So What? Why Should Language Teachers Teach ICC?

Byram, et al. (1991) is arguably the first scholar to critically analyze the teaching of culture (in the UK English language classroom).  In the early 2000s, studies about the teaching of culture among the EU nations gained prominence with the publication of several studies by Sercu (2005, 2007).  In the Asia-Pacific region, Liddicoat seems to be the sole researcher interested in the teaching of culture, with at least two publications about intercultural communication this year.

Reflecting on the scarcity of research in the teaching of culture, we are compelled to wonder whether or not studies in this area are even worth the time.  Many seem to believe that it is worth our time, with official bodies recognizing the value of cultural awareness for successful communication (e.g. ASEAN 2015, ACTFL, and the Common European Framework for Languages).  Aside from its perceived worth, many also believe that cultural awareness should be taught alongside language (Liddicoat, 2011; Kramsch, 1996), as it is during the process of inter-cultural interaction that cultural knowledge is put to use.  With this in mind, the language learning and teaching industry has seen the publication of materials developed with an intercultural communication competence twist in mind.  Books are now claiming that they not only offer language knowledge, but cultural knowledge as well.


But is it the job of language teachers to teach students to be culturally aware?  In the introductory chapter of Dervin and Liddicoat's (2013) Intercultural Education, they mention that the teaching of culture has been by and large a concern in the broad field of education.  Godwin-Jones (2013) echoes this belief, indicating that the teaching of culture should not be confined only to certain courses, such as language classes, but to all courses in general.


To further explicate this issue, Sercu (2005, 2007) and Luk (2012) indicated that language teachers are not comfortable teaching their students cultural lessons, even though they may feel positive about teaching it.  One reason could be that these teachers were never trained to do so.  This may stem from the very ethnocentric nature of many language teacher programs (Liu, 1998).


Why then, do language teachers bear the brunt of teaching cultural knowledge?  Why is it that only language teaching/learning materials are developed based on cultural frameworks idealized by nation-states?  I am not sure myself, but I think it lies within the philosophy of language and its relationship with culture.


References

Byram, M., et al. (1991).  Cultural studies and language learning: a research report.  Great Britain: Multilingual Matters.  

Dervin, F. & Liddicoat, A.  (2013).  Linguistics for intercultural education.  The Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Godwin-Jones, R. (2013). Integrating intercultural competence into language learning through technology. Language Learning & Technology, 17(2), 1–11. Retrieved from http://llt.msu.edu/issues/june2013/emerging.pdf


Kramsch, C.  (1996).  The cultural component of language teaching.  Zeitschrift fur interkulturellen fremdsprachenunterricht, 1(2).  Retrieved from http://www.spz.tu-darmstadt.de/projekt_ejournal/jg_01_2/beitrag/kramsch2.htm


Liddicoat, A. J.  (2011).  Language learning and teaching from an intercultural perspective.  In Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning (Vol. 2).  E. Hinkel (Ed.).  New York: Routledge.  


Liu, D.  (1998).  Ethnocentrism in TESOL: Teacher education and the neglected needs of international TESOL students.  ELT Journal, 52(1), pp. 3-10. 


Luk, J. (2012). Teachers’ ambivalence in integrating culture with EFL teaching in Hong Kong. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 25(3), pp. 249-264.  


Sercu, L.  (2005).  Foreign language teachers and the implementation of intercultural education: a comparative investigation of the professional self‐concepts and teaching practices of Belgian teachers of English, French and German.  European Journal of Teacher Education, 28(1), pp. 87-105. 


Sercu, L., et al.  (2007).  Foreign language teachers and intercultural competence: an international investigation.  Great Britain: Multilingual Matters. 



Mobile Technology for Language Education

Mobile assisted language learning, or MALL, has been around the applied linguistics block for quite some time.  When I think of MALL, I see it as those punk kids - sporting a new look every day, loitering about in the hood, but contributing nothing to the society.  

This afternoon I attended a lecture given by Dr. Hayo Reinders on mobile technology and language education.  Frankly, I was rather disappointed with how MALL has progressed.  Research-wise, nothing has really changed in the past decade.  I wrote a paper with Stuart Towns about issues in MALL back in 2011, and it seems that nothing has changed.  Recurring issues include behavioristic input, pre- and post-tests (cause and effect studies), and logistical concerns.  It is strange because we have new types of mobile devices released all the time and mobile technology is improving rapidly.  One would expect educational innovations to follow suit but nothing has really happened.   This is sobering.  Has research in MALL become redundant?  

Things don't look all that bleak.  There has been a shift in focus on research objectives in MALL.  A quick glance through Google Scholar showed how MALL research (2009 to the present time) are looking at the learning experience as a social event for meaning making, the usage of mobile devices by language learners, and the efficacy of using mobile devices to learn languages (why didn't Reinders talk about this instead?).  Looking at MALL in terms of what results it garners may not be the best thing to do.  Focusing too much on the by-product, especially if it is a positive one, will make us naive, misinformed and delusional users.  I think a focus on the process, as shown in MALL research in the past five years is more fitting for educators and learners.  It is through an understanding of the process that we can fully utilize mobile devices in a language learning environment.  This is summed by Kukulska-Hulme (2009), who mentioned, "(t)he key is to move beyond a superficial understanding of mobile learning which does not give sufficient consideration to how mobility, accompanied by digital, location-aware technologies, changes learning".  

Sadly though, MALL research which focus on the process (in the past five years) are very scarce.  To add to the bitterness, I'm sure in the near future there will be more research which will laud the goodness of mobile technology.  And just like the punk kids, they may come tomorrow, or next week, with a new tattoo, a new piercing, a new hairdo, but have no real impact on the community.  

Reference:

Kukulska-Hulme, A.  (2009).  Will mobile learning change language learning? ReCALL, 21(2), pp. 157-165.  Retrieved 26 August 2013 from http://oro.open.ac.uk/16987/1/download.pdf


What is your writing process?

In the past four years of teaching English, the only language skill class that I have (repeatedly) taught is writing.  I've taught different types of writing courses, freshman college writing (narrative, descriptive, argumentative, comparison/contrast, definition, etc.), freshman college research (the basics of research writing), advanced composition (creative writing), news writing, and senior project (fourth-year research writing).

I'm not sure if the years of experience teaching writing, or the diverse types of writing courses I have taught would quality me to be an expert in writing.  I actually will say that I am not.  Though I think I am improving in terms of managing writing courses (e.g. planning lessons, deciding on type of assignment, etc.).  Still, knowing how to manage a writing course does not necessarily give me insights to my students' writing processes.  Writing teachers typically receive the assignments, or the end-products, which is the written work.  This does not provide us with any clue as to how our students went about writing a paragraph, deciding which vocabulary to use, etc.

Typically, at my work place, us writing teachers would lecture our students on the characteristics of a type of writing, with the hopes that they would be able to implement what we have taught them on their own.  Unfortunately, my students' low quality of writing prompted me to doubt that they are writing 'properly' in the comfort of their own time/space - I don't know what properly means.  Persistent non-performance by my students prompted me to plant a seed of doubt that is till today, growing pretty well.  Knowing that action needs to be taken in the classroom - under careful supervision - I decided that I would lessen the lecture time, and instead, turn the classroom into a hands-on writing workshop - where the students will themselves show me how they write.  What I thought was a promising solution turned out otherwise.  Semester-end evaluations indicated that they would have rather have me lecture.

I still have no idea what my students' writing processes are.  Furthermore, I am not sure if knowing how they write would improve my teaching approach.

I, though, am slowly gaining an understanding of how I write.  Since embarking on this PhD journey, I have come to realize many academic quirks I have.  In terms of research writing, I have noticed that I collect, then dump all the information I obtain from reading into a piece of document; then, I slowly sift through them, categorizing them accordingly; finally, I try to piece them together neatly.  I don't know whether this is a good or bad process.

Where Have You Been?

The past four weeks have really been a whirlwind of events. 

July marked my 'official' departure from the FAH at AIU.  I am no longer a permanent employee of AIU, but a contract one.  I've never been on contract or part-time for anyone until this year.  It feels strange, though in a good way.  It feels like I belong to somebody, but not really, if that makes any sense. 

The first week of July was spent updating the FAH's SAR for this Academic Year's QA.  I know my 'permanent' ties have been severed, but I thought, they're keeping my office for me, perhaps this is the least I can do. 

The second and third weeks of July were really exciting.  I was called for a teaching gig at KMUTT.  The class that I was given is a reading and vocabulary class for (different types of) engineering students.  I haven't taught a skills class for quite some time now.  On top of that, I typically teach writing.  This was a golden opportunity for me to practice what I have been preaching to my TESOL students for the past four years. 

The first day of this 10-day crash course was spent trying to understand the students.  Some of the things I found out were: they don't like to read, they always refer back to their dictionaries (instead of understanding words through contextual cues), they are very quiet, they get bored easily, and they're tired (since this was  the third intensive course they were doing in the summer session).  By the middle of the 10-day crash course, I felt that we understood each other.  They didn't like reading, so I made them listen to me while I read to them.  I would 'force' them to ditch their dictionaries and instead try to understand the meaning of words through the context.  It was going well, I thought.  They passed their final exam with flying colors (duh!) 

By the end of the week, my conviction that segregated language learning has its place and can be very valuable if done appropriately was renewed.  There are many materials out there which are developed with an integrated approach in mind.  This approach would probably be more suitable for those who are aiming for communicative competency at a more general or social level.  The segregated approach, I think, really helps address specific language skills, and highlights the importance of gaining proficiency in all skills for the purpose of academic language proficiency. 

The very last day of this course was also the day that I left for Sabah.  The flight there was uneventful.  There were hardly any passengers on the plane and my layover was boring since I got to Brunei in the dead of night.  We did, however, get delayed the next morning due to heavy thunderstorm in KK.  Once I got home, I slept for two days straight and woke up with a cold.  This happens every time my flight gets delayed.  The week I was back in KK wasn't entirely a 'do-nothing' holiday.  I got to catch up with some work and studies.  I also got to catch up with some much needed leisure time - went to the Tip of Borneo, twice! Hiked, ate lots of noodles also SHOPPED!  Here are some evidence:


Beautiful ocean at Simpang Mengayau (The Tip of Borneo)

 I love how my arms are bulging, but I hated the fact that I was freezing! This was Oscar and me up on Bukit Perahu. 

 Wan-tan Ho!

 Nngau-Chap from Yee Fung Restaurant at Gaya Street (I practically grew up eating this from this very restaurant)

 Sunset from my front yard.