What Exactly is ICC?

Arasaratnam and Doerfel's (2005) study on defining intercultural communicative competence (ICC) may be dated, but I believe their discussions are very relevant to the current situation of ICC.  Their study aimed to define ICC from a grounded exploratory approach.  Their reasoning behind this is because of the subjective understanding of what intercultural is, and what competence is.  Communication, from an intercultural perspective, is typified as spoken discourse.

To come to a definition of ICC, the study interviewed a group of international and local students studying in an American university.  The students were asked what they thought ICC is, and what they thought are key components of a person who is interculturally competent.  Though responses were diverse, a common thread was induced.

But would this common thread still be applicable to different cultural contexts?  Probably from a qualitative perspective it would be, but perhaps not if viewed with a quantitative lens.  Furthermore, is a theory for ICC really necessary if intercultural and competence are two subjective constructs whose meanings are dependent on the cultural contexts?

I think that the discussion by Arasaratnam and Doerfel should probably be reiterated, even though it has been almost ten years since they wrote their article.  There are many studies in the past five years which had indicated a lack of ICC in the language classroom.  The reasons for the lack are many, but they have seemed to ignore that perhaps the primary reason for the lack of ICC is because of the singular definition of ICC that they had subscribed to for their study.  If intercultural and competence are really subjective constructs which differ from culture to culture, then studies of ICC should take into consideration using a qual-quan paradigm for research.  Start off by exploring what intercultural is to their sample, and then performing quan steps to see whether the qual results are common in a similar sample.

Reference
Arasaratnam, L. A. & Doerfel, M. L.  (2005).  Intercultural communication competence: Identifying key components from multicultural perspectives.  International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29, 137 - 163.  

Maybe I Shouldn't Have Written That

Recently, I wrote a response to an article urging English teachers in Malaysia to teach only in English.  Aside from my response there were at least one other who wrote a very well thought-through piece.  

An English-only approach was a common sentiment you would find in language pedagogic textbooks and manuals published decades ago.  With the expansion of applied linguistics, the current community of language educators and scholars acknowledge that the language learning process involves more than just picking up new language knowledge and abilities through immersion.  Gone are the days when language is just considered a cognitive exercise.  These days, we have other affective variables to consider such as anxiety, stress, motivation, and the list goes on.  This was the idea that I had hoped my write-up would convey.  How wrong I was.  Not only did nobody understand what I wrote, I got a few interesting comments as well.  I doubt that anyone who had read my article, or the one that I was responding to, or any of the other articles written in response to what I wrote, or to what I was responding to, would read this blog post.

So, what did I have in mind when I responded?  Frankly.  I was not quite sure, since I emailed that the first thing after I got up on a Sunday morning.  I went off to organize an alumni get together for my Faculty.  The next thing I knew, I was getting FB messages congratulating me for publishing.  Thank you, but I don't think I had really "published" anything.  I'm pretty sure MI is interested in creating dialogue, especially controversial ones, and quickly uploaded the draft I had sent.  Hey, who doesn't want to expand their readership?

But let me tell you what I had in mind the night before, when I wrote the response.  I had in mind to inform readers of MI that language learners, especially those who come from a multicultural country, do not enter the language classroom as blank slates.  They have a stock of words, a pre-existing lexicon, which is waiting to be manipulated and used to the max.  God has given us creative abilities and the intelligence to use old information to make sense of new ones.  Some people call this common sense, by the way.  This was my first point.  I said we should not refrain our students from using their first language, or native language, or mother tongue (whichever term you think is politically correct).  But never did I say we should teach in students' language (although in some instances where you have real beginners, some instructions in the students' language may be necessary).

The second point was merely a presentation of sociolinguistic issues pertinent to the linguistic ecology of Malaysia, or of SEA for that matter.  I do believe that Malaysians are proud to have our discourse identity, and I do believe also that we know that there is a variety that we need to learn if we want to be understood by other speakers of English.  I thought that this was quite clear in the paragraph where I described us as being schizophrenic, being torn between two sides.  Why do I say this?  Because from a World Englishes perspective, Malaysian English could become a real deal, just like how Singapore English is becoming a real deal, and these real deals would be equivalent to the real REAL deals in the likes of American English or Australian English or...

Nonetheless, what's done is done.  The article is out there.  Perhaps I'll lose my job after this?  I don't know.  Otakpusing, in his/her comment on my article, implies that I should be fired.


Want to Teach Writing? Here are Some Helpful Tips!

Every semester, my teaching load would include at least one writing course.

Teaching in a classroom where you have students who do not share a similar English writing background is downright challenging.  For some of my students, their writing experience is confined to a sentence, but there are also those who come with paragraph- or essay-writing experiences.  

What do you do when you have students with differing writing abilities?  Obviously, expecting everyone to be at the same page, and at the same pace, would be silly.  Another aspect that you may want to think of is how they had learned writing.  Some of my students memorized essays in high school.  Some of them just copied off from a 'model essay book'.  Some actually have a discussion or debate about what to write about before actually writing.  This is a problem for me too as I have grown accustomed to having the freedom and liberty to discuss anything under the sun.  However, for many of my students, discussion is difficult to fathom.  So what do I do?  Do I lower the standards?  Do I send everyone off for remedial English? (I've done this a couple times).  

First, get them into the habit of writing.  Assigning regular writing tasks may help students develop the confidence and habit for writing.  These writing tasks are useful as they can show you how they are doing with grammar and how big their lexicon is.  

Second, decide on a topic for them, especially those that they are familiar with.  In cultures where it is common to be told what to do, students do appreciate a more explicit guidance from their teachers.  I'm not saying that this is the best way, but perhaps giving them the liberty right at the beginning would terrify them.  If and when you give a topic, make sure the topic is something that they will have words to describe.  

Third, have multiple drafts.  This allows them to really see how they progress.  Having multiple drafts could be time-wasting too if not done properly.  I have noticed multiple-draft essays containing the same mistakes found in earlier drafts.  Perhaps a more rigid evaluation can follow the progress of newer and 'improved' drafts.  

Fourth, do not kill yourself by giving too many long-written assignments.  You should know why you shouldn't do this.  

Fifth, do not kill yourself by giving too much feedback.  Feedback may be valuable for a basic class, but as writers, especially EFL ones advance more in their writing proficiency, teachers can lessen their feedback to just general comments, or comments about content.  We need to encourage our students to take initiative to assess their own work.  

Or you could just send them off to remedial English.  Seriously.  :P

Things to do When Doing a PhD

I am sure this list will expand in the coming months and years, but these are three things that I have realized recently.  Beats me why it took me so long to realize them.

1.  No matter how thorough you think your conceptual framework is, there will always be something out there that could debunk your whole research.

2.  When you organize your articles (soft copies) on your computer, forget APA referencing style, start off with the title and leave the authors to the very end.

3.  Don't wait till you have accumulated piles of files in your download or documents folder before organizing.  Organizing can be a pain in the behind when you wait too long.

When do you know you're on the right track?

This morning my supervisor emailed me asking me if I would be interested to participate in our Faculty's conference later this week.  I was feeling like an opportunist today, so I said yes.

I only got to work on the poster this evening and spent about an hour working on it.  I was not quite sure how I am supposed to design the poster, but I would imagine something with important catch phrases and keywords with minimal texts.  That's what I did.  As I was creating this poster, I got to thinking, am I on the right track?  My train of thought while making the poster was quite direct, with very little interruption.  It felt like I had a direction to go.  This encourages me but at the same time scares me.  How would I know that the direction I'm taking is not too simplistic?  Is it so uncritical that I am able to go from point A to point B without much interference?

I reckon that despite having a seemingly simple research design, the depth of analysis would be great and guided.  Great because I hope the analysis will go deep into the data, and guided because I hope that I won't be directed by my bias.  Subjectivity is good, intersubjectivity might be better, but having biases may be problematic.  Guided is also good because then you get to sell your research methodology to other interested researchers.  This helps qualify my research as being valid too, when the methodology is transferable and applicable in different contexts.

So, to ask myself again, am I on the right track?  I don't think I'll every be on the right track.  I don't even think it is a question worth asking.  The important question is am I on the right frame of mind?  Research is fuelled by interest for learning.  As long as there is an interest out there in what I am working on, I think I am on the right track.  

YOLO

I really thought the Lonely Island was the one who coined "YOLO".  Boy was I wrong.  It was Drake.
Yes, I have been silent for the past few months.  It really is difficult to find time to write, when I am exerting so much energy in writing up stuff for the office and for studies.  A little piece of advice for those out there who are thinking of graduate studies.  Don't do it with a full time job.  Look for scholarships.  But we know that scholarships in the field of humanities are hard to come by.

If you're thinking of doing a PhD in humanities or social sciences perhaps you should read this.  I did not quite read through the blog, but I think it is along the lines of a PhD student realizing towards the end that the PhD he/she was working on might not be really what he/she wants.  Nonetheless, he/she assures us that if we realize that PhD is not for us just before we defend our dissertation, we don't need to be alarmed.  There is still hope for us.

My PhD journey has been quite interesting so far.  This afternoon I spent at least two hours looking through a list of self-referencing pronoun "I" clusters with their accompanying verbs.  I was trying to decide which one is factive and which one is existential.  I don't think I went far.  But I did learn that it is not entirely up to the verb to decide whether the meaning of that verb is factive or existential.  The context of utterance is important as well, especially if you're looking for existential presuppositions.  At times it is within the noun phrase itself, existential information, that is.

Amidst research nonsense, I have been blessed to inherit a writing course that a colleague had been teaching.  She had to bequeath the class to me because of some scheduling conflict.  I am still not sure how I feel about this.  I like teaching writing.  Helping people express their ideas have always been fun for me.  But fun ceases to be fun when you are dealing with writers with different writing abilities.

I am coming close to my six-month sabbatical.  I'm taking off from my regular job to really just focus on writing up my dissertation.  Who knows, I will write more frequently.

Till then.  

Wedding Pianist Tales

I've played the piano for many weddings.  I play for at least one wedding a year.  This year, I was scheduled to play for two weddings.

Last Sunday's wedding was the second wedding for the year.  I was flanked by two violinists, and we made fabulous wedding accompaniment for the now, husband and wife.

Weddings are never perfect, at rehearsals and at the actual event.  There are always glitches, or last minute changes.  There are always people who come late.  Sometimes something explodes and catches fire (seriously this happened once).

But I will not talk about non-music related incidents.  Since I think I'm a resident pianist, I will share interesting innuendos about wedding music.

#1 - It's always the pianist's fault
This happened at one of the weddings I played for in my earlier years in Thailand.  There was this lady, a fellow Sabahan, or Sabahanian, whatever you like to call us, who was assigned to sing a special number for the reception.  Now this lady has a tolerable choir voice, but nothing close to solo material.  It is quite unfortunate that she has so much misplaced confidence of how well she can sing.  This misplaced confidence extends to her song-writing skills, as well, as the song she was going to sing was written by none other than herself.  The accompanying music, on the other hand, was ripped-off from some cheesy Malaysian song.  We practice and practice.  At the reception, she soulfully renders her love message for the newlyweds.  She does a terrible job, no doubt.  It was so bad that even her misplaced confidence was insufficient to tell her otherwise.  At that reception itself, while we were mingling and mixing.  I got word that she has been relaying to every wedding guest she forcefully met, that the pianist sucks.  It was the pianist's fault that she had so many off keys.  That _________.

#2 - Every bride deserves her dream wedding
This bride her wedding to be as grand as Maria and Captain Von Trapp's in the Sound of Music.  She had a partial orchestra, a grand piano, a synthesizer, and an organ.  I was on the organ.  The whole concept of the wedding was lifted off from the movie.  At the rehearsal dinner, which started really early, she made everyone sit in front of a giant screen to watch the Sound of Music.  The Bride, of course, was crying by the end.  Now, one thing with wedding rehearsals and the actual ceremony, these two never match.  What you practice the night or day before will not be like what you will play on the actual wedding day.  If it turn out the same, then you are one lucky pianist.  On the actual day, the bride was really feeling the moment.  She waved and smiled as she walked down the aisle.  It was like she won Ms. Universe: Bride Edition, or something like that.  This was confusing, for all of us accompanist.  Halfway through the music, I got lost, so did the person at the synthesizer, as well as the pianist.  So there you go, the piano, synthesizer, and organ playing different parts of the same music.  Talk about having a fugue.

#3 - The bride is da boss
This happened at last week's wedding.  The bride's sister was the wedding coordinator, so I dealt with the sister to get the music sorted out.  I got it sorted out a week before the wedding, sent it off to the sister, and got no response.  That meant it was okay.

Come rehearsal, they asked if I could play a separate song for the groom.  Now, the groom was strategically placed in the middle of the male entourage.  If I were to play a song for him, I would have to let all those in front of him finish the march, then start a new song for the groom, then after the groom had marched all the way to the altar, start a new song for the remaining men.  This of course, would take ages.  Thankfully, the minister, who had done many weddings, was opposed to this suggestion.  Thank you minister!  The bride wasn't going to give up, no way.  She had to have the last word.  She said to me, "could you play the song (trumpet tune) a little differently when my man marches in?" I replied, "what do you mean differently?" she answered, "like maybe play louder."  That was my cue to leave.