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Foreign Language Learning as Intercultural Experience

The Subjective Dimension

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Edited By Arnd Witte and Theo Harden

Learning a foreign language in its cultural context has a significant effect on the subjective mind, ranging from the unsettling to the inspirational. The complex interplay between native and foreign languages, their cultural conceptualisations and discourses and the mind and body of the learner results in the subjective construction of individual positionings located «in between» the languages and cultures involved. These processes are not restricted to the cognitive level of learning but also involve deep-seated habits, values and beliefs. These habits, values and beliefs are to a certain extent the result of subjective experiences and feelings; however, they are also embedded in a socio-cultural network of concepts, norms, traditions and life-worlds, so that they are characterised both by the learner’s subjectivity and by the sociality and (inter-)culturality of their environment.
The essays in this volume explore the subjective dimension of intercultural language learning, ranging from theoretical considerations to empirical studies and providing stimulating insights into this important area of study.
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Measuring the Unmeasurable: On the Objective Assessment of Subjective Learning

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Intercultural competence is a notion that has become part of day-to-day life in South Africa, a country which could, in fact, be said to require ‘hypercultural competence’1 (Trompenaars/Wooliams 2009: 442). This is not only due to the fact that one cannot assume homogeneity in shared cultural characteristics (cf. Leeds-Hurwitz in Nakayama 2010: 22), but also due to South Africa’s linguistic and cultural diversity – 11 official languages and the right to mother-tongue education are enshrined in the constitution.2 The subjective dimension of intercultural learning, while not necessarily explicitly dealt with, is certainly implied or perhaps taken for granted in much of the literature; it thus remains a rather vague and nebulous aspect of foreign language teaching and learning; one which I, a teacher of German Studies in an English-medium university in South Africa, have only recently begun to reflect on in my own practice.

Intercultural competence (henceforth ICC) has, to date, generally been viewed as a happy accident alongside the often more content-orientated aspects of our foreign language teaching and learning, namely language acquisition (grammar and vocabulary), literature, and fact-based ← 243 | 244 → Landeskunde. Interestingly, the fourth component in our German Studies degree, translation, is not unlike ICC in that it is often regarded if not as the poor relative, then as a skill that develops almost as a by-product.3

In an effort to conceptualise and explore this subjective dimension in particular, the route of trying to formulate evaluation or possibly assessment tasks seems worthwhile, as...

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