Sussex Centre for Language Studies

Intercultural Communicative Competence

On 12 January 2015, more than 40 people attended our successful symposium on Intercultural Communicative Competence in Action. Abstracts and links to Powerpoint slides can be found below.


Keynote speakers

Intercultural communicative competence – past and future  [Presentation]
Professor Mike Byram, University of Durham,

In this opening session, I will present a brief overview of some of the concepts associated with the day’s theme and their origins and history. This introduction will form the basis for a discussion of current debates and discussions in the field, and what ‘the field’ includes. The third element will be an analysis of what research and (curriculum) development needs and opportunities exist and how they might be addressed by teachers in their practice as well as researchers in theirs.

Cultural awareness and intercultural awareness through English as a lingua franca: from research to classroom practice  [Presentation]
Dr Will Baker, University of Southampton,

The rapid expansion and wide scale use of English as a lingua franca (ELF) has resulted in much rethinking of established concepts in applied linguistics.  This has included intercultural communicative competence and its relevance to settings where the links between language use and cultural practices and identities are often highly fluid and complex. In this presentation the appropriateness of cultural awareness (CA), a key feature of intercultural communicative competence, and the related concept of intercultural awareness (ICA) will be considered in relation to ELF communication. This will be combined with an exploration of the influence CA and ICA have had on classroom practices. In particular, it will be argued that CA and ICA are more prevalent in pedagogic theory, and to a lesser extent language policy, than they are in practice. While the cultural dimension to language learning is now fairly mainstream, where elements of CA and ICA are translated into the classroom they typically take the form of comparisons between national cultures, often in essentialist forms. There is still little evidence of classroom practices that deal with the fluid ways cultures and languages are related in intercultural communication, especially for ELF or other languages used on a global scale. 

Other abstracts

Ethnocentrism in TESOL: How should culture be integrated into the TESOL certificate? [Presentation]
Jennifer Book, SCLS, University of Sussex,

Native and non-native trainee teachers receive the same training on TESOL programmes in Western countries. These programmes are designed with the idea of using a specific methodology to teach English to small, multilingual classes. Little consideration is given to the millions of EFL/ESOL students that these trainees will teach/work with. It also reflects a disregard for the differences in socio-economic conditions, educational ideologies etc.  With this in mind, I have set out to examine the problems associated with the current courses through interviews with groups of teachers who have had the same training but different work contexts.

The most important interaction I have had since coming to Sussex [Presentation]
Rachel Cole and Yolanda Cerda, SCLS, University of Sussex,;

Having  analysed  texts  written by eleven students in response to the question: 'What is the most important interaction you have had since coming to Sussex?', we have selected three narratives which reflect the three different types of approach generally adopted by the students in their attempts to achieve ICC: maintenance; replacement and negotiation. We use this framework and related literature to explore  these students' cultural journeys and  how ICC relates to academic cultural adjustment in HE, before, finally, asking what some of the practical implications may be. 

Intercultural competence: “uncringe the cringeworthy”
Andrea Dalton, SCLS, University of Sussex,

Communication skills, cultural knowledge, and personal attributes such as cultural sensitivity and open-mindedness towards others – the very core of intercultural competence – are more important than ever in a globalised contemporary world. Nevertheless, the lack of tolerance in the general population towards native speaker pronunciation poses an interesting phenomenon. The BBC, said to be one of the largest broadcasting organisation in the world, employs three full-time linguists, dedicated orthoepists (or professional pronouncers) to focus on the correct pronunciation of places and names. Is mutual understanding not more important than prescriptive correctness? What are the reasons behind our oversensitivity when it comes to pronouncing foreign words and what are the implications for language learning?

The purpose of this abstract is to introduce future research plans. In particular I would like to investigate what forces are at play when we cringe at someone pronounce a foreign word in a native like fashion and the linguistic behaviour which comes into existence during hyperforeignism.  Speech action conversion technology and software (as developed by Nishida, 2014) may work towards filling that cultural gap in allowing the NNS to feel less self-conscious speaking with a shared accent. This has implications for language learning and teaching as well as intercultural awareness as I will discuss in my talk.

Raising intercultural awareness in a General English class  [Presentation]
James Greenough, SCLS, University of Sussex,

I will present a brief overview of a pilot project based on Intercultural awareness and communication that we did with a general English class for the first time this Autumn term. This consisted of project work which took place over 8 weeks with a class at upper intermediate level. The presentation aims to look at the initial setting up of the project work, describe the context and process of the work done by the class, briefly discuss the results of the project and look at the implications for any similar project work done in the future.

Chinese learners’ use of ‘English’ names and what it reveals about ICC  [Presentation]
Laura Mark, SCLS, University of Sussex,

In this talk, I will briefly describe the findings of a qualitative study entitled ‘Identity and interaction in second language acquisition: An investigation of Chinese learners’ use of ‘English’ names‘. The study was carried out as research for a Masters dissertation, and has shed light on some social and personal aspects of this practice, which has become so widespread among EFL/ESL learners and yet is still little understood. As the title suggests, the focus has been on personal accounts and the implications of the practice on students’ sense of identity as well as Intercultural Communicative Competence. Challenges of exploring the practical application of such findings will also be discussed, and I would welcome any suggestions on how to take this research further.

Raising intercultural awareness in a General English class [Presentation]
Jeremy Page, SCLS, University of Sussex,

I will outline an initiative to assess for diagnostic purposes the intercultural awareness of incoming students on a General English course.  The assessment took the form of a brief interview task requiring the students firstly to reflect on their own cultural norms and expectations and secondly to consider how they might best achieve a range of communicative purposes in English. In the presentation I will give an account of a lesson in which one group of students revisited the outcomes of their initial assessment.

Exploring critical incidents in the classroom  [Presentation]
Catherine Rogers, SCLS, University of Sussex,

If intercultural competence is primarily a description relevant to individuals from different countries, the term then excludes intercultural problems that may exist within national boundaries.  It is these internal differentiations that are often more significant than the cultural cohesion within those national boundaries (Rathje, 2007).  This brief talk will describe critical incidents from one EFL classroom, focusing on both intercultural communicative incidents, and, more interestingly, intracultural communicative ones. What is the role of the teacher when these incidents occur? How can both students and teachers make the most of these when they do occur in the classroom?

Rathje, S. (2007). Intercultural Competence: The Status and Future of a Controversial Concept. Journal for Language and Intercultural Communication, 7(4), 254–266

Does it make a difference? Introducing ICC focused materials in the language classroom  [Presentation]
Silvia Taylor and Viviana Coston, SCLS, University of Sussex,,

Our students are encountering problems during the year abroad. How can we help them overcome Culture Shock? Research has suggested that Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) can be the answer. In our context we have very little class time to dedicate exclusively to ICC, we have therefore decided to integrate ICC acquisition with language learning and we have produced some language learning materials with an ICC focus. In our small scale research we have tried to find out if ICC can be successfully integrated in the language classroom and we can say that the results so far are encouraging. We asked our students to fill in questionnaires before and after using some ICC focused materials in our classes, in an attempt to find out whether there was a measurable change in their knowledge of the target language culture. It is hoped this might inspire other practitioners to find a way to include ICC in their own language teaching context.

‘The world is mine’: The application of discourse ethics to intercultural communication, and lessons for the classroom  [Presentation]
Simon Williams, SCLS, University of Sussex, 

It is generally recognised that linguistic competence is a necessary but not sufficient component of ICC (e.g. Byram 1997: 10).  Language learners may be able to produce culturally-appropriate functional language, for example, but fail to grasp its deeper significance.  Moreover, essentialist classroom practices may only encourage learners’ transactional behaviour and reinforce cultural stereotypes held by both learners and the status quo.

Where they exist, multicultural settings outside the classroom, which could include the Internet, might provide alternative, more challenging, teaching and learning opportunities in the form of learner fieldwork. And by revealing evidence of a ‘communicative’, discovery agenda versus mere ‘strategic’ communication or information gathering, the application of Habermas’s (1984) discourse theory to learners’ field-related discourse would be one means of gauging its effectiveness. Taking three learner case studies, comprising data from journals, questionnaires and interviews from university students on a ten-week summer pre-sessional course, I analyse the characteristics of the learners’ communication styles in relation to field activities, and consider implications for pedagogic practice. I argue that this fieldwork approach, where available, better facilitates the development of ICC in the classroom.

Byram, M (1997) Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters
Habermas, J (1984) The Theory of Communicative Action. Vols. I & II. T. McCarthy (trans), Boston: Beacon [German, 1981]

Focusing on the ‘I’ in ICC  [Presentation]
Jules Winchester, SCLS, University of Sussex,

This talk will explore the extent to which participants in a General English class appear to have developed their critical language and cultural competence, and the extent to which psychological factors (namely, participants’ positioning in relation to perceived cultural and linguistic norms and practices, and their identity claims) should be taken into consideration in assessments of ICC.  The preliminary research findings suggest that salient linguistic and cultural cues are often recognised without being understood and that this affects development of ICC.  Moreover, findings suggest that psychological factors are indeed significant in IC, and that a lack of evidence of ability to use culturally-based forms, etc. may be indicative of a lack of understanding, but it may also be indicative of socio-psychological orientation, evident in positioning and identity claims, particularly cultural/national identity claims (e.g. alignment with ‘home’ culture and against ‘local’ culture).  The implications are that attempts to develop, and study, ICC in a language learning context should focus on understanding of cultural and linguistic cues and take account of individuals’ socio-psychological orientations and identities.


Katie Brooks, Executive Officer, School of Media, Arts and Humanities,
Andrew Blair, Organiser,
Jeremy Page, Organiser,
Jules Winchester, Organiser,