The Importance of Intercultural Understanding in Today’s World

This month we published Teaching Intercultural Competence Across the Age Range edited by Manuela Wagner, Dorie Conlon Perugini and Michael Byram. In this post the editors explain how their book addresses the challenges involved in teaching intercultural competence.

The importance of intercultural understanding cannot be overstated in today’s world. It is no surprise then that educationists of all kinds create task forces to provide tools to help students engage in meaningful and successful intercultural dialogue. As language educators often point out, there are substantial challenges. First, it is difficult to apply theory in practice, and teachers cannot easily imagine how intercultural competence theories play out in the classroom. Furthermore, it appears to be impossible to teach intercultural competence if students do not yet speak the target language or if they are young language learners.

With our publication Teaching Intercultural Competence Across the Age Range we address these challenges. We apply sound theory of Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) (Byram, 1997) in our practice. We debunk the myth that intercultural competence can only be taught to students with higher language proficiency and also provide examples of how colleagues can benefit from collaborations in order to implement theory in practice.

We combined a graduate course on theories of ICC with guided collaboration between the graduate students and classroom teachers. Together they designed and implemented innovative teaching units integrating ICC into existing units and practices in systematic ways. In the book we show how to create a community of practice consisting of researchers/mentors, graduate students, and teachers to teach ICC and give students new insights into their own and other cultures within and beyond their local and national environment. Each teacher/graduate student pair co-authored a chapter in which they shared their unit plans, assessments, and experience in implementing the units, meaning that all the participants in this project had multiple roles: teacher, learner, researcher.

Our intention with this publication is to show one way of tackling the teaching of complex issues. Although we want to emphasize that each context in teaching will require a customised curriculum, we hope that teachers as well as curriculum designers, program administrators and teacher educators will find the detailed unit descriptions helpful for creating their own units in a variety of contexts. Our emphasis on collaboration, both the benefits and the challenges, reflects our belief in the power of learning and acting together. One important lesson we learned is that seeming bumps in the road often represent learning opportunities. As readers will see, this also reflects the model of ICC which enables students to learn how to mediate between different groups of people and to apply criticality in the here and now.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like From Principles to Practice in Education for Intercultural Citizenship edited by Michael Byram, Irina Golubeva, Han Hui and Manuela Wagner.

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Intercultural Understanding in Today’s World

  1. To combine the work of diverse players in the field of learning innovative ways of co- researching, co-innovating and co-implementing teaching units is indeed extremely helpful . I am looking forward to having a closer look at this approach which sounds familiar to me

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