Global cultures and identities: refocusing the aims of ELT in Asia through intercultural awareness
Innovating EFL Education in Asia.
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This paper joins the increasing body of research arguing that a move in focus is required for ELT in Asia, away from native English speakers (NES) models and ‘inner circle’ countries . This is based on current understanding of global Englishes and English used as a lingua franca (ELF). The particular focus of the discussion here will be the ‘cultural dimension’ of English use and teaching, and the crucial role this plays in understanding intercultural communication. While this cultural dimension to ELT has grown in importance in recent years, it is often associated with inner circle cultures, especially the US and the UK. A more dynamic view of culture than a simple language-nationality-culture correlation is needed to understand English used as a lingua franca for intercultural communication.
To contextualise the argument it will be linked to English use and ELT in the Thai setting, which whilst unique, shares many features with other expanding circle Asian regions. English in this environment is used to communicate locally and globally in a wide range of settings and with diverse participants. This leads to the suggestion that the needs of English users in Asia are those of multilingual and multicultural communicators. Therefore, it is necessary to move away from the predominance of grammar and vocabulary learning in ELT, and to incorporate the equally crucial skills and knowledge used in intercultural communication.
An approach to conceptualising these skills and this knowledge is intercultural awareness (ICA). ICA can be defined as a conscious understanding of the role culturally based forms, practices and frames of understanding have in intercultural communication, and an ability to put these conceptions into practice in a flexible and context specific manner in real time communication. This paper will offer a characterisation of ICA and provide suggestions, drawing on Thai classroom settings, of how this can be implemented in ELT. This will involve an exploration of local cultures, local ELT methodology and materials, local representations of other cultures, and experiences of intercultural communication, both face to face and virtually (on-line). The aims of such an approach to ELT should be for learners to develop identities as intercultural citizens, alongside their more established L1 identities. This constitutes an alternative to the NES model as the main goal for English users in Asia. Furthermore, users of English should view themselves as taking part in fluid, dynamic, global cultures, alongside local and regional cultures. Again this is an alternative to the current domination of inner circle cultures in ELT. Overall, ICA aims to equip learners for the needs of intercultural communication through English in Asia. The paper concludes with a call for further research into English use in Asia which offers empirical data documenting intercultural communication, and investigations of pedagogic approaches that are relevant to lingua franca English in Asia.
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