John Hughes on intercultural understanding

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John Hughes on intercultural understanding -

John organized his presentation by the three question words why, what and how.

Why: John began with Do Coyle's (of CLIL fame) 4Cs framework. This shows a triangle with the sides being content, communication and cognition, set within a larger circle representing culture. The implication being that culture is supremely important in that it lies behind all language use, and the importance of intercultural understanding is on the increase, especially in the globalized contexts of business English and EAP.

What: John stressed that this intercultural understanding is just as much a reflection on one's own culture as awareness of other's cultures. Taking this reflective approach helps us to steer clear of divisive stereotypes and prejudices.

In group work, we were invited to complete the sentence stem Culture is…, and in the subsequent discussion, we were steered toward the classification of culture into three parts: 1. products/artefacts; 2. behaviour/rituals; 3. ideas/values.

How: In this third and largest section of the talk, John gave examples of activities to focus on these three aspects of culture. These were mostly from his coursebook Life (this was down in the programme as being a commercial presentation sponsored by National Geographic / Cengage).

John began by suggested that we challenge stereotypical myths. For example, he showed how the mini car, often seen as a very British icon, is in fact a product of many different countries. In a similar vein, he talked about the stereotypical image of the city of Oxford and contrasted that with the multi-cultural reality.

For me, the most fascinating info-nugget in this section of the talk was about emoticons and how these differ in the west and oriental cultures. The point was very clearly demonstrated with the Smiley :-) , which contrasts with the oriental (^-^) - notice how in the western version, the expressive work is all done by the mouth, while in the oriental equivalent it is achieved through the eyes.

Other examples of how we might focus on culture included comparing attitudes to food (again, with the reflective focus on one's own culture as much as on exotic otherness), colour associations (eg red = passion versus red = good luck), family traditions (illustrated with a clip from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding") and religion. This latter, often avoided in ELT for being potentially controversial, is according to John, often a very successful topic to address in the classroom. All of these activities can be viewed on John's website

On the map, I'd locate this topic in the North East, because the main focus seems to be on 'needs', in this case, the need for the ability to understand your own and other cultures.


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