is a definition in progress for this thematic grouping. Download
this as a PDF for discussion.
|Note: This is not and may never be a final document. It is intended to be revised as the research strand evolves.
Language and Intercultural Communication
The Language and Inter-cultural Communication group (LInC) has been formed
as part of the Flinders Humanities Research Centre for Cultural Heritage
and Cultural Exchange. It is currently composed of 7 members (from
the ESL, French, Italian and Spanish sections of the School of Humanities)
whose research interests lie in the areas of Applied Linguistics, Socio-Linguistics
and Second Language Acquisition.
Given the members’ research expertise, the nature of their pedagogical
practice, and their experience as intercultural communicators, the group
has chosen to focus its research activities on the development of intercultural
awareness and communication competence in second language learning contexts.
The purpose of the present statement is to determine the thematic focus
of the group, as it outlines key aspects of intercultural communication,
presents the members’ current research activities, and identifies
potential areas of investigation.
Please note that this document will evolve as the research activities
of the group progress.
Intercultural Communication and the LInC Group
(I)ntercultural communication entails the investigation of culture and
the difficulties of communicating across cultural boundaries. (…)
Intercultural communication occurs whenever a message produced in one
culture must be processed in another culture” (Samovar & Porter,
Of central importance in recent years, the issue of intercultural communication
(IC) has arisen in the context of culturally diverse groups living
and working within primarily monolingual societies. Advancements
in the areas
of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and greater mobility
and ease of travel have increased opportunities for intercultural contact.
As a result of this, growing emphasis has been placed on the development
of intercultural communication competence as a fundamental goal of
education (see, for example, UNESCO, n.d.).
Since all aspects of communication are both “a response to and
a function of our culture” (Samovar & Porter, 1982:14), socialization
in a culture determines what communicative behaviours are perceived as
appropriate or desirable within a given context. In addition to the use
of verbal messages, during face-to-face interaction a great deal of information
about the interactants’ personality, beliefs, values, and social
status is transmitted and interpreted, often subconsciously, through
non-verbal channels (Birdwhistell,1970; Burgeon et al., 1989; Mehrabian,
1969, 1972). The meaning of both verbal and nonverbal messages is drawn
upon past experiences, personal knowledge of language and word meaning,
and the social context in which a communicative event occurs.
In intercultural encounters, observed behaviours may be interpreted by
applying cultural frameworks that are inappropriate to the context in
which the communication takes place, thus resulting in misinterpretation
and misunderstanding, and even in negative stereotyping (Brislin, Cushner,
Cherrie & Young, 1982).While stereotyping responds to a human tendency
towards categorisation and simplification of highly complex realities,
negative stereotypes and prejudice are definite obstacles to successful
intercultural communication and mutual understanding. In order for these
barriers to be lowered, learners need to develop awareness and understanding
of their own, as well as of their interactants’, cultural universe,
including “beliefs, values, customs, habits or life styles” (Samovar & Proter,
The main aim of the LInC group is to investigate ways in which these
goals can be best achieved. The group operates within the tradition of
action research, as research emerges out of the members’ practice
as language and culture educators, and feeds back into it. As educators
and intercultural communicators themselves, LInC group members deal with
the difficulties of establishing fruitful dialogue in the classroom,
and of communicating effectively with students who may not necessarily
share the same cultural backgrounds as their instructors. Cultural differences
concern not only ethnicity (for example, Anglo-Australian lecturers teaching
Asian students; Italian, French, Spanish lecturers teaching Anglo-Australian
students), but also other group cultures that relate to gender, age/generation,
social status, and so forth (Scollon & Scollon, 2001:xii). As researchers,
LInC members aim to understand how these factors influence the teaching
and learning process, and how learners’ development of Intercultural
Communication Competence (ICC) can be best promoted in the contexts in
which the group operates.
Language Learning and Intercultural Communication
Language is a fundamental tool that humans use to construct and exchange
meaning with one another. Meaning making through linguistic exchanges
is an activity that is situated in a shared social and cultural context.
Therefore, in order to be able to communicate successfully, it is necessary
to understand the cultural context in which language is used. Consequently,
learning to use the same language as our interlocutors provides us not
only with a tool to facilitate interaction on the simplest and most practical
level, but also with insight into the other’s culture, facilitating
mutual understanding. In Samovar and Porter’s words, “Language
gives people a means of interacting with other members of their culture
and a means of thinking. Language thus serves both as a mechanism for
communication and as a guide to social reality” (1982:17).
In the world we live in today, the development and learning of languages
is a desirable and expedient activity. It is important to note that
second language acquisition (SLA) stands in contrast to first language
SLA research is the study of how people learn additional languages
beyond acquiring their mother tongue or first language (L1), and
a complex network of inter-related variables that influence success
There is no single way in which learners acquire knowledge and this
holds true in acquiring knowledge of a second language (L2). SLA
is the product
of many factors pertaining to the learner on one hand and the learning
context on the other. It is, therefore, important to recognise the
diversity and complexity of the interaction of the two. Different
learners in different
situations learn a L2 in different ways. While appreciating the individual
nature of language learning, in order to understand the processes of
SLA it is necessary to focus on those issues or variables that are
relatively stable and hence generalisable, if not to all learners
then at least
to large groups of learners.
Culture learning and the development of Intercultural Communication Competence
The development of a high level of linguistic competence, though fundamental
for intercultural communication, cannot be deemed sufficient. In fact,
it has been observed that, when non-native speakers are able to display
a near-native level of competence in the target language, there is also
an implicit expectation that they will behave according to the sociocultural
norms observed by the native speakers of that language. If this does
not happen, native speakers will tend to consider the resulting failure
in communication as a deliberate act of the non-native speaker, rather
than as an honest mistake (Gass & Varonis, 1991).
As previously observed, intercultural research has put forward the notion
that “culture underlies every part of communication” (Crozet
and Liddicoat, 2000:2). Kramsch (1993, cited in Crozet and Liddicoat,
2000:2), for example, argues that “every attempt to communicate
in another language is a cultural act”. According to Crozet and
Liddicoat (2000:1), Second Language education should focus on the exploration
of a “comfortable unbounded and dynamic space which intercultural
communicators create as they interact with each other in their attempt
to bridge the gap between cultural differences”. This intercultural
space (or “third place”), the conditions of its creation
and the make-up of its components, should be the research focus of the
From a pedagogical perspective, this implies revisiting the traditional
notion of culture as “the valued artefacts of a particular society” (Crozet
and Liddicoat, 2000), often adopted by language educators in university
departments, which tends to present culture in a static fashion, as a
series of selected facts, customs and traditions learners need to understand
and appreciate in order to become ‘culturally competent’.
The main side effect of this monolithic approach to language and culture
learning is that, by imposing native-like values and competencies as
the norm, it does not take into account how people communicate across
cultures, or, as Zarate (1993) puts it, how people “relate to otherness” and
negotiate their differences. In other terms, it fails to develop intercultural
A more useful way of viewing culture is suggested by Trompenaars (1994),
who describes a multi-layered model of culture in which three main areas
are identified. The outmost layer includes explicit products of a culture,
which are easily observed and constitute “symbols of a deeper level
of culture” (1994:23). The core encompasses basic assumptions about
life and the world, and implicit ways of dealing with all aspects of
human existence. The middle layer is made of norms and values, and determines
what behaviours are interpreted as right or wrong, good or bad. Getting
to know, understand and respect norms and values observed by a different
cultural group is a fundamental step towards becoming effective intercultural
A similar view is expressed by Hofstede (1991), who identifies four
main layers of culture, and also observes that developing ICC involves
awareness and understanding of both our own and our interlocutors’ basis
for interpretation of reality. In particular, it is proposed that awareness
of cross-cultural differences should be followed by the acquisition of
knowledge of the target culture’s symbols, norms and values. In
a subsequent stage, awareness and knowledge can be applied to and further
developed through practice, thus providing opportunities for the development
of IC skills
Researching Language and Intercultural Communication
On the basis of the observations made so far, it can be concluded that
becoming effective communicators in a second language and culture can
be extremely demanding and time consuming. In spite of the great amount
of research conducted in the fields of SLA and IC over the past decades,
many questions remain open regarding the variables that influence this
process. Some key issues to be investigated are:
What are the links between language and culture, and how can they be
emphasized for learners to become aware of the underlying connections
between symbols and meaning?
How does communication operate across cultures?
How can learners’ development of ICC, including both linguistic
and cultural aspects, be best promoted?
Some of the LInC members’ current projects already fit in the research
scope outlined above.
Robyn Najar is currently investigating academic writing across cultures.
Colette Mrowa-Hopkins and Antonella Strambi are involved in a comparative
study of self-disclosure and emotion communication in French, Italian
and Australian settings. Olga Sanchez-Castro’s research focuses
on Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) as a tool to encourage participation
among low self-efficacious students of Spanish; Eric Bouvet has been
investigating how foreign language students implement reading strategies;
and Javier Díaz has been examining the discursive approaches of
language textbooks. All these projects have intercultural implications
in the context of language instruction.
In addition to their current research activities, the LInC group members
have also identified potential areas of interest from which projects
common to the group could emerge. Such areas include:
Socialisation of students into language communities;
Verbal and non-verbal communication;
Native Speaker versus Non-Native Speaker teachers of languages.
Birdwhistell, R. L. (1970). Kinesics and Context. Essay
on Body Motion Communication. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Brislin, R. W., Cushner, K., Cherrie, C., and Yong, M. (1982) Intercultural
Interactions: A Practical Guide. Beverly Hills (CA): Sage.
Burgeon, J. K., Buller, D. B., and Woodall, W.G. (1989). Nonverbal Communication:
The unspoken dialogue. New York: Harber and Row.
Ellis, R. (1999). Understanding second language acquisition. OUP, Oxford.
Gass, S. M., and Varonis, E. M. (1991). “Miscommunication in Nonnative
Speaker Discourse”. In N. Coupland, H. Giles, and J. M. Wiemann
(Eds.), “Miscommunication” and Problematic Talk. Newbury
Park, CA: Sage.
Kramsch, C. (1993). Context and culture in language education. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Liddicoat, A., and Crozet, C (Eds). (2000). Teaching language, teaching
culture. Melbourne (Vic.): Applied Linguistics Association of Australia,
Mehrabian, A. (1969). “Significance of Posture and Position in
the Communication of Attitude and Status Relationships”. Psychological
Bulletin, 71: 359-72.
Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal Communication. Chicago-New York: Aldine-Atherton.
Scherer, K. R., & Walbott, H. G. (1994). “Evidence of Universality
and Cultural Variation of Differential Emotion Response Patterning”.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 66(2): 310-328.
Scollon, R., and Scollon, S. W. (2001). Intercultural Communication:
A Discourse Approach.2nd Edition. Oxford (UK): Blackwell.
Samovar, L.S, and Porter, R. E. (1982). Intercultural Communication:
A Reader. 6th Edition.
Belmont (CA): Wadsworth.
UNESCO (n.d.). Education and Cultural Diversity. Retrieved 18/01/05 from
Zarate, G. (1993). Représentation de l’étranger et
didactique des langues. Paris: Didier.