A Tribute to Michael Byram’s Work on Intercultural Learning in Language Education

We recently published Intercultural Learning in Language Education and Beyond edited by Troy McConachy, Irina Golubeva and Manuela Wagner. In this post the editors explain the motivation behind the book.

There are scholars in every field who stand out not only because they have contributed to significant advances in thinking but also because they have devoted so much of themselves to the development of educational practices and the advancement of scholarly networks. This book is dedicated to one such scholar – Michael Byram – whose work on Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) and Intercultural Citizenship (ICit) has helped educators working within and beyond the field of language education to promote intercultural learning in their classrooms.

This is a book which aims to capture the far-reaching influence of Michael Byram’s work and the various ways it has helped shape the work of individual language educators, professional organisations, and other communities of practice. Simply put, what really motivated this book was a collective sense of wanting to create an opportunity for a range of international scholars to critically engage with Mike’s work based on a sense of gratitude and respect. We felt that this was important given the extent of Mike’s contribution to the field and his generous support for others.

In Part 1 of the book, contributors have looked at the theoretical and pedagogical significance of key concepts that have emanated from Mike’s work or have important connections with it, such as ICC, language awareness, intercultural mediation, ICit, intercultural dialogue and intercultural responsibility. Authors have aimed to consider how understandings of these concepts have evolved over time, given changing contexts and additional knowledge gained in related fields.

Meanwhile, in Part 2, chapters look at perspectives and practices associated with intercultural learning in a variety of contexts, including student mobility, service learning, teacher education and assessment, professional organisations, communities of practice, just to name a few. These chapters capture some of the many ways in which Mike’s work has inspired educators to enact intercultural learning, taking into account the need for locally appropriate pedagogical practices.

One unique feature of this book is that it includes a number of tribute chapters from those who have collaborated with Mike in different capacities. These chapters help further illustrate elements of Mike’s personhood and reveal his selfless support for scholars and colleagues worldwide.

As a whole, we feel that this book not only offers important research insights but also embodies the sense that being able to read, appreciate, and critique scholarship is an important privilege. We invite readers to engage with the research of scholars in the field and the memoirs shared by those who have had the privilege to work closely with Mike on a variety of projects. We hope that this book can serve as a model for a genre that brings together critical engagement and appreciation for the contributions of those who influence research and practice in such important ways.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence by Michael Byram.

Language Textbooks: Windows to the World?

We recently published Representations of the World in Language Textbooks by Karen Risager. In this post Karen explains what inspired her to write the book and tells us what we can expect from reading it.

It is often said that language teaching opens windows to the world. Learning a new language is even sometimes said to further our development as world citizens. But when we look closely at textbooks (and other materials) used in language learning, what images of the world emerge?

I have always been interested in explicit and implicit cultural representations in textbooks, and one of the earliest examples I remember from my own experience is a chapter in a textbook for French produced in the 1970s (used in Denmark where I lived and still live): The book dealt with the (very dull!) daily life of a middle-class family in Paris consisting of a father, a mother and their children, a son and a (younger) daughter. In the chapter in question, there was a drawing of a small square near the family’s house. There were no people, but a dog and a cat were standing on the gound. The accompanying text ran approximately like this (in French): ‘The dog and the cat do not fight, for in France dogs and cats are good friends’. The microcosmos of the square thus suggested a country characterised by harmonious relations between groups that might very well be in conflict in other countries.

In Representations of the World in Language Textbooks I analyse cultural representations in six contemporary language textbooks (used in Denmark), one for each of the languages English, German, French, Spanish, Danish and Esperanto. I have chosen to take the idea of the ‘world’ literally, that is, while I examine representations of the respective target language countries, I also examine representations of the world at large, the planet: Which regions of the planet do the textbooks refer to, directly or indirectly? Do they take up global issues, such as climate change, or inequality? Do they touch on transnational processes, such as migrations, or the worldwide use of IT?

My professional background is both in languages (sociolinguistics, multilingualism, language education) and in cultural studies (international development studies, intercultural studies, studies of migration). Therefore, it is important for me to emphasise that the analysis of cultural representations in textbooks is greatly furthered if one is aware of which theories of culture and society one draws on. In the book I distinguish between five theoretical approaches:

  • National studies
  • Citizenship education studies
  • Cultural studies
  • Postcolonial studies
  • Transnational studies

Each of these approaches gives rise to a number of analytical questions concerning the cultural and social universe of the textbooks.

Among the numerous results of the analyses of the six textbooks is that the enormous continent of Africa, encompassing a large number of countries, ethnicities, issues and inequalities etc., is almost invisible – with some exceptions. So one may say that the textbooks examined, with all their qualities, are certainly not windows to Africa.

 

Karen Risager, Professor Emerita, Intercultural Studies, Department of Communication and Arts, Roskilde University, Denmark, risager@ruc.dk

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Teaching Intercultural Competence Across the Age Range edited by Manuela Wagner, Dorie Conlon Perugini and Michael Byram.

 

Linking Language Learning and Intercultural Learning

We recently published Developing Intercultural Perspectives on Language Use by Troy McConachy. In this post Troy explains his motivation for writing the book and  introduces its main themes.

These days, there is a lot of talk about the need to develop intercultural capabilities within the foreign language classroom. Unfortunately, language teacher training programs rarely focus on culture, and the whole idea can be daunting to many. My main motivation for writing this book was to create a fresh theoretical perspective on the link between language learning and intercultural learning that was transparent not only to applied linguists but also to language teachers. I have aimed to combine theoretical argumentation with fine-grained analysis of classroom interactions to convince teachers that intercultural learning is something achievable within the foreign language classroom.

In the book, I put forward the viewpoint that language classrooms are not simply places where learners ‘acquire’ the ability to map together linguistic forms and meanings, but are places where learners become socialized into particular perspectives on what language is, how it functions in human life, and how it relates to culture. Importantly, classrooms are places where learners develop their ability to engage with language in analytic and reflective ways. I use the notion of ‘intercultural perspective on language use’ to represent a form of intercultural learning by which learners develop sensitivity to the role of cultural norms, assumptions, and values in how meanings are created in spoken interaction.

Although such a form of learning might sound difficult to achieve, I show how teachers can exploit commonplace resources to encourage students to reflect on how communication happens and how they personally engage with communicative resources of the L1 and L2. Language learning materials don’t need to be perfect in order to be meaningful for intercultural learning. Neither do teachers need to be cultural specialists in order to help promote intercultural learning. But they do need the ability to construct questions that help learners analytically and reflectively engage with representations of language and culture and to question what they take for granted, such as what it means to be polite, friendly, empathetic etc. in communication. In this book, I carefully analyse such questioning strategies.

Through this book, I hope to empower both teachers and learners to draw on their own knowledge and experiences as resources for deepening intercultural learning.

Troy McConachy, Centre for Applied Linguistics, University of Warwick, T.McConachy@warwick.ac.uk

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.