An introduction to the concept of intercultural communicative language teaching and learning: A summary for teachers

Publication Details

This document is an introduction for language teachers to the concept known as intercultural communicative language teaching and learning. It is a summary of a Ministry of Education-commissioned report, Intercultural Communicative Language Teaching: Implications for Effective Teaching and Learning, produced through Victoria University of Wellington by Jonathan Newton, Eric Yates, Sandra Shearn, and Werner Nowitzki (the Newton report).

Author(s): This summary was written by Janet Rivers, based on a report written by Jonathan Newton, Eric Yates, Sandra Shearn and Werner Nowitzki of Victoria University of Wellington

Date Published: 2010

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Section 1: Overview

Culture is no longer an invisible or incidental presence in language learning but instead is ... a strand with equal status to that of language.

This document is an introduction for language teachers to the concept known as intercultural communicative language teaching and learning. It is a summary of a Ministry of Education-commissioned report, Intercultural Communicative Language Teaching: Implications for Effective Teaching and Learning, produced through Victoria University of Wellington by Jonathan Newton, Eric Yates, Sandra Shearn, and Werner Nowitzki (the Newton report).

In The New Zealand Curriculum, the 'learning languages' learning area provides the framework for the teaching and learning of languages additional to the language of instruction. The desired outcome is for students to be able to communicate effectively in their chosen language or languages when they leave school. The learning area has a core strand of communication, and two supporting strands, language knowledge and cultural knowledge. The Newton report relates to the cultural knowledge strand and the role of that strand in supporting the outcome of communicating effectively.

The New Zealand Curriculum states that in the cultural knowledge strand of language learning:

[S]tudents learn about culture and the interrelationship between culture and language. They grow in confidence as they learn to recognise different elements of the belief systems of speakers of the target language. They become increasingly aware of the ways in which these systems are expressed through language and cultural practices. As they compare and contrast different beliefs and cultural practices, including their own, they understand more about themselves and become more understanding of others.

The Newton report

In the context of the role of cultural knowledge in language teaching and learning, the Newton report discusses and develops the particular concept of intercultural communicative language teaching and learning. In line with the curriculum description above, this concept emphasises communication as the primary goal of language learning, sees culture and language as closely linked; recognises that culture is always present when language is used, sees cultural skills as important as language skills in language learning; and emphasises interculturality—the development of a deeper awareness of one's own language and culture as one is learning the target language and culture, and understanding the dynamic interplay between them.

The Newton report includes a review of the literature on intercultural language teaching. Based on their findings, Newton et al. coined the term intercultural communicative language teaching to describe this new, intercultural approach to languages teaching and learning and, drawing on their literature review, they developed a framework of six principles to guide intercultural communicative language teaching in New Zealand.

What does this summary cover?

The purpose of this summary is to provide a practical and accessible introduction for teachers to the concept and practice of intercultural communicative language teaching and learning. The summary does not cover all of the Newton report but highlights those aspects of most immediate relevance to teachers. In particular, it summarises the key findings from the literature review on intercultural language teaching, and presents Newton et al.'s framework of principles for effective intercultural communicative language teaching and learning.

Where quotations are included, they are as cited in the original report. Selected references are given at the end of the summary. For more detailed information, and the full list of references, readers should refer to the full report.

A note on terms

Where the literature uses the term 'intercultural language learning', that term has been retained in the Newton report and this summary. However, Newton et al.'s term 'intercultural communicative language learning' is the preferred term as it emphasises both intercultural and communicative aspects of the approach proposed by the Newton report for language teaching in New  Zealand.

The Newton report and the Ellis report

The Newton report complements an earlier Ministry of Education-funded literature review of second language learning theory and pedagogy, Instructed Second Language Acquisition: A Literature Review, by Professor Rod Ellis. Both the Newton report and this summary should be read in conjunction with the Ellis report.

Key points on intercultural communicative language teaching and learning

  • There is a broad consensus internationally for language teaching in schools to develop not only linguistic skills but also cultural skills and attitudes. Learning languages is seen as valuable for fostering cross-cultural understanding.
  • This consensus is reflected in The New Zealand Curriculum, where, in the learning languages learning area, cultural knowledge has equal status with language knowledge, and both support the core strand of effective communication. Culture and language are seen as closely interrelated, and culture as present whenever language is used.
  • Placing culture at the centre of language learning has led to a new perspective on teaching languages—a concept referred to in the research literature as 'intercultural language teaching and learning'. This intercultural perspective emphasises that, in learning about the culture of the target language and the interrelationship between culture and language, students will also be learning about their own culture, and developing a deeper awareness of both cultures and their languages.
  • Intercultural language teaching and learning refocuses the goal of learning by shifting from a narrower focus on linguistic competence towards a more holistic goal of intercultural communicative competence. Intercultural communicative competence requires an understanding of the relationship between culture and language and emphasises learning how to communicate effectively rather than being able to speak like a native speaker. Newton et al. coined the term intercultural communicative language teaching to describe an approach to teaching that focuses on developing intercultural communicative competence.
  • Based on its review of the literature, the Newton report has developed a framework of six principles to guide intercultural communicative language teaching and learning in New Zealand; namely that intercultural communicative language teaching:  
    1. integrates language and culture from the beginning
    2. engages learners in genuine social interaction
    3. encourages and develops an exploratory and reflective approach to culture and culture-in-language
    4. fosters explicit comparisons and connections between languages and cultures
    5. acknowledges and responds appropriately to diverse learners and learning contexts
    6. emphasises intercultural communicative competence rather than native-speaker competence.
  • New Zealand's bicultural status, defined by the Treaty of Waitangi and through legislation, means New Zealanders live in an intercultural context. Thus, New Zealand, with its bicultural heritage and te reo Māori as an official language, has a rich resource to draw on in developing intercultural understanding in languages education.
  • New Zealand's close links with the Pacific means Pasifika languages also have an important place in language learning in New Zealand classrooms.

Footnotes

  1. Newton, Yates, Shearn, & Nowitzki, 2009, p. 1.
  2. Ministry of Education, 2007.
  3. ibid. p. 24.
  4. Ellis, 2005.

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