Intercultural Competence in ELT

Raising Awareness in Classrooms

by Yesim Bektas Cetinkaya (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 194 Pages


The 21st-century technological revolution has facilitated worldwide communication and expanded personal and cultural relationships between individuals and groups on an unprecedented scale. People from different countries and backgrounds are now in constant communication. As a result of this increased contact, in the field of English language education, the importance of developing learners’ intercultural competence has been strongly emphasized on both sides of the Atlantic, by national and intergovernmental organizations such as the Council of Europe, and ACTFL in the USA. The main aim of this book is to provide language teachers with comprehensive guidance on developing their students’ intercultural competence in the classroom.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction: English(es) and Culture in Language Teaching (Yeşim Bektaş-Çetinkaya)
  • 1 Defining ELF as a Sociolinguistic Concept and a Pedagogical Perspective (Elif Kemaloglu-Er and Esma Biricik Deniz)
  • 2 Culture in English Language Teacher Education Programs: Striving for Intercultural Communicative Competence (Servet Çelik and Şakire Erbay Çetinkaya)
  • 3 The Representation of Culture into ELT Materials (Eda Nur Özcan and Esim Gürsoy)
  • 4 Developing Intercultural Communicative Competence through Literature (Mehmet Galip Zorba and Arda Arikan)
  • 5 Developing Intercultural Competence through Creative Drama (Berna Güryay)
  • 6 Raising Intercultural Awareness through Technology (Gonca Yangın Ekşi and Asuman Aşık)
  • 7 Developing Intercultural Competence through Movies (Claudia Nickolson and Arda Arikan)
  • 8 Raising Intercultural Awareness of Young Learners (Ceylan Yangın Ersanlı and Deren Başak Akman Yeşilel)
  • 9 Classroom Assessment of L2 Cultural Knowledge (Bengü Börkan)
  • 10 Conflict Resolution in Intercultural Communications (Tarkan Kaçmaz)
  • Contributors

Yeşim Bektaş-Çetinkaya

Introduction: English(es) and Culture in Language Teaching

The 21st century Technological revolution has facilitated worldwide communication, and expanded personal and cultural relationships between individuals and groups on an unprecedented scale. People from different countries and backgrounds are now in constant communication. English language, the main medium of this mass communication, is increasingly taught as foreign or second language in school systems around the world. In some countries, English has undergone a nativization process (Kachru, 1992) and thus emerged in different varieties, referred as World Englishes, while in other parts of the word, such as in Europe and Southeast Asia, it is considered as Lingua Franca (Jenkins, Cogo, & Dewey, 2011; Seidlhofer, 2011).

As a result of this increased contact, in the field of English language education, the importance of developing learners’ intercultural competence has been strongly emphasized (e.g. ACTFL, 2006; Byram, 1997; Byram, Gribkova, & Starkey, 2002; Council of Europe, 2001; Furstenberg, 2010). The urgent need for developing language teachers’ and learners/users’ intercultural competence has been voiced on both sides of the Atlantic, by national and intergovernmental organizations such as the Council of Europe, and ACTFL in the USA. One of the four ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners is identified as “Cultural Awareness”, which addresses the question “How is the language learner’s cultural knowledge reflected in language use?”. Similarly, intercultural competence was identified as one of the key general competences for language learners in the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. The need to extend teacher knowledge through integrating intercultural aspects into practice, and into teacher education programs, has been voiced by many (Atay, 2005; Bektas-Cetinkaya, 2014; Bektas-Cetinkaya & Börkan, 2012; Bektas-Cetinkaya & Celik, 2013; Holliday, Hyde, & Kullman, 2004; Sercu, 2006).

The development of language learners’ intercultural competence requires language teachers and teacher educators not only to have a well-developed competence themselves, but also to be able to transmit this to their students. It is essential to equip prospective and practicing language teachers with not only the theoretical knowledge but also the ability to apply and disseminate this knowledge. This requires broadening English language teachers’ perspectives by ←9 | 10→raising their awareness of the history and current status of English language, of the role of culture in communication, and of the nature of intercultural competence, and also providing resources which clearly demonstrate how to develop their learners’ intercultural competence within the context of teaching English.


English has been variously labelled as a Global Language (Crystal, 2003), Global Englishes (Pennycook, 2007), an International Language (Jenkins, 2000; Matsuda, 2012; McKay, 2002), a Lingua Franca (Cogo, 2012; Jenkins, 2007; Seidlehofer, 2001), and World Englishes (Kachru, 1992). English is used worldwide by native and non-native speakers for both intra- and international interactions. Various concepts have emerged to explain the spread of English, such as linguistic imperialism (Philipson, 1992), colonialism (Kachru, 1992), and the economic and military power of Britain and then the USA (Crystal, 2003).

English has been given the status as a world language, not because the number of its native speakers exceeded those of other languages, but rather because it was recognized by almost all countries as a native language, an official language or the primary foreign language taught at school (Crystal, 2003).Corresponding to this three-way categorization, Kachru’s sociolinguistic framework explains the functions of English in terms of three concentric circles: inner circle, outer circle and expanding circle.

The inner circle refers to the countries in which English is the dominant language, including UK, USA, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Originally, English emerged from the British Isles, and spread to Ireland. Later it reached America through English settlements, and then Canada through English and American settlements. English reached Australia and New Zealand with the establishment of Britain’s “first penal colony in Sydney, thus relieving the pressure on the overcrowded prisons in England. About 130,000 prisoners were transported during the fifty years after the arrival of the first fleet in 1788” (Crystal, 2003, p. 40). After the mid-19th century, they were joined in Australia and New Zealand by a substantial number of free settlers. Although English was the mother tongue in these newly settled countries, different native varieties appeared in each country. These differences occurred at a phonological level, which led to different accents, but also at the lexical and syntactic level; for instance, “biscuit” in British English is “bickie” in Australian English. An American asks “Do you have a car?” while the British equivalent is “Have you got a car?”.

The outer circle refers to the former colonies of inner circle countries. In these countries, many acquire English in addition to their mother tongue, which leads ←10 | 11→to bilingualism or multilingualism. There are more than seventy such countries (Crystal, 2003), including India, Pakistan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Philippines, Ghana, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Malta. English is the official language within these countries, used especially as the language of law and education. This internal use leads to the localization and nativization of English (Kachru, 1992), namely, each country developed its own linguistic and pragmatic standards of English, which distinguishes it from the language of inner circle countries. For instance, a British public speaker addresses an audience as “ladies and gentleman”, while an African counterpart uses the phrase “sons and daughters of Africa”.

The expanding circle refers to the countries which are not the former colonies of inner circle countries, but which teach English as the primary foreign language at school. This circle includes more than 100 countries (Crystal, 2003), such as Turkey, Japan, China, Greece, Poland, Brazil, France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Russia, and Egypt. In these countries, English is mainly for international communication, but with a growing intra-national use “for its symbolic effect in such areas as ads, store and brand names and pop culture” (Matsuda, 2012). In expanding circle countries, learners seem to hold the following beliefs: that American and British English varieties are more prestigious than others (Friedrich, 2000), that native-speaker proficiency is the ultimate goal (Matsuda, 2003), and that native English speaker instructors are preferable (Shim, 2002). Language teachers also reflect these attitudes; they prefer native English varieties (Bektas-Cetinkaya, 2016; Sifakis & Sugari, 2005), although they seem to be becoming more aware of English’s status as the lingua franca (Bayyurt, 2008).


Culture can be defined as “a learned set of shared interpretations about beliefs, values, norms, and social practices, which affect the behaviours of a relatively large group of people” (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 25). Rather than being born with culture, individuals acquire it through a socialization process within a particular group. It is an abstract phenomenon existing in the mind, and involves beliefs, norms, values and social practices. Despite its intangible nature, culture directly affects our everyday behaviors through beliefs, norms, and values.

When we interact with people from different cultures, we recognize these differences. Some differences are obvious, such as dress and eating habits, but others are more subtle and less visible, and based on the beliefs, norms and values. “Shared beliefs, values, norms, and social practices that are stable over time and that lead to roughly similar behaviors across similar situations are known as cultural patterns” (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 85). When we interact, we may not ←11 | 12→be directly aware of these cultural patterns, but these “shared mental programs” provide the framework for our every thought and action. While some of these cultural patterns are unique to an individual, others are universal. For instance, in any given cultural group, individuals are unique, but all will recognize some shared, universal mental programs, such as the concept of love. In between these unique and universal mental programs, some mental programs/cultural patterns may be exclusive by a particular group. The members of a particular culture or group are not explicitly taught these cultural patterns, but acquire them naturally during their socialization process.

In intercultural interactions, cultural patterns play a crucial role, so it is essential to know what they are, and how they function in communication. Cultural patterns have three components: beliefs, values and norms (Lustig & Koester, 2006). The first component, beliefs, are “idea[s];that people assume to be true about the world. Beliefs, therefore, are a set of learned interpretations that form the basis for cultural members to decide what is and what is not logical and correct” (p. 87). The second component, values, concern “what a culture regards as good or bad, right or wrong, fair or unfair, just or unjust, beautiful or ugly, clean or dirty, valuable or worthless, appropriate or inappropriate, and kind or cruel” (p. 88). The final component, norms, concern behaviors, and are, namely, “the socially shared expectations of appropriate behaviour” (p. 91). The three components, i.e., beliefs, values and norms, differ from culture to culture. American and Turkish culture have a number of differences: American culture values youth, Turkish culture respects elders and entering a house with shoes on is a norm in America, but not in Turkish culture. In a similar vein, the appropriacy of a particular behavior may vary across cultures. For instance, eye-contact in greetings is valued in US culture, but is considered disrespectful in Japanese culture.

Cultural differences, i.e., different beliefs, values and norms, which lead to different behaviors, can cause misunderstandings and communication breakdowns in intercultural encounters. In intercultural communication, aspects of language use are influenced by cultural norms. These culturally-influenced aspects of language are identified as topic, agonism, amplitude-pitch and tone of voice, intonation, turn-taking and indirectness (Tannen, 2006). Topic is related to the appropriateness of subjects for conversation. For instance, talking about personal health problems in detail is considered appropriate in Turkish culture but not in German culture. So, if a Turkish person elaborates on health problems at length, a listening German will find the situation very uncomfortable, and although both may speak English, they may find it difficult to find a topic which is equally agreeable to both.

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Agonism is related to how to disagree, and to what degree. While in some cultures it is perceived as rude to strongly oppose the ideas of someone you have just met, in others, it is normal. Amplitude-pitch and tone of voice is related to voice level, how soft or loud one speaks, and whether the person uses high or low-pitched tones. A loud and assertive voice may be interpreted as enthusiasm and passionate commitment in cultures such as German, but as indicating anger and intimidation in others, for instance, American culture. Similarly, intonation is related to music of the language. While speaking English, non-native speakers may use falling intonation in language functions such as making offers, whereas native speakers tend to use rising intonation. As a result, to native speakers, non-native speakers’ intended offers may sound more like a statement or even a demand, and risks being perceived as rude.

Another culturally influenced aspect of language is turn-taking, which is related to who speaks and when in a conversation. In some cultures, overlapping and interruptions in a conversation is considered to show interest and enthusiasm, but in other cultures, people are expected to listen without interruption. Indirectness is about implicitness or explicitness. Each culture may have different conventions regarding the explicitness of sensitive topics. In an intercultural interaction, if one party explicitly states what should be implied according to the interlocutor’s cultural norms, that person is perceived as overly blunt.

Cultural biases such as ethnocentrism, stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination have considerable impact in intercultural interactions as well. Ethnocentrism can be defined as “the notion that the beliefs, values, norms, and practices of one’s own culture are superior to those of others” (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 146). Each individual within a given culture considers that their behavior is natural and appropriate, and even universal. Thus, each individual judges others’ behavior according to their own cultural framework, and when behavior does not conform to their cultural references, it is considered as wrong, rude, and unacceptable. For instance, in some cultures, dinner starts with salad, and in others, with soup. If you are raised in a culture where a meal starts with soup, you would consider that as natural and universal, and find other cultural practices odd or inappropriate. In intercultural encounters, the concept of a third place (Kramsch, 1993) is useful for evaluating practices without bias either towards the framework of the native culture nor the interlocutor’s culture.

Stereotypes “are a form of generalization about some group of people. When people stereotype others, they take a category of people and make assertions about the characteristics of all people who belong to that category” (Lustig & Koester, 2006, p. 148). However, in reality there are many differences among people who belong to the same category in terms of gender, nationality, religion, ←13 | 14→occupation, geographical region, and social class. Although overgeneralizations can sometimes promote mutual understanding, stereotyping treats individuals as a member with every characteristic of their group. Another problem with stereotypes is that these may be based on incorrect overgeneralizations. A person may form stereotypes depending on limited experience with members of that group, or even without any first-hand experience, depending purely on other’s ideas or on the media. Prejudice “refers to negative attitudes toward other people that are based on faulty and inflexible stereotypes” (p. 151). These negative attitudes may even include hatred of certain groups. The prejudiced tend to overlook evidence that contradicts their views regarding certain groups. The degree may vary, but it appears that all have a degree of prejudice, whether aware of it or not. Discrimination is “the behavioural manifestations of that prejudice” (p. 153). Discrimination involves the “unequal treatment of certain individuals solely because of their membership in particular a group” (p. 154). This may even happen in language classrooms.

Intercultural Communicative Competence

Foreign language teaching by nature requires communication, the competence of communication, and communication between culturally different individuals. The concept of “communicative competence” was developed by Hymes to indicate the ability to use language. One may have “grammatical competence”, but language ability requires more than this. In Europe, van Ek (1986) identified the components of communicative competence as: linguistic competence, sociolinguistic competence, discourse competence, strategic competence, socio-cultural competence, and social competence. However, he took the native speaker of that language as a model, and expected language learners to achieve native-speaker competence, an almost impossible goal, generally leading to failure. In foreign language teaching, a more desirable model is a successful bilingual who can use a foreign language to interact successfully with people from various language and cultural backgrounds, through their cultural awareness, an open attitude and intercultural skills.

Byram (1997) proposed the most comprehensive Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) model for foreign language teaching, and identified its components as: linguistic competence, sociolinguistic competence, discourse competence, and intercultural competence. The innovative part of his model is intercultural competence, which consists of attitudes, knowledge, skills of interpreting and relating, skills of discovery and interaction, and critical cultural awareness.

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The first component of intercultural competence, attitude, refers to “curiosity and openness, readiness to suspend disbelief about other cultures and beliefs about one’s own” (Byram, 1997, p. 50). The person will be successful in intercultural interaction if

Biographical notes

Yesim Bektas Cetinkaya (Volume editor)

Yesim Bektas-Cetinkaya is an associate professor in the Department of Foreign Language Education at Dokuz Eylul University in Izmir, Turkey. She has an M.A. and a Ph.D. in foreign language education from Ohio State University (USA). Her research interests include intercultural communication, affective variables in foreign language education, teacher education and language literacy. She has published several articles in international journals, book chapters and books.


Title: Intercultural Competence in ELT