Intercultural Competence and Language Skills in Different Types of Context

We, all human beings, are all different in many ways and can be identified according to many criteria: gender, age, physical characteristics, sexual orientation, personality, hobbies, standard of living, beliefs etc.
The concept of intercultural competencies was used in the context of studies related with efficient intercultural communication, adaptation to other cultures, intercultural learning. This concept is defined on the intersection of the concept of culture and competence.

Rakotomena (2005) formulate the intercultural competencies as a set of competencies necessary for a successful interaction in a group of persons from different cultures. Intercultural competencies are based on:

  • knowledge about culture in general, own cultural and other cultures in particular;
  • capacities: behavior, adaptation, conflict management, negotiation capacities;
  • competencies: flexibility, open mindness, intelligence, empathy, interdependence, optimism, tolerance;
  • psychological and emotional resources: motivation, stress management capacities.

Intercultural education in a formal context includes academic programmes and initiatives that are developed within and from the school. School is, after the family, a principal agent of socialization through which children get not only an academic education, but also learn much of their own cultural code. This cultural code needs to be the one that is open to other cultures, religions and lifestyles. Therefore, without the active support of the school, efforts to introduce intercultural education are bound to see diminished results, if not outright failure. Intercultural education demands from the school an important process of opening and renewal, matching curricula to the reality of multicultural societies. Schools are basing their work increasingly on the principle that all are equal. In general, the school should make efforts to:
– Try to create equal social and educational opportunities for children from minority cultural groups;
– Raise awareness of cultural differences as a way to oppose discrimination;
– Defend and develop cultural pluralism in society;
– Help children to deal constructively with conflicts, by illuminating different interests and searching for common goals.

The school’s role as an agent of intercultural education is double: towards minority groups and cultures and towards majority groups and cultures. There are many examples of good practice around Europe; here are a couple of recommendations:
– Intercultural education should be one of the key factors in training all teachers; one way for this to have a real, personal impact on teachers would be for them to spend time working in another culture, with the tools to understand what is happening within themselves – they would then be better equipped to help their pupils learn to practice active tolerance;
– Textbooks and other teaching materials need to be reviewed taking others as a starting point, so that school children can learn to accept as “ normal” different viewpoints and perspectives.

The objectives of informal intercultural education coincide with those of formal
intercultural education. The differences between these means lie mainly in the providers and the working methods. Informal educators work with young people in youth organizations, guidance centres, free time activities after school, during youth exchanges etc. Informal education has several important features which distinguish it from formal education:

  • Informal education is voluntary;
  • There is a closer relationship with participants and this makes  communication easier;
  • The contents are adapted with the participants to their reality and needs;
  • There is freer choice in the setting of objectives and in matching them with relevant activities;
  • The active and participative methodology makes for greater participation.

Informal could not exist without the presence of formal and there is much room to improve the compatibility between the two.

In the following, we present some activities with students, which uses multimedia for developing intercultural competencies. These activities develop complex competencies, beside the intercultural competencies:

1. Activity: Intercultural message of a photo
Objectives/Competencies
– To read the intercultural message of a photo;
– To formulate intercultural messages;
– To describe feelings related with people from other cultures.
Time 50 minutes
Resources
– A photo (in digital form) with intercultural messages; Laptop, projector.
Steps of the activity:
– The teacher projects the photo, students have to write down the message of the presented photo;
– Each student reads the message;
Reflection and evaluation
– The teacher starts a discussion in the class about comparing the messages written by different students; The teacher asks students to formulate what is the similarities between the messages written by different pupils.

Activity 2: Imaginary dialog between persons from a photo belonging to another culture
Objectives/Competencies:
– Empathy to identify with a person belonging to another culture
– Efficient communication skills
Time: 50 minutes
Resources:
– pictures in electronic format (pictures with 2-4 persons, belonging to another culture, that the students’ culture); computer network connected to the Internet
Steps of the activity:
– Ask students to observe the photo, and answer to the following questions:
Who are the people from the picture?
What have they done before the moment of the photo?
What will they do after?
(individual work, each student writes his/her answers on a sheet of paper)
– Ask students to group in teams (the number of people from a team should be equal with the number of persons from the photo). Ask each team to elaborate a scenario about what happened before the moment of taking the photo, and after, putting together the ideas of the team members. (group work, each team writes the scenario in computer in a document)
– Ask each team member to identify with a person from the photo, and then write a short dialog between the persons on the photo. (group work, each team copies the photo in the document and add the dialog on the photo)
– Ask each team to send their stories by e-mail to another team. Ask each team to compare their work with that one of the other team. (group work, each team takes notes about their observations)
– Ask each team to present the differences and similarities between the two versions in front of the class (frontal work, a student from each team presents the work of his/her team)
Reflection and evaluation
– Ask each team to discuss which difficulties they had in identifying with the persons from the photo (team work, discussion)

3. Activity: Dialog between two people of different culture
Focus: communication between cultures
Objectives/Competencies:
– creativity
– communication skills
– interaction skills
– ability to read the message of a film
– sensibility to an intercultural topic
– discovering differences/similarities between cultures
– discovering ways of overcome these differences/similarities
– ability to emphasize with another person
Time: 50 minutes
Resources: a short film with intercultural message (maximum 5 minutes, the film should have two characters who belongs to different cultures), computer network with Internet connection
Steps of the activity:
– everybody watch the film
– discussion about the intercultural message of the film (frontal, with the whole class)

Bibliography:
1. ***, DEVELOPING INTERCULTURAL COMPETENCIES USING ACTIVITIES WITH DIFFERENT MEDIA, 2008;
2. ***, EDUCATION PACK, 2004.

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