Are language and culture separable or inextricable?
The last few decades have witnessed profound changes in population mobility,
instant international communication and the ever-increasing frequency of intercultural
encounters. In response, languages education, as an inherently intercultural activity, has
been called upon to equip learners to deal with this new reality, heralding significant
changes to the field of language teaching. The most fundamental change is reflected in
the underlying goal of language learning, no longer defined primarily in terms of the
acquisition of communicative competence (CC) (1972) in a foreign language, but rather,
the development of intercultural communicative competence (ICC) (Byram, 1997). The
latter encompasses the skills, knowledge and attitudes that Giúp learners to communicate
effectively across languages and cultures and thus to become „interculturally competent
Despite widespread agreement that languages education should lead to the
development of interculturally competent speakers, there is lack of agreement about
how to achieve such a goal. This discrepancy between expected goals, and teaching
approaches and practices in place to achieve them, is reflected in the failure of both
theorists (i.e., linguists and applied linguists) and practitioners (i.e., teachers, teacher
trainers and curriculum designers) to traverse the theory/practice divide.
This is particularly evident in the Australian higher education (HE) context, where
curricular contents and objectives of even experienced university language teachers fail
to reflect the broader educational mission in everyday practices. This discrepancy
between „ends‟ and „means‟ requires further examination and, above all, the
identification of possible avenues that may bridge the seemingly unbridgeable chasm
between theory and practice in language and culture pedagogy.
In this investigation I have set out to address these two tasks by exploring the
complex landscape of language and culture pedagogy in both its theoretical and
practical dimensions. I conducted theoretical inquiry through critical review of three
interrelated areas of concern: current conceptualisations of the relationship between
language and culture; current conceptualisations and models of ICC; and the articulation
of these conceptualisations in practice. I complemented exploration of these three
interrelated areas of concern with development and implementation of four case studies
of curriculum innovation at an Australian university.
Thus, for this investigation I employed a qualitative, interpretative research design
underpinned by a critical, constructive and transformative stance toward language and
culture pedagogy as well as professional development in higher education. The case
studies, which included a Participatory Action Research (PAR) component, explored
the viability of curriculum innovation for the development of „critical languaculture
awareness‟ (CLcA) as an alternative to ICC. I use the term „languaculture’ to refer to
the language + culture mix that I advocate for language teaching. Qualitative data from
interviews, field notes from classroom participant and non-participant observations, as
well as classroom-work samples offered a holistic view of the teachers‟ curricular
innovations. I conducted thematic content analysis to analyse and interpret the collected
The four case studies of curricular innovation revealed several positive outcomes
and exemplars of good practice of language and culture pedagogy in HE. However, they
also revealed several limitations in the inherent structure of university language
programs and the overall organisational philosophy of Australian universities. These
limitations, together with a number of pedagogical variables, highlighted a pervasive
lack of coherence between theoretical concepts and the imperfect nature of the everyday
language classroom. This pervasive lack of coherence seemed to render curriculum
innovation for the development of ICC – and even CLcA as an alternative model – a
highly problematic task and thus further question the feasibility of such goals in
university language programs.
This context highlights the need to formalise the development of a languaculture
agenda that aims to address this lack of coherence in Australian HE language programs.
As such, the agenda I propose is underpinned by a curriculum development framework
that is driven by praxis – reflective practice informed by theory – to Giúp both theorists
and practitioners integrate a critical languaculture dimension within the curricula of
university language programs. Rather than serving as yet another prescriptive model,
this praxis-driven curriculum development framework serves as a pedagogic blueprint.
It includes a number of interrelated building blocks that both theorists and practitioners
should consider when engaging with processes of curriculum innovation for the
development of interculturally competent graduates.
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