The Performativity of the Intercultural Speaker

Promoting «Savoir Agir» through Improvisational Tasks

by Raphaëlle Beecroft (Author)
©2022 Thesis 300 Pages


Whilst the promotion of Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) is described as the main aim of foreign language pedagogy in Germany, its development from a performative-linguistic perspective lacks in research. To address this issue, this book argues that an extension of Byram’s model of ICC to encompass a further newly-developed savoir is necessary. Savoir agir makes explicit the interplay of intercultural and communicative competences present in the model and foregrounds its embodiment in ad-hoc oral interaction. Furthermore, the book emphasises the potential of methods derived from Improvisational Theatre for developing savoir agir in the language classroom. The second part of the book presents a longitudinal, two-year mixed-methods action-research study in which improvisational tasks were designed and implemented on a regular basis in four English classes with the aim of promoting savoir agir.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Oral Communication and Language Education Policy
  • 2.1 English as a Lingua Franca in the European Context
  • 2.2 Language Education Policy
  • 2.3 Analysis of the Competence Stipulations in the Language Education Policy Documents
  • 3 An Extension of Byram’s Model of Intercultural Communicative Competence
  • 3.1 Criticism of the Native Speaker Ideal in Communicative Language Teaching
  • 3.2 Definitions of the Intercultural Speaker
  • 3.3 Byram’s Model of Intercultural Communicative Competence
  • 3.4 Criticism of Byram’s Model
  • 3.5 In Search of a Viable Language and Culture Connection
  • 3.6 At the Interface of Intercultural and Communicative Competence: Savoir Agir
  • 4 Speaking Within an Action-Oriented, Task-Supported Language Learning Framework
  • 4.1 Action-Oriented Foreign Language Pedagogy
  • 4.2 Vygotskian Sociocultural Theory
  • 4.3 Task-Based and Task-Supported Approaches to Foreign Language Pedagogy
  • 4.4 A Pedagogy of Speaking in the Foreign Language Classroom
  • 5 Drama in Foreign Language Pedagogy
  • 5.1 Principles and History of Drama Education in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
  • 5.2 The Cornerstones of Drama in Education
  • 5.3 Parallels Between Drama (in) Education and Action-Oriented Foreign Language Pedagogy
  • 5.4 Building the Bridge: Towards a Concept of Performative Foreign Language Didactics
  • 5.5 Areas of Implementation of Performative Foreign Language Didactics
  • 5.6 Improvisational Theatre and its Pedagogical Implementation
  • 6 Assumptions on the Pedagogical Potential of Improvisational Theatre
  • 6.1 Improvisational Theatre as a Small-Scale Form within Performative Foreign Language Didactics
  • 6.2 Improvisational Theatre’s Particular Potential for Promoting the Use of Oral Language in Face-to-Face Communication Beyond Patterns of IRF/E
  • 6.3 Improvisational Games Modelled as Focused and Sequenced Speaking Tasks
  • 6.4 The Potential of Improvisational Tasks for Promoting Savoir Agir
  • 6.5 Practical Implementation of Improvisational Tasks
  • 7 Methodology
  • 7.1 Research Questions
  • 7.2 Research Design: A Longitudinal, Mixed-Methods Action-Research Study
  • 7.3 The Action-Research Framework and Sampling Strategy
  • 7.4 Data Collection and Gathering Procedures
  • 7.4.1 Lesson Plans
  • 7.4.2 Semi-Structured Teacher and Learner Interviews
  • 7.4.3 Questionnaires
  • 7.4.4 Observation Schemes
  • 7.4.5 Overview of the Data Collection and Gathering Procedures
  • 7.5 Data Analysis Procedures
  • 7.5.1 Concept-Driven Overarching Categories of Analysis
  • 7.5.2 Qualitative Content Analysis: Teacher and Learner Interviews
  • 7.5.3 Statistical Analysis: Questionnaires and Observation Schemes
  • 7.5.4 Mixed-Model Analysis: Lesson Plans
  • 7.6 Triangulation
  • 8 Analysis of the Lesson Plans
  • 8.1 The Improvisational Tasks
  • 8.1.1 Greetings
  • 8.1.2 Association Chains
  • 8.1.3 Statues
  • 8.1.4 What Are You Doing?
  • 8.1.5 The Emotions Game
  • 8.1.6 TV-Zap
  • 8.1.7 It’s Just Words
  • 8.1.8 Improvised Role-Play
  • 8.1.9 Improv
  • 8.2 Summaries of the Improvisational Tasks per Concept-Driven Overarching Category
  • 8.2.1 Meaningful Context
  • 8.2.2 Classroom Discourse
  • 8.2.3 Improv Aesthetics
  • 8.2.4 Perform
  • 8.2.5 Decide and Produce
  • 9 Analysis of the Teacher and Learner Interviews
  • 9.1 Analysis of the Teacher Interviews
  • 9.1.1 Meaningful Context
  • 9.1.2 Classroom Discourse
  • 9.1.3 Improv Aesthetics
  • 9.1.4 Perform
  • 9.1.5 Decide and Produce
  • 9.2 Analysis of the Learner Interviews
  • 9.2.1 Meaningful Context
  • 9.2.2 Classroom Discourse
  • 9.2.3 Improv Aesthetics
  • 9.2.4 Perform
  • 9.2.5 Decide and Produce
  • 10 Analysis of the Questionnaires and Observation Schemes
  • 10.1 Questionnaires
  • 10.2 Observation Schemes
  • 11 Results Discussed According to the Research Questions
  • 11.1 Research Question 1: Implementation of Improvisational Tasks to Create an Action-Oriented Framework
  • 11.1.1 Improvisational Tasks
  • 11.1.2 Regular and Long-Term Implementation of Improvisational Tasks
  • 11.1.3 Creation of an Action-Oriented Framework
  • 11.1.4 Curricular and Institutional Requirements
  • 11.1.5 Conclusion: Research Question 1
  • 11.2 Research Question 2: Spontaneity and Reciprocity
  • 11.2.1 Spontaneity
  • 11.2.2 Reciprocity
  • 11.2.3 Conclusion: Research Question 2
  • 11.3 Research Question 3: Savoir Agir
  • 11.3.1 Perform
  • 11.3.2 Decide and Produce
  • 11.3.3 Conclusion: Research Question 3
  • 12 Conclusion
  • 12.1 Summary
  • 12.2 Limitations
  • 12.3 Outlook
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Bibliography
  • Series Index

←10 | 11→

1 Introduction

The demands made on young learners of English regarding their oral expression are changing according to shifting global relations. Globalisation, and with it, digitalisation and migration, are providing increased possibilities for contact between persons of divergent languacultural backgrounds, for whom communication more often than not will take place in English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), either through different media or face-to-face. This has repercussions both for the kind and modes of English dealt with in the language classroom as well as for the pedagogical approach chosen to accommodate these. Apart from lexical and syntactical knowledge, communication in ELF requires openness, tolerance, flexibility and courage of its interaction partners, who will often have to gauge spontaneously, during the interaction itself, how to communicate as successfully and appropriately as possible within the parameters of the interaction. This requires an interplay of intercultural and communicative competences. Whilst these different competences are mentioned and described separately in the relevant literature and language education policy documents, they are seldom, if at all, brought into relation to each other. In order to make explicit the interplay of intercultural and communicative competences required for interaction in ELF and described as lacking in language education policy documents in Chapter 2, in Chapter 3 I develop an extension of Byram’s (1997/2021) model of Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC). Byram’s model and its origins as well as developments thereof are first presented and critically discussed. The proposed extension, which foregrounds oral linguistic performativity as an expression of the interplay of intercultural and communicative competence, is then introduced against this backdrop. This extension is based on recent developments in the field of ELF Pragmatics as well as on Risager’s (2006, 2007) and McConachy’s (2018) perspectives on the connection of language and culture. These reject the employment of putative native-speaker norms in foreign language pedagogy whilst proposing different ways of dealing with the necessary inclusion of linguistic content. In order to stay within Byram’s nomenclature of savoirs for the various factors of ICC, the model is thus extended to include savoir agir. Savoir agir comprises the aspects Perform as well as Decide and Produce, the combination of which in application forms the basis for successful and appropriate communication with persons from divergent languacultural backgrounds, making it possible for communication partners to act as intercultural speakers, who represent the embodiment and oral expression of ICC.←11 | 12→

So that savoir agir can be promoted in the English language classroom, English lessons must themselves be designed in such a way that learners may experience and have the opportunity to shape different forms of oral communication in ELF contexts, which they will also encounter in life-worlds other than the classroom. In order to do this, English lessons must be designed in such a way that learners can engage in meaningful communication situations voluntarily and in a self-determined manner. This can best be achieved through lessons designed within an action-oriented framework based on sociocultural perspectives of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research, whose practical implementation can take place in the form of complex, focused speaking tasks. Spoken language features within these tasks both as their medium and their pedagogical object, enabling the learners to both experience and reflect spoken language in a way which makes it possible for the language created in the classroom to be brought into positive relation with the learners’ language use in other life-worlds. This is described in Chapter 4, which represents the first pedagogical contextualisation of the study.

The action-oriented framework and its practical incarnation through complex, focused speaking tasks can best be implemented through methods pertaining to performative foreign language didactics. Performative foreign language didactics unites a variety of Drama (in) Education methods which all have the collaborative construction of fictional, meaningful social contexts within which a particular problem must be solved as their main characteristic. It is hence possible to discern essential parallels between general action-oriented and task-supported foreign language pedagogy and performative foreign language didactics, thus making the latter an appropriate method to serve as the basis for the promotion of savoir agir in the lower secondary classroom in Germany.

Many forms of drama within performative foreign language didactics contain elements of improvisation, i.e. acting freely and spontaneously within a given structure. However, improvisation is not, for the most part, dealt with as an independent form, despite featuring prominently in other, defined, forms. At the same time, Improvisational Theatre, as a historically established form of theatre, carries enormous potential both as a pedagogical method in general and specifically with regard to promoting free and spontaneous speech and thus the performative, oral-linguistic factor of ICC—savoir agir. The forms of interaction and rules of Improvisational Theatre themselves mirror everyday oral communication, especially as both have as their basis for success the principles of spontaneity and reciprocity. By presenting Improvisational Theatre as a small-scale form within performative foreign language didactics, I build upon work carried out using Improvisational Theatre in the foreign language classroom to promote ←12 | 13→speaking. Chapter 5 thus constitutes the study’s second chapter which deals with its pedagogical contextualisation.

As such, chapter 5 demonstrates that it is plausible for methods from Improvisational Theatre to be adapted for the purposes of the English language classroom. The study at hand proposes that this is furthermore feasible by modelling and implementing improvisation games as complex, focused speaking tasks. As a small-scale form within performative foreign language didactics, improvisational tasks create fictional, meaningful social contexts within which learners must collaborate, in an action-oriented sense, verbally, non and para-verbally in order to solve a particular problem. Learners thus use language and communicative actions in a form of classroom discourse which can also be applied to communication in English in the learners’ other life-worlds. Furthermore, because improvisational tasks are not filled with any kind of particular content, instead consisting of rules and structures, it is possible to design the tasks so that they reflect the curricular requirements regarding the promotion of functional communicative competence within oral formats. Improvisational tasks therefore create a kind of classroom discourse which promotes the different aspects of savoir agir; learners have the opportunity to initiate and shape unknown, constantly changing communication situations. Within these situations, the learners have to make spontaneous decisions regarding the appropriacy of linguistic structures in order to produce them with the aim of dealing with the problem of the respective situation within the improvisational task. These arguments are represented in Chapter 6 as a summary and culmination of the theory presented in the preceding chapters.

Chapter 7 opens with the research questions formulated on the basis of this theoretical summary. These comprise an investigation of the feasibility of integrating improvisational tasks in everyday English language pedagogy, the potential of Improvisational Theatre to create the conditions required for oral interaction in ELF as well as the possibility of the promotion of savoir agir through the improvisational tasks. The research questions constitute the foundations of the empirical study described from Section 7.2 onwards. The study, carried out with a sample of 105 learners and four teachers from four different lower secondary English classes in Germany over the course of two school-years, is presented in detail as a complex, longitudinal, mixed-methods action research study with a qualitative focus within the data analysis. A schematic overview of the research design is depicted in Section 7.1. The data collection and gathering procedures consist of the gathering of documents (lesson plans) and the collection of perspective related (using teacher and learner interviews and learner questionnaires) and observatory data (using observation schemes). A particular ←13 | 14→characteristic of the data analysis procedure is the analysis of all of the data according to five concept-driven overarching categories, which are defined according to the research questions and for which indicators are formulated on this basis. This analysis along the lines of concept-driven overarching categories facilitate the triangulation of the results of the different methods employed per category. These triangulated results are then discussed and interpreted in direct relation to each research question in Chapter 11. Chapter 12 forms a conclusion, which describes the limitations of the study and provides an outlook for further research. A detailed description of nine main improvisational tasks implemented repeatedly throughout the study is presented in Section 8.1 as part of the analysis of the lesson plans and can serve as a practical guide for teaching practitioners wishing to include these improvisational tasks in their own English lessons.

←14 | 15→

2 Oral Communication and Language Education Policy

Since the communicative turn, which redefined foreign language teaching in the 1970s, oracy has gained enormously in relevance in the foreign language classroom, with speech being described as a unique feature and a central, dominating aspect of contemporary English language teaching in the German school context (cf. Ahrens 2014: 15, Burwitz-Melzer 2014: 18, and Gnutzmann 2014: 50 amongst others). As an illustration of this, the introduction of oral components to high-stakes final exams in different federal states in all secondary school-types has meant that oral communicative activities have become a prominent feature of English curricula, featuring as a form of washback in preparation for the respective exams (cf. Vogt 2014: 234). However, around fifty years since the communicative turn and the advent of communicative language teaching, the promotion of speaking and the creation of meaningful opportunities for face-to-face, learner-to-learner interaction in the foreign language classroom remains a challenge for teachers, as the understanding of oral communication itself and the demands of the curriculum in this respect develop to adapt to the consequences of globalisation, migration and digitalisation. Before developing new teaching and learning formats, it is therefore important to investigate the situational contextual framework of the learners addressed in the study at hand. This includes, on the one hand, a description of the relevant linguistic landscape in which the study’s learner demographic will be using language and of the competences which need to be acquired to act within this landscape. On the other hand, it is equally necessary to critically analyse the relevant, normative language education policy documents at European as well as German national and federal state level in order to assess how far these already, in their descriptions of competences to be attained, represent the current language needs of young learners.

2.1 English as a Lingua Franca in the European Context

The European Union, within whose educational political context the study at hand was conducted, is a multilingual and multicultural space in which forms of English are, however, employed for communication by languaculturally diverse citizens as part of lifestyle and career choices, but also in situations such as interaction between and with refugees from outside the European context, where a common form of verbal communication must be found ←15 | 16→(cf. Seidlhofer 2020: 389 ff). The demographic group addressed in the study at hand, young learners of English between the ages of 10 and 16, with and without a migrational background, will furthermore

[…] have grown up in an increasingly globalized world in which many physical boundaries are easily overcome: mobility has increased sharply, supported by cheap flights and EU projects1; digitalization affords especially the younger people access to often virtual communities, and they habitually switch between their local and non-local networks that they value as distinct but equally important, with each having their own pragmalinguistic ground rules […] (Seidlhofer 2020: 391).

As such, when the young people addressed in the study employ English in their different activities, it will be as a lingua franca, defined by Seidlhofer (2011: 7) as used “among speakers of different first languages for whom English is the communicative medium of choice, and often the only option” and which is constantly evolving according to the needs of those speaking it. The language which the young learners will employ, will, within this context, thus be seen “[…] as a function that English performs in international, multilingual contexts, to which each speaker brings a variety of English that they are most familiar with, along with their own cultural frames of reference, and employs various strategies to communicate effectively” (Matsuda 2017: 53). Referring to empirical studies on the use of English as a Lingua Franca, Seidlhofer notes that

ELF speakers make use of their multifaceted plurilingual repertoires in a fashion motivated by the communicative purpose and the interpersonal dynamics of the interaction. They draw on the underlying resources of the language, not just the conventional encodings of ENL [English as a Native Language], and adjust and calibrate their own language use for their interlocutors’ benefit. Thus they exploit the potential of the language while fully focused on the purpose of the talk and on their interlocutors as people rather than on the linguistic code itself (Seidlhofer 2011: 7).

If this is the way in which young people employ English outside of the classroom, then it is paramount that this is reflected in the way English is taught in school (Seidlhofer 2020: 400). At the same time, Seidlhofer furthermore states that “‘[h]‌aving English’ in Europe has thus become a bit like having a driving licence: nothing special, something that most people have and without which you do not get very far” (Seidlhofer 2020: 393). In featuring English as a foreign language in their curricula, European educational systems commit themselves to ←16 | 17→contributing to young people being able to possess this driving licence. However, in order for the learners to be able to make use of this licence, the contents dealt with in the classroom must correspond to the current needs of the learners regarding their communication in English outside of the classroom. In short, the competences which the learners require for engaging in ad hoc communication situations in various domains through the means of English as a Lingua Franca must be promoted in the teaching of English in, to remain within the scope of the study at hand, a lower secondary school context. This requires, according to Matsuda (2017: 224) “[…] a paradigm shift in the field of ELT in order to meet the complex and diverse uses and users of English” which entails “[…] that some of our common pedagogical practices must be re-examined vis-à-vis the current use of EIL [English as an International Language]” (Matsuda 2017: 229). The factors which dictate the new direction which English language pedagogy should take can be divided into three groups. These must all be taken into consideration when devising approaches to teaching English as a Lingua Franca in the classroom:

(1)The characteristics of English as a Lingua Franca


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (July)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 300 pp., 3 fig. col., 15 fig. b/w, 5 tables.

Biographical notes

Raphaëlle Beecroft (Author)

Dr. Raphaëlle Beecroft is a researcher and teacher educator in English Language Pedagogy at Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany. Her research interests include the further development of ICC and competences for democratic culture, translation, virtual exchange and drama methods in foreign language pedagogy, teacher personality professionalization as well as the decolonialization and diversification of English language teaching.


Title: The Performativity of the Intercultural Speaker
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302 pages