Reflections on Intercultural Learning: Raising Cultural Awareness by K. Risager 2012 (ENG3)

from Eisenmann, M & Summer, T. (edt.) (2012/2013) Basic Issues, Chapter 6

The text explores how the cultural dimension of language teaching has developed throughout history and what we can learn from it today. Intercultural competencies has been long underway from “beyond literary education” in the 19th century, culture teaching of the 1960s, and finally the merging of language pedagogy and culture pedagogy into intercultural competence in the 1990s. A more holistic view on language learning were adopted where the development of the language learner as a whole and in symbiose with language acquisition and use. The national focus in culture pedagogy have moved towards a more international and transnational approach as the world experienced more globalisation.

The content and aims of the 1880s-1970s were: Realienkunde: simple knowledge of realia or facts about a country, Landeskunde: insight into a country’s geography, history and society, Kulturkunde: knowledge of national culture (literature, arts, etc.) & Wessenkunde: knowledge of national mentality or psychology.

In the 1970s Landeskunde became cultural studies with interdisciplinary and critical approaches to culture. New types of texts, other than literary, emerged: Authentic texts; non-fiction texts of various kinds (newspapers, magazines or texts from everyday life, menus, signs, tickets etc). Theme-based language teaching began to develop, where content was built around a theme illustrated with the aid of various genre-texts.

In the 1980s the anthropological concept of culture began with an interpretive and hermeneutical (the area of study that analyses and explains written texts) approach to the analysis of culture, hence finding the origin and creations of culture. The visual aspect of video created a greater opportunity to work with concrete, visible aspects of language, culture and society.

In the 1990s Intercultural learning and culture learning became an integral part of language learning. Michael Byram created the model of intercultural competence and emphasis was now put on knowledge to interpret and understand texts and cultural events; and fieldwork and interacting with people from the foreign culture and critical cultural awareness.

The modernist view has emphasis on the content dimension with knowledge of cultural and social conditions in the target language. The Postmodern view emphasizes learning processes and the raising of cultural awareness. Today the focus is on diversity in the individual student’s qualifications and life experiences, their attitudes and emotions, their ability to understand and deal with ”the other”, their ability to mediate between various languages and various cultural contexts.

What can we learn from the history of teaching culture in language subjects? For me it lays the foundation of my didactics and reflections on my own teaching. If I know how language teaching and intercultural competencies have developed I can be aware of the pitfalls of falling into old habits, doing what I was thought when I was in school, and truly revolutionize my own practice. With interculturality as a way for the student to create and explore their own identity and creating awareness and compassion for other through their own channel or world view. History have brought us closer to the individual and away from the monotone one-way teaching of the past. As we continue to learn we find out how little we actually do, and only through discovery and meeting the diverse and complex "others", can we only begin to grasp interculturality.

By honouring what comes before, and through historical analysis we can see how far we have come and maybe give form to future culture teaching. The aim is to further an awareness of mulitilingual and multicultural (or transcultural) societies and to try to develop a sense of world citizenship. The teachers’ awareness of their role as intercultural educators becomes even more important.

As an introduction the text gives a good overview for people diving into the subject for the first time.