The interviews with teachers and students in phase three also indicated that EFL teachers and students were aware of limited Vietnamese representations in these textbooks. Teachers reported finding it difficult to raise students’ awareness of cultural identity. They observed students’ engagement in lessons when encountering Vietnamese cultural representations in their textbooks, although these representations were rare. Students expressed their interest in Vietnamese representations, stating that they encouraged them to find more information about cultures. For example, a number of teachers and students cited the special representation of a Vietnamese football fan named Duc in unit 5D in the textbook New English File Pre-intermediate (See Chapter Six, section 6.3.2, pages 245-246). Students indicated their pride in reading about Vietnamese culture in their global textbooks. They reported feeling proud when reading in their textbooks about the L’Usine, a shop in Ho Chi Minh City, to be among the top five unusual shops in the world. Students expressed their desire to learn about Vietnamese culture in their global textbooks, so they would be able to talk about their culture in English. However, such Vietnamese references in these textbooks are scarce. I argue that the limited references to Vietnamese learners’ own culture in these global textbooks may not help facilitate students’ international communications. This is unlikely to support the development of students’ ICC.
Unfamiliar cultural representations without culture-based activities
As with other global ELT textbooks, there are no specific sections in these seven textbooks to teach culture, and no teaching activities especially designed for the teaching of cultural forms. The only exception is the most recent textbook, Cutting Edge Elementary Third Edition, which consists of a separate section of World Culture lesson. This new feature, which provides students with various cultural representations from Outer and Expanding Circle countries including Vietnam, encourage students to investigate global and local issues, and become actively involved in classroom activities. The other textbooks emphasise linguistic aspects for the development of language skills such as reading, writing, listening and speaking rather than cultural skills. This situation is common not only in Vietnam but also in other EFL countries in Asia such as Japanese, Chinese, and Korean (Aliakbari, 2004). As textbooks are the main cultural sources in Vietnamese EFL classrooms, the teaching and learning of culture is restricted to what is represented in the textbooks. Very often, teachers and students reported not having enough time for teaching cultures. EFL lessons focused on linguistic knowledge.
In addition to textbooks’ emphasis of linguistic elements, some of their cultural representations are unfamiliar with students’ cultural backgrounds. These representations are designed in a way that requires students to have prior knowledge; these textbooks rarely provided contextual information for language learning. It seems that textbook designers presuppose that the learners of their books already know this cultural information. For example, in unit four in Objective KET, students are asked to categorise personal details of Louis Armstrong and some people that may be popular in Western cultures, but are not known to Vietnamese students. Or unit seven in New English File Pre-Intermediate requires students to categorise personal details of two American film directors, who are obviously unfamiliar to Vietnamese students as well. The practices associated with these representations do not provide students with any cues to help them complete the tasks. In the process of developing students’ ICC, students use their pre-existing knowledge to perceive new cultural knowledge. In this aspect, these types of cultural representations may not facilitate students’ communicative competence, as they may not allow them to use existing knowledge as a basis in receipt of new knowledge. Because of time pressures, sometimes teachers may not spend time on these representations and overlook opportunities to introduce them to students.
Another concern about cultural representation in global ELT textbooks is that these representations are not introduced together with culture-based tasks, but mostly provide students with cultural information. Culture-related facts are presented in readings, conversations, or illustrations, which help teachers to raise students’ cultural awareness. The associated activities are skills-based activities, which help students to develop language skills such as reading, writing, speaking or listening. There are not many tasks, such as discussion or comparison with students’ own culture, games, and role-play activities for students to practice communications skills and explore different cultural backgrounds. Students seem to learn about culture, but they may not actually engage with it. In addition, textbook cultural references are mainly superficial, which do not promote students’ exploration of underlying concepts and cultural value systems. As a result, the cultural content of the seven global ELT textbooks may not support students in developing the skills for intercultural competence, and this might not be compatible with the objective of students’ ICC.
The dominance of life outside Vietnam representations in sociological and aesthetic senses
The analysis of the seven textbooks suggested that life outside Vietnam was represented predominantly in sociological and aesthetic senses. By focusing on aesthetic and sociological senses, these textbooks emphasise the provision of socio-cultural knowledge to encourage students’ international understanding and minimise stereotypes and prejudices of other cultures. These two senses may also help assist students in communicating their daily life, one important factor in developing their international communicative competence. Teachers and students observed that most representations were about culture as a way of life, providing them with sociocultural knowledge of foreign countries to facilitate them in intercultural communication. These two senses may help facilitate future visits to foreign countries and communication with people other than native speakers. By focusing on these two senses, these textbooks might play an important role in assisting students to develop intercultural communicative competence.
However, as previously mentioned, these cultural contents were mostly Anglocentric. Teachers and students noticed that once in a while, they came across some Vietnamese references, but not all textbooks had them. The low percentage and sometimes the total absence of Vietnamese cultures in these textbooks may not be sufficient for Vietnamese students to develop their ability to mediate their own culture in intercultural settings. Little confidence and insufficient language input in presenting their own culture may decrease student’s self-identity, and thus interfere with this development. This corpus of seven textbooks, by focusing on sociological and aesthetic senses of culture, may assist students in developing their international cultural knowledge in some ways, facilitating their international communication with both native and non-native speakers. However, with the underrepresentation and sometimes non-existence of Vietnamese culture, these textbooks limited students in developing intercultural communicative competence.
ELT textbooks need incorporate a balanced proportion of foreign cultural content with learners’ own cultural content in the aesthetic and sociological senses of culture. As presented in the two previous paragraphs, the foreign cultural content in these two senses may help increase students’ intercultural understanding and decrease stereotypes and prejudices of other cultures, thus facilitate students in international communication. At the same time, the inclusion of learners’ own culture in these two senses may help increase students’ ability in mediating their own culture and develop their confidence and selfidentity. All these factors are necessary for the development of students’ ICC.
The underrepresentation of life outside Vietnam in semantic and pragmatic senses
Sociological and aesthetic senses were prominent in the corpus of seven global textbooks, and semantic and pragmatic senses accounted for only a small proportion. The domination of the sociological and aesthetic senses in life outside Vietnam representations signified the content-orientation of these textbooks. Failure to pay attention to the semantic sense was evidence of the superficiality of these foreign cultural representations. The neglect of the pragmatic sense did not provide students with sufficient paralinguistic skills for successful intercultural communication.
The semantic and pragmatic senses of culture are included as important components in a foreign language course because these two senses are “necessary to the learners’ achievement of a measure of communicative competence” (Adaskou et al., 1990, p. 4). While the semantic conditions our perceptions and thought processes, the pragmatic includes the ability to use various exponents of communicative functions (Rajabi & Ketabi, 2012). Students were required to get to know diverse cultures not only through the acquisition of information about the cultural background of different cultural groups; they need to learn to value other cultures and to understand others’ perspectives, and develop the linguistic skills to perform intercultural communication. The corpus of seven textbooks did not seem to provide students with sufficient condition for these developments.
7.3.3. Issues arising from students’ interest in learning English andtheirICCdevelopment.
Students’ interest in English learning had considerable influence on their development of intercultural communicative competence. ‘Reportedly interested’ students (n=9) acknowledged the effect of foreign cultural representations on their ICC, stating that these representations provided them with new knowledge about other countries and encouraged them to enquire more from the Internet. Conversely, ‘reportedly uninterested’ students (n=11) expressed little interest in engaging with cultural representations. Most of them believed that these representations had a negative influence on learning and hindered their communicative competence. Some even denied the influence of these representations, stating that they did not learn much about culture.
When it came to cultural learning, while some of the ‘reportedly interested’ students confirmed that they looked for more information from the Internet about the topics they learnt, none of the ‘reportedly uninterested’ students showed their activeness in reading more about foreign cultural representations. As ‘reportedly uninterested’ students did not believe in the influence of cultural representations, they did not want to engage with these representations, and thus restricted their learning to English forms. Consequently, they might know the rules of the language, but they were likely to be faced with difficulties in applying these rules in actual international communications.
Apparent disinterest in learning English also influenced students’ engagement with cultural teaching practice. ‘Reportedly interested’ students were ready to involve in cultural learning activities such as role-play activities, drama, and presentations. These activities allowed them to engage with cultures, supporting the development of their communicative competence. On the contrary, ‘reportedly uninterested’ students demonstrated their passiveness in this learning process. ‘Reportedly uninterested’ students wanted their teachers to provide them with cultural information, explain difficult representations in Vietnamese, or provide them with adequate vocabulary to understand the texts. These students also preferred their teachers to relate these foreign cultural representations to Vietnamese culture. Some wanted to play games, and a student suggested their teachers use high marks to promote students’ engagement with culture. In short, ‘reportedly uninterested’ students preferred their teachers to play the main role in the process of culture teaching and learning, and disinterest in English learning made these students become less involved in this process.
7.3.4. Issues arising from Vietnamese technical university EFL teachers’practicesandthedevelopmentofstudents’ICC.
Teachers and students’ divergent views on cultural teaching practices implied some issues in their cultural teaching and learning. These issues may originate from teachers themselves, or from their teaching conditions that navigate them into exam-oriented approaches. These teachers might not be as confident to engage with cultural representations, or they might focus on linguistic elements and linguistic skills. They might have chosen to be safe and prepare students for exams and fulfill exit requirements. These teachers might have overlooked the main role of language as a means of communication, and therefore their approaches by no means assist the development of students’ ICC.
Teachers’ hesitation in engaging with cultural representations
The interview data indicated that most teachers demonstrated confidence in their cultural teaching practices. As part of their teaching profession, they reported that they could gauge students’ language proficiency and background knowledge. They felt that they made accurate observations about the differences in rural and urban students’ background knowledge. They reported they could identify the gaps in their students’ knowledge based on their teaching experience. They said that they played the roles of both language knowledge and cultural knowledge providers. Teachers indicated that they were aware of the positive and negative influences of representations of life outside Vietnam in their students’ intercultural communicative competence (See Chapter Six, section 6.3.3, pages 251-254).
However, not all teachers reported that they were confident and ready to undertake both roles. Five teachers, three of whom had international experience, were worried that they may misunderstand a challenging representation. Those who had international experience admitted that they were sometimes unsure whether they had a full understanding of some representations. These teachers were wary about providing students with superficial cultural knowledge partially because of limited instructional time. And when they were not confident about their cultural knowledge, they were inclined to skip these representations. They deprived students of opportunitites to engage with foreign cultures, which may influence students’ development of ICC.
Teachers’ focus on linguistic elements rather than cultural elements
Teachers’ instructional practices did not seem to match students’ stated learning needs. Teachers reported applying various approaches. To summarise section 6.3.3 in Chapter Six, some teachers without international experience reported replacing challenging readings texts, modifying skills exercises or redesigning tasks to make them more achievable for students. They also reported providing students with necessary information, comparing and contrasting these foreign cultural representations with Vietnamese culture, selecting suitable sessions to teach and skipping difficult representations. Teachers with international experience reported having more culturally engaging activities, such as role-play, drama or cultural projects.
Although teachers reported applying various approaches to culture, students reported that their teachers’ practices were traditional and more teacher-centred. Students felt that the addressing of culture was implicit in their classroom. In most cases, their teachers focused on linguistic rather than cultural elements. To summarise students’ views of cultural teaching practice (pages 225-230) in Chapter Six, their teachers just concentrated on teaching grammar, vocabulary and practice exercises, which aimed at developing students’ grammatical structures and syntactic rules. These teachers may overlook cultural elements. Some of them left these elements untouched. Some students reported that their teachers introduced these representations exactly as presented in the textbooks. These teachers did not provide any further details. Very often these teachers chose simple representations to use and ignored challenging representations if students did not enquire further. Teachers’ engagement with cultural aspects was superficial, and students’ acquirement of culture was incidental. I would argue that such cultural teaching practice was not sufficient for developing students’ intercultural communicative competence.
Teachers focusing on linguistic skills rather than intercultural skills
Most teachers’ cultural teaching practices included providing students with vocabulary to understand and translate the texts. They often directly translated the texts for students and provided additional information about the texts. Teachers reported conducting these practices to assist students in completing exercises to master grammatical structures, build vocabulary, and develop language skills. My understanding from interviewing these teachers is that they did not often vary their instructional practices and focus on linguistic elements and assessment. They were oriented to students’ achievements in exams. Nine of the ten universities I studied used additional materials (usually exam-oriented practice test books) together with their textbooks in order to prepare students for their final and exit exams (See section 4.2.2, page 137). Some students reported being more familiar with their additional materials than the global course books (See section 6.2.1, Page 208). These teaching approaches may allow students to achieve the short-term assessment goal of passing their exams, but, in the long run, limit the development of communicative skills. In other words, these teaching practices influenced students toward viewing English learning as acquiring linguistic knowledge necessary for examination, but not as a means of communication.
Teachers’ traditional and exam-oriented instructional practices indicated a preference for transmitting cultural information to their students. They reported sharing their own experiences about foreign communities. They provided students with cultural context by bringing English textbooks or visual aids into classrooms; however, limited teaching and learning conditions prevented students from engaging with English. Some teachers reported using techniques to engage students in a variety of culture-related activities, for example, lectures, discussion, or presentations of the culture in the textbooks (See section 6.3.3, pages 254-258). However, most teachers seemed to priotise instruction to cover their assigned workload and help students pass their exam. Most teachers reported limiting their teaching to the cultural knowledge presented in the textbooks, which was insufficient for the teaching of cultural competence. They expressed the need for more teaching time, so that they could organise more culture-based activities and engage students in intercultural skill practice.
As stated by a teacher with international experience, culture learning is a long process and culture can be learnt both inside and outside classrooms. In an EFL country where learners do not have many opportunities to experience an authentic English environment such as Vietnam, it is crucial that a foreign language classroom teach cultural competence alongside linguistic competence. In the remaining section of this chapter, I will propose suggestions to improve Vietnamese technical students’s ICC.
7.4. Recommendations to Improve Vietnamese Technical University Students’ Intercultural Communicative Competence
This section proposes recommendations to improve students’ ICC at Vietnamese technical universities. These recommendations are proposed based on the analysis of the issues raised in the discussions. I make recommendations for course provision, the knowledge and the activities to be taught in the course, and intercultural teaching and learning practice (See figure 7.1). These recommendations aim to support teachers and students in teaching and learning culture in light of ICC pedagogy.
Figure 7.1. Recommendations to improve students’ ICC at Vietnamese technical universities
7.4.1 Recommendations for course provisions.
From the interviews with Heads/Vice Heads at ten participating universities, I understood that language administrators did not pay adequate attention to or did not provide appropriate support for course provisions such as entry requirement, exit requirement, instructional hours, class size and textbook selection. These language administrators may know that these provisions provide the conditions to support the achievement of course objectives. However, for some reason they did not comply with these provisions irrespective of their important role in the success of an English program. I propose recommendations for five provisional elements that course administrators need to take into consideration. These five elements are presented in the following sections:
The first aspect that English administrators needs to consider is to establish a consistent entry requirement for students. As indicated by Heads/Vice Heads of Language Faculty in interviews, mixed language level classes are common at nonmajor Vietnamese universities. English is introduced into the curriculum from 3rd grade in urban schools, but it is an optional subject in some rural and remote areas where there are insufficient English teachers. Students in urban areas have more exposure to English and a larger investment in English learning than those in disadvantaged areas who do not learn English until they enter high school. When entering universities, these mixed level students take part in placement tests in order to differentiate level of instruction. Eight of ten participating universities carried out placement tests. However, these placement tests usually divided students into two levels only, elementary and pre-intermediate student groups. With a great number of enrolments each year, there are considerable differences in students’ proficiency levels in each group (See section 4.2.1, page 126).
In some universities, due to limited instructional hours, both student groups use the same textbooks. The elementary group starts the course from the beginning of their textbooks, and the pre-intermediate group from the second half of the textbooks. Students who do not pass elementary classes are allowed to continue to preintermediate classes and retake the elementary exam later. In some other universities, the placement test is only for teachers to devide the classes up for easy instructions. Students are assigned to appropriate classes after the placement tests, but they use the same textbooks and same programs. The entry requirement in these universities does not retain its original purpose to differentiate levels of instruction appropriate to students’ proficiency levels (See section 4.2.1, pages 126-129). I feel that in this case the entry requirement is therefore a formulaic procedure and not particularly helpful.
Entry requirements could be established in accordance with the general consideration of other course provisions such as the exit requirement and allocated instructional hours, and based on an acceptable amount of instructional time required for progressing one language level. As the exit requirement for technical university graduates is B1 level, and the allowed time for a normal English course at these universities is around 150 credit hours, the proposed entry requirement for an English course for technical university students is A2. Students who have lower English proficiency level than required could improve their English by attending extra classes. It also means that these students need more English instructional hours than others, and they can only start the official B1 course when they pass A2 exams. A consistent entry requirement is necessary to help guarantee students’ achievement of the exit requirement.
As stated in Decision 1400-QD-TTg for the improvement of foreign language teaching and learning in the national educational system for 2008-2020 period, university graduates need to achieve B1 proficiency level (following the Common European Framework Reference) (See section 1.1.4, page 5). University graduates are expected “to be able to use English to communicate confidently and be able to study and work in a multi-lingual and multi-cultural environment; thus, better enabling young Vietnamese people to contribute to the industrialisation and modernisation of the country” (Huong, 2010, p. 106). This requirement appears to infer that university graduates are expected to develop both linguistic competence and intercultural communicative competence in order to use English in daily communication as well as among colleagues at work.
The Head/Vice Head interviews indicated that all participating universities were fully aware of the exit requirement, and they were acting in response to that requirement. All these universities referred to B1 level as their requirement for graduates following MoET’s policy. However, they either used B1 level as a marketing term, or used other testing references with lower levels. For example, some other universities set up their own exit requirements such as TOEIC 350, TOEIC 400 or TOEIC 450. Some universities referred to A2 level. Some other universities cited B1 as their graduates’ level, but they modified their B1 tests. Instead of carrying out standard B1 exams that focused equally on four language skills, these universities stressed more on the grammar, reading and writing components, and stressed less on speaking and listening tasks. These apparently less demanding modified tests accommodated their students’ proficiency levels (See section 4.2.1, pages 133-134). The modifications suggest these universities’ exit requirements are formulaic and arbitrary.
In order to improve students’ intercultural communicative competence, these universities need to make a proper interpretation of the B1 exit requirement. Instead of using B1 exit requirement as a means of promoting prestige, these universities should strictly administer these exit tests as they are designed. This means the exit tests could include four skills, each in balanced proportion. Vietnamese students tend to focus on learning what they are going to be tested, and they may recognise the need of learning communicative language skills. University graduates then may use English for international and professional communication, instead of just having linguistic knowledge. Universities may refer to other testing systems for their exit requirement as long as they ensure that these systems’ scores are equal to B1 proficiency level. Together with a consistent entry requirement, a consistent exit requirement is the second important provisional factor to help improve students’ achievement of ICC.
Teaching time allocation
The Heads/Vice Heads interviews indicated that their universities allocated various instructional hours for their course, ranging from 90 to 300 credit hours. These time allocations were based on each university’s policy about English teaching, in consideration of the instructional hours for other subjects in their crowded curricula. Most universities allocated from 100 to 120 credit hours to progress from one CEFR proficiency level to another. In some situations, students were allocated about 150 credit hours to progress two levels, from beginning to pre-intermediate (See section
4.2.1, pages 122-124).
Teachers and students reported that these numbers of guided learning hours are not sufficient. Limited instructional time was the most frequently reported concern in teacher and student interviews. Teachers and students referred to limited instructional time as influential in nearly every aspect of teaching and learning. They reported having inadequate time for teaching and learning linguistic knowledge, and therefore there was no time for cultural knowledge. As teachers wanted to assist their students in passing written exams, they had the pressure of covering grammatical content within the time given (See section 6.4.2, page 263). This practicality reduced students’ engagement with cultural representations and their development of communicative language skills.
I suggest these technical universities allocate about 200 guided learning hours for an English course. As previously stated, this number of instructional hours would be ideal for students to progress (Desveaux, 2013) (See section 7.3.1, pages 284-285). Increased instructional hours may be sufficient for students to progress from entry level (A2 or Elementary) to exit level (B1 or Pre-Intermediate). Increased instructional hours therefore need to be in conjunction with consistent entry and exit requirements and more focused curricula. These factors may be sufficient to promote pedagogical engagement with skills-based cultural competence instruction.
Large English classes are common at technical (non-major) Vietnamese universities. These classes usually consist of more than 40 students, which may not promote communicative language teaching. Language teachers reported using group work or discussion, but these activities were not efficient because they were not able to monitor them well (See section 6.3.3, page 256). In order to ensure students’ engagement in classroom activities, I suggest that these universities could reduce language class sizes to 30 students. Reduced class size may allow teachers to engage students with skills-based activities and assist them in effectively monitoring group interactions. I also suggest that teachers may need professional development to improve their practices, which I later address in section 7.5.3 (pages 320-321). The decision to reduce class sizes implies that administrators change their perception of English language learning: English as a skill in communication, not as a subject in their curriculum. Limiting class sizes to effectively facilitate communicative competence is crucial.
Textbooks play a significant role in any English classrooms. English textbooks are considered the curricula and teachers usually want to cover the entire textbook (See Chapter Four, section 4.3.3, pages 152-155). In the ten participating universities, current ELT textbooks were selected with an aim to bridge between entry and exit level. However, textbook selection at these universities was not systematic. Some textbooks were chosen based on convenience; for example, their availability or other universities’ recommendations (See section 4.3.1, pages 146-147).
I recommend that teachers and students be consulted when considering adopting a new textbook. The selected textbooks should correspond to learners’ needs (Cunningsworth, 1995). Textbooks may be chosen to facilitate students’ learning processes and help students use language effectively for their communication. Textbooks mediate the target language and students’ learning. Student input into textbook selection may reflect their learning needs, purposes and preferences.
Basically, the textbook selection process matches needs to available solutions (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987). The selection process should align the goals and objectives of the program, time allowance, and students’ entry level. If the program’s goals and objectives, and its curriculum, are clear and well defined, selection criteria can be developed such that “the parallels with certain textbooks may become obvious” (Wen-Cheng, Chien-Hung, & Chung-Chieh, 2011). Once the textbooks are in use, regular retrospective evaluation can be implemented in order to provide timely feedback and necessary adaptations be made.
In short, entry requirement, exit requirement, instructional hours, class sizes and textbook selections are necessary considerations for any language program’s improvement. In technical universities, the above five suggestions may vary depending on each university’s circumstances. To improve students’ intercultural communicative competence, universities should consider these suggestions as important conditions for the improvement of students’ ICC.
7.4.2. Recommendations for teaching cultural representation.
My research suggests that most technical universities’ teachers and students are oriented to passing the final exams or qualifying for graduation. Technical teachers and students are likely to access discrete vocabulary and grammatical items. However, English use in international communication and work requires semantic and pragmatic consideration, which may lead to teachers and students’ greater appreciation of the role of English as a means of communication. Successful English learning exposes students to semantic and pragmatic senses of culture. Besides having linguistic knowledge, students should be provided with cultural knowledge and be able to use this in international communication. Enabling students to become more confident with their own culture and open to other cultures, with which they can communicate confidently in an international environment, is crucial for the Vietnamese to achieve Vietnam’s ambitious policy goals. I suggest that balanced proportions of sources of culture, which comprises source, target, and international target cultures be incorporated into the teaching content to improve students’ cultural knowledge. I also suggest that senses of culture: aesthetic, sociological, semantic and pragmatic need to be introduced in balanced amounts to assist students in their development of ICC. The following sections elaborate.
Sources of culture
When teaching and learning English, teachers and students inevitably work with the cultures of the countries where English is the first language (Byram, 1997). Exposure to target cultures helps students develop cultural competence, because limited knowledge about native English-speaking countries and people may lead students to make meaningless utterances (Erfani, 2014). However, most global ELT textbooks focus only on the two target countries, England and the US, as the representatives for English speaking cultures (See section 5.3.3, page 185). I suggest that cultures of numerous other countries in the English-speaking world, such as Canada, Australia, or New Zealand be integrated into EFL classrooms.
It is important that students acquire knowledge of international target cultural content. Students need to prepare themselves for international contact. I suggest that textbooks increase representations of international target cultures, with focus on non-English speaking countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. This shift in focus may provide students with a more comprehensive picture of the multicultural world; it may also facilitate students’ engagement and understanding about foreign countries in the regions or in other continents.
The global English textbooks in this study often overrepresented target and international target cultures, and some of these representations required students to have prior knowledge of Western cultures (See section 7.3.2, pages 289-291). This overrepresentation seemed to ignore the challenges students face when presented with unfamiliar schematic knowledge. Students need to have a certain amount of prior knowledge in order to accommodate new cultural knowledge. The unfamiliarity with the content knowledge hindered students’ learning, as their cognitive processing was overwhelmed by the foreignness of the target language background (Alptekin, 1993). I suggest that cultural representations facilitate students’ perception of foreign cultural knowledge. Representations of life outside Vietnam may be introduced together with necessary contextual information to facilitate students’ understanding.
The absence of Vietnamese culture in these textbooks did not provide students with sufficient language and cultural input of their own culture. These textbooks appeared to disregard students’ familiarity with their own culture – Vietnamese culture, which allowed them to easily handle various language tasks. Since intercultural communicative competence (ICC) can be defined as the ability to interact with ‘others’ in culturally different contexts, to accept others’ perspectives and perceptions of the world, to mediate between different perspectives, to be conscious of their evaluation of difference (Byram, Gribkova, & Starkey, 2002; Kramsch, 1998), Vietnamese language learners must enjoy the understanding of both Vietnamese culture and foreign cultures. These textbooks, with the overrepresentations of target and international target culture, may assist learners in developing the knowledge of ‘others’, but the absence of Vietnamese culture meant that students’ self-identity was not nurtured as part of developing their intercultural communicative competence.
Given the insufficience of learners’ own culture in textbooks then I suggest that Vietnamese culture be incorporated into these English textbooks and programs. This inclusion of Vietnamese culture may cultivate in students a deep understanding of their own cultures, and subsequently assist them in strengthening their cultural identity. Once students are aware of their own cultural identity, they gradually develop cultural self-awareness. In the development of intercultural communicative competence, this cultural awareness may allow students to understand the behaviours, the values and the beliefs of their own and other cultures. Self-cultural awareness becomes the foundation for understanding and accepting other cultures, which paves way for successful international communication. With little presence of Vietnamese culture in current global textbooks, Vietnamese teachers could incorporate more Vietnamese cultural content into their teaching. They could design and organise this content based on the topics provided in the textbooks so that their students can compare and contrast among cultures. Students may feel more engaged and more comfortable in learning about cultural representations familiar to their own culture.
In sum, a balanced proportion of source, target, and international target cultures is recommended to improve students’ ICC. Each type of cultural content has its own important role in the development of students’ intercultural communicative competence, and the insufficient provision of each source of culture negatively influences that development.
Senses of culture
Among the four senses of culture, the aesthetic and sociological senses of culture generally account for most cultural representations in ELT textbooks. However, in order to use the content successfully in communication, students should be well equipped with the semantic and pragmatic senses of culture. The underrepresentation of the semantic and pragmatic senses of cultures in most global textbooks does not support “learners’ achievement of a measure of communicative competence” (Adaskou et al., 1990, p. 4) (See section 7.3.2, pages 292-293, this chapter). A balance of the four senses of culture, which provide students with both cultural content, social skills, and paralinguistic skills is recommended to improve students’ ICC.
The semantic and pragmatic senses of culture help form the conceptual system embodied in the language that conditions all our perceptions and our thought processes. They include “the background knowledge, social skills, and paralinguistic skills that, in addition to mastery of the language code, make possible successful communication” (Adaskou et al., 1990, p. 4). Because of their importance, I suggest the introduction of the semantic and pragmatic senses of culture by providing students with the following content.
Students need to get familiar with appropriate communicative functions. For example, they learn how to greet someone, take leave, or respond to an invitation appropriately in a foreign culture. Students may need to differentiate between greeting someone for the first time and greeting a close friend, and they may need to know that saying goodbye to a friend might be different from saying goodbye to a person with a higher status. If they mix these functions, their communicative purposes may not be as successful as expected, or sometimes their communication may break down.
Students could be encouraged to learn about how to use appropriate intonation patterns. For example, they need to understand what it means by the rise or fall of intonation at the end of a tag question. They need to know how to raise their voice at the end of a question, or how to utter an exclamation. English has its cadence, and the mastery of English rhythm and intonations contributes to the success of communication.
Students might be invited to explore different cultural norms of politeness so that they are able to conform in daily conversations. What is considered polite or normal in one culture may be inappropriate in another culture. For example, it is acceptable for a student to call his/her teachers by their first name in English speaking cultures, but it is rude or impolite to do so in Vietnamese culture. In some cultures, a kiss or a hug is an act of politeness when greeting someone, but this action is not a common practice in Asian societies. If a learner of English is not aware of these types of social etiquette, he/she may not have successful communications.
Students could be provided with the conventions that control interpersonal relationships, such as the status or the obligation that are different from their own. For example, they need to know the right way to behave in interactions such as between a boss and his/her employees, and to conform to the dos and don’ts in society. This kind of knowledge is helpful in maintaining interpersonal relations, making great contribution to intercultural communicative competence.
Students could be provided with principle rhetorical conventions in different written genres such as how to fill in a form, how to write a business letter, or how to write an advertisement. These conventions are the text types, which in addition to the information are necessary in any successful communication.
7.4.3. Recommendations for culture-based pedagogical practices.
Developing intercultural communicative competence in students does not only mean providing facts about a culture and knowledge for students to understand how and why different people perform different behaviours and attitudes across cultures (Hoa, 2011a). This section focuses on the recommendations of culture-based pedagogical practices that could be applied in Vietnamese EFL classrooms. Within the Vietnamese context where EFL education focuses on the international aspects and develops students’ intercultural communicative competence, I have attempted to make a list of culture-based practices for culture teaching in EFL classrooms. This list of culture-based pedagogical practices has been formed based on the techniques offered by a number of researchers in the literature, with a consideration of the Vietnamese classroom context. This list was also made on the basis of the discussions of teachers’ cultural teaching pedagogies and students’ expectations. This selection of pedagogical practices takes into consideration the ethics of Vietnamese classrooms, where teachers organise their lessons and play the main role in the process of culture teaching and learning. The recommendations presented below range from applying cognitive techniques to engaging students into different cultural activities. These practices may help teachers to reconsider their roles and their goals in language teaching within an ICC pedagogy, and provide more opportunities for students to engage in studentcentred activities:
Providing cultural knowledge: One common approach to prepare students for intercultural communicative competence at cognitive level is to tell them what may cause problems or what are the differences (Argyle, 1982). This technique is widely used by Vietnamese teachers due to its applicability in their classrooms. Teachers provide their students with cultural knowledge of a foreign country. They do this by a number of language activities such as lectures, readings, telling stories or culture capsules. Because Vietnamese learners are used to rote learning, this technique may allow them to easily perceive and obtain background knowledge about the culture of different countries. In this technique, teachers may help students to acquire cultural knowledge in a short time, but students are passive in receiving this knowledge.
Using authentic sources: Teachers bring into their classrooms different sources of teaching material, such as pictures, video clips, movies, magazines, newspapers, … and use them to provide contexts related to other foreign countries (Reid, 2015). By adapting these supplementary materials, teachers provide their students with opportunities to learn English in an authentic English environment. The insertion of illustrations, clips, movies, and other visual aids may help bring the real world into the classroom, and make the teaching and learning process more meaningful and engaging (Brinton, 2001). In a visual learning context, students may enhance their understanding of new concepts, and retain their cultural knowledge better. They may become more interested in the lessons, more active, and more curious to learn about new knowledge, which in turn will improve their learning outcomes. Although this technique requires teachers to make careful preparation before class, they are strongly recommended to do so in order to engage students in authentic cultural experiences.
Compare and contrast cultures: This technique involves students in classroom activities exploring the similarities and the differences among diverse cultures (Reid, 2015). Teachers may ask their students to investigate some cultural aspects of other countries and make comparisons and contrast with their own culture. Students may develop a deeper understanding about other cultures through experiencing the similarities and the differences. Again, in order to implement this technique, teachers need to spend time making careful preparation before class.
Discussions: This technique requires students to work in pairs/groups to discuss cultural topics and share their personal ideas (Hoa, 2011a). By using this technique, students may become more confident in expressing their own ideas and in giving or defending their opinions about a cultural phenomenon. In addition, this technique requires students to develop critical thinking skills, making a contribution to the development of students’ intercultural skills.
Mind mapping: Students can work individually or in pairs/groups to create a mindmap about a cultural theme or a cultural phenomenon. This technique requires students to investigate a cultural phenomenon and present it systematically. Students may retain cultural knowledge more easily, turning it into their background knowledge in a structured order.
Doing cultural presentations: This technique requires students to carefully prepare their lessons before class. They are asked to explore by themselves a cultural phenomenon and make a presentation about that phenomenon in front of the class (Reid, 2015). Students may retain their cultural knowledge better, as well as develop their confidence in speaking English in public. Although this technique may be good for students’ communicative competence, the teacher may need to pay attention to time management in order not to rush other parts of their lessons.
Interacting with foreigners: When employing this technique, teachers provide students with opportunities to interact with English speaking people (Argyle, 1982). Teachers may invite foreign guests or visitors to their classrooms in order to provide their students with face-to-face contact, or they may encourage their students to get in contact with foreigners through Skype/Face Time or emails. In this way, students may gain cultural experience through real contact with people from different countries. Students may learn much from the ways these foreign contacts behave or respond to different situations in their cultures.
Acting games (role play/drama): This technique involves students positioning themselves in the role of a dramatic character (Gudykunst & Hammer, 1983; Krasnick, 1984; Reid, 2015). Students practise speaking and interacting with other students as their assigned characters in a play, or as people in a particular everyday situation. Students may become more familiar with different cultures because they have acted as the characters of other cultures. Again, time management is necessary for teachers when carrying out these activities in order not to rush in other parts of the lessons.
Doing cultural projects: Teachers assign projects related to foreign cultures to groups of students. The project can start at the beginning of the term and students have time to collect and analyse data during the term. When the project is finished, each group reports their findings in front of the class. This technique involves students’ participation throughout the term. It not only develops students’ deep understanding of a cultural phenomenon, but also develops students’ teamwork skills and communication skills.
Organising cultural activities: This technique involves both teachers and students’ participation in cultural events that they organise. Teachers may organise cultural events such as Halloween, a Christmas party or Easter Day in their own classes by assigning preparation tasks to each group of students. Although this technique is time and money consuming, it may raise students’ interest in learning the language, and provides students hands-on experience of a cultural phenomenon.
By being involved in these culture-based techniques, students may participate in a number of classroom practices, discover cultural aspects of a specific country, compare them to their own culture and make distinctions between different cultures. The implementation of these techniques will require a passion for teaching, as much time and effort will be needed, as well as a perception of culture in foreign language teaching. In order to provide opportunities for students to develop intercultural awareness and intercultural skills, teachers may need to be flexible in employing these techniques based on their particular teaching context.
7.4.4. Recommendations for students’ intercultural learning.
Vietnam is a country in the Expanding Circle where English is spoken as a foreign language. In EFL teaching, the ultimate goal is competence in intercultural communication rather than native-speaker-like competence (Dinh, 2014). Non-native speakers are not expected to be exactly like native speakers (Crozet & Liddicoat, 1999). Instead, they are expected to communicate effectively in the sense of accomplishing a respectful and favourable negotiation between people in terms of both culture-specific and culture-general features (García, 2004).
While EFL teaching and learning in technical Vietnamese universities is not a curriculum priority, it is important that learners become competent intercultural speakers. This goal allows Vietnamese learners to constantly compare new experiences with past experiences, new linguistic phenomena with those of their first language, and target cultural components with their own. As competent intercultural speakers, Vietnamese technical students may be able to create a comfortable third place between their first linguaculture and target linguacultures. In this sense, intercultural learning is not parroting foreign cultural codes in order to communicate successfully with foreigners. Vietnamese technical students need to be able to negotiate language and adjust to different contexts of using English. These competent intercultural speakers need to be able to meet unformulaic forms of communication and flexible in dealing with a variety of everyday encounters and exchanges. Figure 7.2 elaborates the process of intercultural learning (Kaikkonen, 1997) that Vietnamese technical university students could follow.
Figure 7.2. Expanding the learner’s understanding of culture and its components
(Adapted from “Learning a culture and a foreign language at school—aspects of intercultural learning” by Kaikkonen, P., 1997, Language Learning Journal, 15(1), p.49)
When learning a foreign language, this process allows for the expansion of cultural understanding, and at the same time increases the awareness of the special features of their own culture and language (Kaikkonen, 1997). To clarify this process, several stages need to be considered. Although these stages present in a successive sequence, they are difficult to separate as each stage is interrelated.
As can be seen in figure 7.3, the stages are described as follows:
Stage 1: Learners become aware of the foreign cultural phenomena that naturally emerge in the process of language teaching and learning.
Stage 2: Learners receive instructions to perceive foreign language and its cultural phenomena. At the same time, they make comparison between those phenomena and their own.
Stage 3: Learners apprehend the knowledge of the foreign language and its cultural norms; they compare the functioning of the foreign language and its cultural norms with their own.
Stage 4: New meanings are shaped based on the first three stages, which allow for learners’ linguistic and cultural competence during the process of foreign language learning. (Kaikkonen, 1997, p.49)
Figure 7.3. Different stages of intercultural learning
(Adapted from “Learning a culture and a foreign language at school—aspects of intercultural learning” by Kaikkonen, P., 1997, Language Learning Journal, 15(1), p.49)
In this approach, the roles of students are redefined. Students, besides being taught about the ‘cultural factors’ in the target language by well-informed teachers, need to be provided with space to explore the target linguaculture. It was found that students’ interest in English learning greatly influenced their engagement with cultural representations in textbooks (See Chapter Six, section 6.2.2, pages 221-224). Students need to be more active and more dynamic in engaging themselves to intercultural learning process. With its significant role as the ‘bridge’ between cultures, an intercultural learning approachis appropriate forVietnamese students. This learning approach helps to develop students’ ability to negotiate meanings across languages and cultures, and prepare them for living in a multicultural world (Ho, 2009).
7.4.5. Recommendations for teachers’ intercultural teaching.
In the technical university context, EFL teachers may confront many difficulties in teaching culture, given insufficient intercultural content in textbooks, lack of teaching facilities, large classes, or time constraints. In the three previous sections, I have presented recommendations for the content and the activities teachers may use in class, as well as the intercultural learning approach their students may apply in cultural learning. The following recommendations focus on the measurements to support teachers in developing their intercultural English teaching practices.
Although the EFL teachers interviewed were aware of the importance of teaching culture in foreign language education, not all of them were confident with their cultural knowledge. As a result, these teachers either overlooked challenging cultural representations or replaced them with easier ones (See Chapter Six, section 6.3.3, pages 254-257,). Foreign language teaching in the light of an ICC approach requires teachers to have their own ICC as the prerequisite criterion to implement their professional task of developing students’ ICC (Sercu, 2006). This means that EFL teachers need to possess the necessary linguistic and cultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes for an ICC perspective. In a sense, EFL teachers cannot know everything about foreign cultures, but they should be confident of their own culture and culture-general knowledge. EFL teachers may also need skills to implement culture-based activities in order to help students develop intercultural communicative competence. Another important factor is teachers’ attitudes toward cultural teaching. Teachers should be willing to integrate ICC into foreign language teaching by persisting with their teaching goals from an ICC approach.
In order to develop teachers’ ICC as in the three previously mentioned components, I first suggest that EFL teachers enrich their own linguistic and cultural knowledge. Teachers can do this by practicing their linguistic skills and reading widely professionally. They become not only learners of language, but also learners of culture. Acting as the facilitators to guide learners through exposure to ‘familiarity’ and ‘foreignness’, teachers need to improve their cultural background knowledge in order to become confident in their teaching. By devoting time to exploring more about cultures, teachers not only enrich their cultural background knowledge for their professional careers, but also are able to provide students with necessary information for successful communication and interaction with people of different cultures.
In addition, EFL teachers are encouraged to attend teachers’ training workshops for professional development. In these workshops, teachers may be provided with the most recent trends in language teaching. They may also be equipped with guidance for implementing culture-based activities, for adapting textbooks, or for the assessment of intercultural learning outcomes. Through this training, teachers may gradually enhance their ability in integrating culture into language teaching. These training workshops could be carried out on a continuous basis for teachers to accumulate and maintain linguistic and cultural knowledge in an EFL environment. These workshops can be either international or domestic. However, if EFL teachers have opportunities to study and stay abroad for a period of time, the experience of living in a foreign environment could definitely be useful for their professional careers as effective teachers in a multicultural world.
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