A Core Skill for Higher Education: Intercultural Competence in China, Europe, and the USA

A Core Skill for Higher Education: Intercultural Competence in China, Europe, and the USA

Christopher Brighton (East Carolina University, USA), Lingbin Wang (Hangzhou Entel Foreign Language School, China), Yingting Chen (Hangzhou Entel Foreign Language School, China) and Xu Gong (Hangzhou Entel Foreign Language School, China)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8128-4.ch009
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This chapter will argue that intercultural communication is a core skill for students of higher education. Yet, high school graduates are not adequately prepared for the global environments that are today's higher education institutions. The focus is on the learning and teaching of intercultural communication at high school and the skills carried by the learner into higher education. The authors examine why, despite the guidelines from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, and the High Schools English Curriculum standards express instructions for teaching intercultural skills in the classroom, students lack the core skills on completion of language studies at high school. The material for this chapter is drawn from the experience of the authors in learning, teaching, and assessing language competence in South-Eastern China, Central Europe, and the Eastern Seaboard of the USA.
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Standardizing Language Assessment

High School is an essential part of intercultural learning because many of the habits and approaches to intercultural communication are ingrained at the high school level. National curricula in many countries require compulsory language learning at high school. The curriculum also outlines the needs for students to be engaged in developing intercultural skills. This period is crucial as students taking language courses at high school are developing and forming attitudes to the world around them. It might be assumed, given appropriate instruction, that learners in high school would gain a foundation level knowledge of many intercultural issues and have developed an understanding of the intercultural skills necessary to become a global citizen by the time they graduate high school. Given the issues highlighted by instructors in higher education, we can state that this is not the case.

Yet, such an outcome seems to contradict much of the methodology and structure provided for language education. In the 1980s and 1990s, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) moved towards standardized assessment of language learning. Originally a document concerned with the pedagogical standards for language learners, such as to standardize immigrant non-native English speakers or for employment in overseas government positions (Menken, Hudson, & Leung, 2014, p.589), it is the subsequent revisions of the document that have led to promotion of the competences that are associated with language learning. It is no longer assumed linguistic proficiency is the sole necessity of a language learner, but the need for a broad spectrum of proficiency in what are called the 5 C’s (Cox, Malone, & Winke, 2018, p.106-107). These are: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons and Communities.

The ACTFL documentation emphasizes the need for language learners to develop in the five goal areas. As Schulz (2008, p.10) states:

Cultural knowledge and culture appropriate communication skills play an important role in all three modes of communication: interpersonal (implying, of course, culturally appropriate interaction); interpretive (implying sufficient knowledge of the target culture to understand culture-specific meanings); and presentational (implying selection of culture-appropriate contents and use of style and register, i.e., the conscious or subconscious understanding of what can be said to whom, how and in what circumstances).

The recognition that intercultural skills are overlapping other areas of the 5 C’s shows the importance of developing these skills as a language learner. The skills are core components in language learning and are aids for the student utilize in communication.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) in the Council of Europe also recognizes the need for a standardized assessment structure. However, the CEFR is the more influential document of the two western standards (Bärenfänger & Tschirner, 2009). Importantly, since its inception in 2001, the CEFR has emphasized the necessity for language education to work alongside intercultural development and skills. As such, it is the original document that promoted the Language-Culture link in learning, testing and assessment. As the CEFR (2001, p.1) states in the introduction:

As a social agent, each individual forms relationships with a widening cluster of overlapping social groups, which together define identity. In an intercultural approach, it is a central objective of language education to promote the favorable development of the learner’s whole personality and sense of identity in response to enriching experience of otherness in language and culture.

As the Council of Europe acknowledge, one of the overriding reasons for the CEFR is to create a comparative system of language learning to enable mutual comprehension across the European educational systems. However, the CEFR promotes cultural understanding and supports the development of plurilingual and pluricultural learners.

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