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Foreign Language Learning as Intercultural Experience

The Subjective Dimension


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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English Learner – English Speaker – Intercultural Speaker – Digital Native: Student Construction of Communicative Competence Gained through Reflection on Computer-Mediated Exchange


Introduction and background

Computer-mediated intercultural exchanges in English language teaching have, in the past, largely focused on online interaction between non-native and native speakers of English aimed at enhancing the linguistic and intercultural competence of the participating foreign language learners (cf. Belz 2003). More recently there has been a move towards a ‘Telecollaboration 2.0’ (Guth/Helm 2010). This is a multiliteracies approach to online exchange that places more emphasis on tools of communication as cultural artefacts in their own right (cf. Thorne 2003), which considers the multidimensional, subjective nature of cultural identity in the many social and cultural strata of the student groups involved (cf. Lamy/Goodfellow 2010: 116) and that problematises striving for native speaker competence in acquisition of the foreign language because, Train (2006: 256–257) argues, it is inappropriately based on ‘the imagining of human communities and identities around the concept of nation-states’.

The research described in this paper resonates with the conceptual shift in online exchanges outlined above. It explores a group of German students’ emergent understandings of what it means to be communicatively competent when interacting in linguistically and culturally diverse networked groups using English as a lingua franca. The students brought substantial experience of English language learning and intercultural and ← 203 | 204 → computer-mediated communication to the exchange described. However, research findings suggest that the experiential nature of online intercultural activity combined with various opportunities for reflection on the experience help exchange participants develop and verbalise a more nuanced, critical awareness...

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