as training and education
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Adam Brandt
Newcastle University
Culture in interaction: What micro-analysis of real-life interactions can contribute to the study of intercultural communication
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Richard Fay
University of Manchester
Developing IC courses in a vacuum: Some emergent pedagogical issues
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Sonia Gallucci
University of Birmingham
What does it mean to be prepared for the Year Abroad? And who can really benefit from this experience?
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Download presentation (ppt)
Carmen Lucas
University of Averiro
Some pedagogy tools for early communication in a foreign language (3–5 years old)
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Celia Thompson
University of Melbourne
Exploring a dialogic approach to intercultural communication pedagogy
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Jane Woodin
University of Sheffield
Native / intercultural speaker: Evidence from tandem learner conversations
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Tony Young
Newcastle University
Intercultural communicative competence and the teaching of English: Exploring teachers' beliefs and practices
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Seminar report

Read the official seminar report. This article will be published in the journal Language Teaching, Volume 43 (2010), and we are very grateful to the Editor for allowing this report to be reproduced here.


Listen to a podcast in which 10 seminar participants give their views on current issues in Intercultural Communication, including:

  • keeping the focus on teaching and learning
  • the importance of conceptual frameworks
  • using discourse data
  • the role of affect
  • developing criticality

>> Listen to the podcast now

>> Read the transcript (PDF)


Virtual Learning Environments for a Real (Transcultural) Dialogue: Toward New Pedagogies in Culture Teaching (PDF)
Sébastien Dubreil, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

In this exclusive article, Sébastien Dubreil lays down the theoretical background and rationale for an international telecollaborative project in which he is involved. The project looks at ways of teaching and learning 'culture' through an online learning environment, as well as how the learning outcomes can be assessed.

Book chapter

About Claire Kramsch

Claire Kramsch

Claire Kramsch has been Professor of German and Affiliate Professor of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, since 1990. She was the founding director of the Berkeley Language Center, a research and development unit for all foreign language teachers on campus. She teaches courses in applied linguistics, discourse analysis, second language acquisition and German language literacy. Her area of research is applied linguistics, with emphasis on pragmatic, aesthetic and hermeneutic approaches to language study, and she has published widely in these areas. She was the 1994/95 President of the American Association of Applied Linguistics and was co-editor of the journal Applied Linguistics from 1998–2003.

The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

Intercultural communication (PDF)
Claire Kramsch

(Chapter 29 of The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, 2001)

'Intercultural or cross-cultural communication is an interdisciplinary field of research that studies how people understand each other across group boundaries of sorts: national, geographical, ethnic, occupational, class or gender.'

Related journal articles

Cambridge Journals Online

The following articles are provided from Cambridge Journals Online.

'A survey of Internet-mediated intercultural foreign language education in China'
Liang Wang and James A. Coleman

ReCALL, Volume 21, Issue 01, January 2009, pp 113–129

In all educational contexts, technological developments and changes in pedagogical theory mean that any picture of current practice and attitudes must be dynamic. In many countries, the learning outcomes of foreign language courses now include intercultural communicative competence (ICC), although the precise model for teaching ICC varies even across the English-speaking world. Internet-mediated approaches are widely used to support intercultural learning. In China, the geographical scale of the country and the speed and extent of contemporary socio-economic evolution, allied to long-established and distinctive cultures of learning, make the interface of new technologies and intercultural learning objectives particularly interesting and significant. A small-scale study of college teachers' and learners' perceptions of intercultural classroom instruction, with a special focus on Internet mediation, was conducted in mid-2007, using questionnaires and semi-structured questions, to explore the professional, personal and technical issues associated with Internet-mediated learning of languages and cultures. The results show that textbooks remain the predominant authority, while Internet tools are used as a source of information rather than a means of communication. Findings suggest recognition by teachers and students of the potential of the medium, and of the validity of intercultural goals for foreign language classes, although there are some divergences between the views of teachers and students. However, it is suggested that national policy, local incentives and resources and above all educational traditions do not yet allow optimal use of Internet-mediated approaches.

'Assessing intercultural capability in learning languages: Some issues and considerations'
Angela Scarino

Language Teaching, Volume 42, Issue 01, Jan 2009, pp 67–80

Teachers of languages, as well as educators in general and employers, increasingly recognise the importance of developing intercultural capability. This recognition, however, brings the question of how this is evidenced as an outcome of learning. The assessment of this capability poses a range of theoretical and practical challenges. I begin with a description of languages learning within an intercultural orientation and a model for understanding assessment. I then discuss issues of conceptualising and defining the construct, as integral to the process of assessment. Next, I consider issues in eliciting intercultural capability in a proposed framework that includes assessment as both communicative performance (elicited in 'critical moments') and meta-awareness (elicited in commentaries). To conclude, I discuss issues related to identifying and judging evidence of the development of the intercultural capability and warranting the inferences made about students' developing understanding. The discussion is based on the experience of ongoing studies investigating the assessment of the intercultural capability in learning languages and in international education.

'Communicative Styles in a Contact Situation: Two German National Varieties in a Third Country'
Michael Clyne, Sue Fernandez and Rudolf Muhr

Journal of Germanic Linguistics, Volume 15, Issue 02, Jun 2003, pp 95–154

This paper reports on a small-scale exploratory study of metapragmatic perceptions of apologies, directives, and modal particles in two national varieties of a pluricentric language in contact. It investigates the way in which Austrians and Germans (believe they) communicate in German when they are married to each other and living in an environment where the national language is not German, that is, where they do not need to converge toward the national variety of the wider community. The study finds that those informants of Austrian background tend toward negative politeness (Brown and Levinson 1987), focus more on blame and guilt, and engage more in the art of conversation. Those of German background tend more toward positive politeness and the verbal fulfillment of respectability. There is some evidence of convergence but a surprising amount of residual national variation in the realization of the speech acts. However, there is a limited use of modal particles and evidence of a weakening of intuition in relation to their use.

Intercultural communication resources

Please also see Celia Thompson's abstract above, which provides a list of readings and musical sources for the subject 'Intercultural Communication'.

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