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Developing Communicative Competence In Foreign Language Students English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3915 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Corbett states that it has been commonly recognised in the language teaching profession that it is not enough for students to master grammar, lexis and phonology of a foreign language; they must also acquire the ability to use the language culturally and socially in appropriate ways. According to Michael (1997), learning about foreign cultures cannot nowadays be realistically separated from ??, therefore it is very important that foreign language learners become aware of both their own culture and that of others. Michael (1997) adds that recent publications introduced the ‘communicative approach’ as a method of teaching, and hail it as the most widely accepted instructional framework in foreign language teaching, the ultimate goal of which must be to increase students’ communicative competence. Communicative competence means being able to use a linguistic system appropriately and effectively in the target language and culture. Recent publications emphasise the significance of the intercultural dimension in language teaching because it helps language learners to communicate or interact with people of other languages and to be aware of their own identities and those of their interlocutors. According to Fred (1996), language learners who become ‘intercultural speakers’ will be successful in communicating information and also in developing human relationships with individuals of other cultures and languages. Thus, this essay aims to demonstrate that concept of intercultural communicative competence can improve teachers’ classroom practices and that students can acquire communicative competence whilst being taught the four basic language skills.

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According to Rus (2003), developing intercultural communication in language teaching means identifying the following aims: firstly, to give students intercultural competence and linguistic competence; secondly, to prepare them for interaction with speakers of other cultures; thirdly, to enable them to accept and understand individuals from other societies as individuals with other distinctive values, behaviours and perspectives; and finally, to help them view such interaction in a positive light.

This essay will first present a literature review, which offers definitions of intercultural communication and the importance of studying it in language teaching, communicative competence and intercultural communicative competence. It will then show how foreign students can improve their intercultural competence through learning the four basic skills. It will then conclude its findings.

2. Literature review

2.1 Intercultural communication and its importance in language teaching

William (2003:132) defines intercultural communication as “the exchange of cultural information between two groups of people with significantly different cultures.” Jandt (1998: 36) also defines intercultural communication as “face to face interactions amongst individuals of different cultures”. Maletzke (1976:39) is a little more specific in his definition of intercultural communication when he describes it as a “process of the exchange of meaning and thoughts between individuals of diverse cultures”. Brislin (1986) pointed out that the increasing globalization and growth in international trade during the 21st century have made intercultural interaction with other languages and cultures inevitable and necessary (do you mean 20th century? Writing in 1986 means he only has experience of 20th century!). Michael (1997) found that most countries in the world are in contact, cooperate and exchange information with other countries more frequently than ever before. Nevertheless, difficulties do arise once more in-depth intercultural interactions start to occur. Individuals from one country will naturally be accustomed to doing things in certain ways; this is inevitable. However, customs and behavioural patterns deemed appropriate in one country may be highly inappropriate in other countries. For instance, in several Asian countries, if a guest is invited for a meal to another family’s house and he / she leaves immediately after the everyone has finished eating, the host might think that not enough food was served. If a guest were however to leave immediately the meal has ended in many American countries, this would be considered very rude behaviour and the host would think the guest has only come for the food and not the company (Brislin, 1990: 6) (both of your stories are similar in that the host is left thinking negative thoughts about the guest, it doesn’t illustrate your point very well). Some countries have strict codes of public conduct and foreigners may inadvertently cause offence through their ignorance. Difficulties are therefore likely to occur during the interactions between individuals from two diverse societies, particularly when neither has an awareness of the other’s society. In order to make the interactions more effective and easier, intercultural communication should be studied in language teaching. As Rohrlich (1987) points out, intercultural communication studies helps people to understand not only the world in which they are living but also themselves. Moreover, it plays an essential function in many areas of the community, such as government, education and business. (this is a bit woolly)

Communicative competence and intercultural communicative competence

Foreign language teaching had language competence as its main goal before the appearance of the communicative language teaching approach. Methods like the audio-lingual method concentrated on the language competence of the learners. Hymes (1972) criticized the concept of Chomsky’s ‘language competence’ and he put communicative competence ahead of it. This had a powerful effect on foreign language teaching and became one of the crucial theories of the Communicative Approach that was fashionable in the 1970s and 1980s. Bennett & Allen (2003:244) state that foreign language students need the “ability to relate appropriately and effectively in a variety of cultural contexts”. Thus, the purpose of foreign language teaching is not merely help students to acquire language competence as well as communicative competence; it should be promoting intercultural competence ahead of language and communication, which could be considered less important elements of a culture.

(I think much of what you’ve written in this next paragraph has been taken from various sources, some of the English is quite complicated and does not always make sense out of context. I would suggest you try and put some of it into direct quotes and give the sources) Pinto (2002) states that in a foreign language teaching context, intercultural competence is directly related to communicative competence in that intercultural competence builds on communicative competence and broadens it to incorporate intercultural competence. Communicative competence refers to the ability and skills of an individual to act appropriately in a foreign language environment, i.e. in a pragmatically, linguistically and sociolinguistically way. Byram (2000) explains that an individual with several degrees of intercultural competence (explain please) is able to see the relationships between diverse cultures, both external and internal, and “is capable to mediate each in terms of the other, either for themselves or for others.” He has an analytical or critical “understanding of (parts of) his own and other cultures, and he is conscious of his own perspective and of the way his thinking is culturally decided.” Sercu (2005) suggests that for an individual to be able to successfully deal with different intercultural experiences, he / she needs a variety of recognizable intercultural competences such as the willingness to get involved with a foreign society, a strong self-awareness, the ability to view oneself objectively, the ability to see the world through the eyes of others and to cope with uncertainty, to act as a cultural mediator, to evaluate others’ viewpoints, to consciously use the skills of culture learning to read the cultural context, and the understanding that people cannot be reduced to their collective identities. Sercu goes on to classify different elements of intercultural competence under three main headings: behaviour / skills, knowledge and traits / attitudes. To interact effectively, speakers with intercultural competence should have culture specific and culture general knowledge, knowledge of the self and others, and an insight into ways in which culture can influence language and communication. Certain skills are also required of effective communicators and these include the abilities to relate and interpret, to interact and discover, to operate and acquire a new knowledge, skills and attitudes under the restrictions (constraints) of real-time interaction and communication and metacognitive strategies to guide (direct) own learning – you’ve lost me here! The third element concentrates on traits or attitudes common to successful communicators. These include a predeliction towards learning intercultural competence, the inclination to to relativise oneself and value othersand a favourable disposition towards engaging with a foreign society. Text missing here words believes that intercultural competence “requires culturally sensitive knowledge, a skill set and a motivated mindset”. Also, Bennett ( 2003: 237) stresses that intercultural competence “refers to the general ability to transcend ethnocentrism, appreciate other cultures and generate appropriate behaviour in one or more different cultures”.

Developing intercultural communicative competence through the four basic language skills

Students learning English typically engage with a number of activities that encourage their use of the four main language skills: speaking, listening, writing and reading. These skills aim to develop their communicative competence, but can also encourage their cross-cultural awareness and understanding.

Listening activities

Pinto (2002) suggests a variety of listening activities: tape-recorded interviews with native speakers; video-taped cultural conversations; video- or audio-taped cultural misunderstandings, all of which encourage listening skills but with a particular focus on intercultural competence.

Tape-recorded interviews with native speakers

White (2006) states that this activity is a particularly useful activity for practising intercultural competence. Teachers divide students into groups and ask them to record an informal interview with a native speaker they know. Students should select a cultural topic and prepare some questions for the interview on that topic (an example would be good!). In the class, the interviews are re-played and students compare the interviewee’s opinion on the particular topic with their own opinion. These spontaneously recorded conversations present two advantages. Firstly, they give students the opportunity to listen to naturally, unrehearsed spoken language while they listen to the answers of the native speaker, something that is difficult to find in scripted classroom material. Secondly, in hearing themselves posing the questions on the tape, they are made aware of any pronunciation, intonation, vocabulary and grammar problems they might have. A teacher might also use other recorded material such as jokes, anecdotes, or songs from films in the target culture to help students feel closer to the target culture and to give them examples of how to communicate more naturally.

Video-taped cultural conversations

The students watch a video sketch where two persons of diverse cultures are discussing topics about the culture on which the project is based. One of them is from the target culture while the other is from students’ own culture. The instructor plans pre-listening, while-listening and post-listening questions to stimulate the students’ inter-cultural awareness and promote their listening skills. For instance, learners could ask some questions in a pre-listening stage to predict the views of the two people on the topic in question. During the listening process, the teacher could ask students to reject, refine or confirm the predictions made earlier. At the post-listening stage, the teacher could ask learners to give a critique of the opinion of the person from the target culture.

After the discussion on the content is complete, students could spend some time discussing the different ways in which the two ‘actors’ interacted: differences in their intonation, the use of pauses or periods of silence and non-verbal communication elements such as facial expressions, eye contact, body movements and so on.

Video or audio-taped intercultural misunderstanding

According to Lynch and Mendelsohn (2002), this kind of activity is useful in honing students’ awareness of cultural diversities. Students could be asked to listen to / and or watch a situation, which demonstrates an intercultural misunderstanding in a real-life situation where individuals are offended or confused. The students then pair up or work in small groups in order to explain or clarify the misunderstanding, thus increasing their intercultural awareness. (this is a bit woolly, an example would help explain it better)

Speaking activities

Michael (1997) describes several activities that could be designed by a teacher for students to assist in developing speaking skills with a special focus on intercultural components. These include face-to-face tandem learning, thinking up questions for a native speaker and role-playing.

1. Face-to-face tandem learning, or collaborative oral learning between speakers of different languages, is an activity especially appropriate to developing the intercultural communicative competence of foreign learners according to Fred (2002). A great example of tandem learning is the Erasmus plan that involves learner exchanges between the European Union countries. Students in one country are partnered with students in another. Once students have got to know their partners, the teachers arrange for them to engage in face-to-face discussions on particular cultural topics. Students are asked to tape-record all of their discussions and must also prepare an oral report on the specific topic. In preparing an oral report, students are being given the opportunity to reflect on the topic in more detail and practise their speaking skills.

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2. Omaggio (2001) suggests that thinking up questions for a visiting native speaker is an interesting and productive activity. Students work in groups to formulate questions that they then use to ‘interview’ the native speaker. Questions must be relevant to a particular topic such as education, politics or eating habits in the native speaker’s country. This activity can help foreign learners to get an insight into life in a foreign country thus minimising cultural shock when the students travel abroad.

3. (This next section is not very clear, you don’t define speech act, you only talk about speech acts, no other sort of role-playing etc) According to Lanzaron (2001), role-playing is a good activity for highlighting cultural differences in speech such as, suggesting, complimenting and apologizing. Olshtain & Cohen (1995) identify five stages in the process for the teaching of speech acts. The teacher should firstly assess the students’ level of speech act awareness. Secondly, the teacher provides some examples of the speech act in question, namely model dialogues and the students must guess the details, for example the relationship between the participants, their social status and the importance / relevance of the particular speech act. In the third stage, students are given a number of characteristic situations in the target society and they must establish how contextual variables influence the selection of the linguistic form of the speech act. During the fourth stage, students act out the speech act in a role-playing situation. Olshtain & Cohen (1995) emphasise the need to provide students with lots of information and details about the role-relationship between the communicators and also about the situation. The role-playing session is followed by feedback and additional discussions and in this final stage, foreign students are brought to an awareness of the similarities and differences between speech act behaviours in their own culture and in the target culture.

Shumin (2002) suggests that non-verbal videos could also be played in the classroom and students would describe or act out what they see. This activity is particularly useful for drawing students’ attention to important role that body language plays in communication in general, and specifically in the target language. Similarly, acting out short scenes from films or documentaries or pictures can be used to highlight a given cultural topic and encourage further discussion.

Reading activities

There are several different kinds of classroom activity that can be used by teachers for developing foreign students’ reading skills to include an intercultural component. These include critical reading, cultural bump activities and activities that place an emphasis on cultural extensive reading or written genres (not well explained).

1. According to Williams (2001), critical reading is reading a text in order to comment on it critically. This is a reflective activity, useful for promoting intercultural competence of learners while they practise their reading skills. Celce-Murcia & Olshtain (2000) propose that in performing this activity, the common framework, which allows for pre-reading, during-reading and post-reading instruction, could be of help. For instance, a pre-reading activity could see a teacher asking foreign students to preview the passage and make a judgement as to whether the identified content is representative of their own culture or of the target culture. In the while-reading activity, the teacher could ask the students to not only discuss what is written but to also look at how the passage is describing the given topic. Finally, in the post-reading activity, students could be asked whether or not they think the content of the text would be different if it were to have been read by another reader or written by another writer in a different cultural context.

2. A culture bump is used to describe a situation where an individual from one culture finds himself or herself in a different, strange, or uncomfortable situation when interacting with persons of a different culture. Day & Bamford (1998) suggest that teachers can use cultural bump situations as a means to educating students in the ways of another culture. This could be done by getting students to read about such a situation and follow this with a selection of written explanations of the behaviour of the individuals involved in the situation in multiple-choice format. The students can discuss these in order to arrive at an explanation for the bump. These discussions can increase students’ awareness of cultural differences and increase their tolerance of other types of behaviours.

3. Williams (2001) found that the examination of written genres is a useful activity for foreign students. He suggests that students are asked to analyse two written texts of similar genres but from different cultures, for example, an advice column in a daily newspaper. Students can gain a useful insight into the different ways everyday concerns are dealt with in different cultural contexts.

Celce-Murcia & Olshtain (2000) suggest that teachers could scramble the sentences of a cultural anecdote and ask their students are asked to put the anecdote back into the correct sequence. This type of activity is a beneficial one as it helps learners to establish and solve organizational problems in a given text (not sure this is of use, or maybe it needs more explanation?)

Writing activities

There are a variety of writing activities such as tandem email learning, inventing stories and story continuation, all of which can promote foreign students’ writing skills with a special focus on the intercultural component.

1. According to Dodd (2001), tandem email learning activities is considered to be an effective learning activity because it develops cross-cultural dialogue and engages learners in extended writing in a motivational way. Students learning English are offered native English speaking email contacts and they go on to develop the relationship whilst practising their writing skills. This benefits both parties as both are learning about the other’s language and culture. The teacher could further promote this by asking students to bring in some of the email exchanges in printed format and to present a short report on the exchange, with particular emphasis on what has been learned.

2. According to Omaggio (2001), inventing stories can be used to promote the cultural imagination of learners through writing. The teacher collects several magazines and chooses a number of pictures, which show people in the target culture in strange situations. Students are then split into small working groups and each group should describe what they see in their picture. They should also make some educated guesses as to what is happening in the picture. Each group then shows the picture and presents their findings to the class as a whole. The other class members then have the opportunity to agree or disagree with the group’s interpretation.

3. Story continuation could be used to develop understanding of cultural differences. The teacher should choose passages, which ideally are narrative texts with varied paragraphs leading the reader towards a cultural misunderstanding. Having let the students read the first part of the text, the teacher then encourages them to continue in their own words. Students can then compare their results with the original text. (this is very vague, an example would help, any quotes you can use?)


Intercultural communication is communication in all its forms between individuals or groups from different cultures. Hitherto, foreign language teaching sought to develop linguistic competence whereas now, the major goal of foreign language teaching is to develop students’ intercultural communicative competence. Teaching the four basic language skills with intercultural communication competence as the main focus ensures that students are taught to communicate appropriately and fluently in the target language and culture. It also ensures they can interact appropriately with people from other countries in real life. The teaching activities as described above, all of which encourage intercultural communication, ensure that students are equipped with not only useful background information, but the skills required for intercultural communication, such that they can use the target language in a native way.


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