Developing Intercultural Communication with Beginner University Language Learners
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AbstractThis study sets out to explore learners’ understanding of culture and intercultural competence through their formal language tuition and occasional direct experiences of other cultures. Two groups of Spanish beginner students, one of the groups in a distance learning university context and the other in a conventional university course, were investigated. The following research questions were addressed: ‘How do learners perceive the concept of a target culture and the issues involved in intercultural communication?’; ‘What relationship (if any) do learners establish between language learning and intercultural competence and the role of language in it?’; ‘How do learners position themselves with respect to other European cultures? To answer these questions we will refer to the intercultural skills model proposed by Byram (1997) and other alternative approaches (Phipps, 2003; Kramsch 2003; Sercu, 2002). Data from pre- and post- questionnaires, follow-up individual interviews and focus group interviews was analyzed. Based on the theoretical underpinnings of a socio-cultural and constructivist approach to language learning and the analysis of our learner data, we will argue for the need to introduce an element of ICC at beginners’ level that allows learners to actively engage in the construction of their own versions of the target culture and cultural identities against the backdrop of competing European identities.