Book Review: Intercultural Communicative Competence in English Language Teaching in Polish State Colleges

The book entitled “Intercultural Communicative Competence in English Language Teaching in Polish State Colleges” was written by Piotr Romanowski. It constitutes seven chapters: the first three chapters present the theoretical background of culture, communication and intercultural communicative competence (ICC); the fourth and fifth chapters deal with the approaches and techniques of developing ICC; and the last two chapters show the results of the empirical studies carried out in Polish State Colleges. The ’Introduction’ explains the book’s focus and organization, and briefly describes each chapter.

The first chapter of the book is entitled ‘Culture and Communication in the Light of Intercultural Studies’ and it first discusses the history of intercultural communication (IC). The author traces the origins of IC back to the 5th century BC to Herodotus and describes its development after the Second World War in the USA. And then he compares and contrasts the factors and reasons why IC could develop in the USA, but could not in Eastern and Central Europe. We learn how anthropology, sociology and pragmatics helped the development of IC, while reading about the most important scholars, organizations and publications of the field. Research studies and the teaching of IC started in the 1990s in Poland, the details of which are presented in the chapter. After that the concept of culture is discussed from different perspectives; and the Whorf/Sapir hypothesis, and the definitions of such scholars as Clyde Kluckhohn and Florence Strodtbeck, Deborah Peck, Geert Hofstede, H. Douglas Brown, Patrick Moran, and William B. Gudykunst are described in detail. Then the impact of culture on IC is shown by introducing the ideas of Jerzy Mikułowski-Pomorski, Laray M. Barna, William B. Gudykunst and Young Y. Kim, Claire Kramsch, and Anna Lubecka. At the end of the chapter Geert Hofstede’s classification of cultural values and Edward T. Hall’s concepts of high- versus low-context cultures and polychronic versus monochronic time orientations are described in detail.

9781443873130Chapter Two, entitled ‘Language and Intercultural Communication’ first defines language as a basic means of interpersonal communication by discussing the definitions of pre-interculturalist scholars, such as Edward Sapir, Bernard Bloch, George L. Trager, Edward T. Hall, and Noam Chomsky. The author concludes this discussion by stating that language was designed for the purpose of communication, and IC researchers always study language usage and its functions. Then he reviews the models of communication and discusses the ideas of the two main schools in the study of communication. One of them views communication as the transmission of messages, and the other sees it as the production and exchange of meanings. After that the author describes how English became the language of global communication in all fields of our lives in the past fifty years. Finally, the chapter closes with emphasizing the role of English as the global lingua franca and its crucial importance in intercultural communication.

‘From Linguistic Competence to Intercultural Communicative Competence’ is the title of the third chapter and it starts with briefly describing how the concepts and types of competence varied between the 1960s and 2000. Then it continues with discussing the evolutionary stages of competences from the viewpoint of language teaching methodology. First, the concept of linguistic competence is introduced based on the theories of Noam Chomsky, Ferdinand de Saussure, and John Lyons. Then sociolinguistic competence is described with the help of Dell Hymes’ ideas, leading to the discussion of Michael Canale’s model containing four sub-competences: grammatical, sociolinguistic, discourse and strategic competences. The next part of the chapter deals with the theories of communicative competence defined by the models of Brian H. Spitzberg, Joan Rubin, James McCroskey, Daniel Canary and Michael Cody, and Wilga Marie Rivers. After that ICC and its components are discussed. The author states that ICC has been the focus of several studies since the 1960s, and ICC involves the knowledge, motivation, and skills that enable us to communicate effectively and appropriately with people from different cultures. Since then research studies have been carried out by Brent D. Ruben, Mitchell R. Hammer, William B. Gudykunst and Richard L. Wiseman, Stella Ting-Toomey, Brian H. Spitzberg, Young Y. Kim, and M. J. Collier by applying different approaches to ICC. Finally, the chapter describes in detail the stages of Milton J. Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity, and the author finishes this section by concluding that intercultural sensitivity is the key variable accounting for success in IC.

Chapter Four – ‘Intercultural Approach in Language Education’ – highlights the role of IC in learning and teaching foreign languages by discussing three approaches, namely ethnographic, experiential, and comparative. In language learning the ethnographic approach concentrates on the observation and description of the behaviours of people from a given culture, and it helps to develop the learners’ mediating competences. On the other hand, during experiential learning students themselves contribute to their own language learning as they are actively involved in the process; they gain immediate personal experiences of language, communication and culture. The comparative approach helps learning by urging students to make comparisons between the target culture and their own. The author closes the chapter by describing some of the opportunities, challenges and difficulties of developing ICC in the classroom and concludes by stressing the importance of developing ICC in the foreign language classroom, because it offers an opportunity to prepare students for their future intercultural encounters.

The fifth chapter is entitled ‘Techniques for Developing Intercultural Communicative Competence’ and describes five techniques (simulation games, case studies, critical incidents, role plays, and culture assimilators) to help students acquire intercultural skills in an active and authentic way. Simulation games allow students to engage in genuine communication while they are learning a foreign language. They can also try out new behaviours in the safe environment of the classroom; and with the help of the simulated life-like problems they can develop their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills as well. The case study technique helps students to develop their cognitive skills, such as analysis and decision making. They learn to identify and solve problems deriving from intercultural differences, and make decisions while paying attention to different cultural perspectives and their consequences. The aim of critical incidents is to confront students with difficult problems or conflict situations they may come across in IC in order to increase their understanding of cultural diversity. Role plays help students to build interpersonal skills. The culture assimilator (also called intercultural sensitizer) uses a series of scenarios containing some elements of cultural clash or misunderstanding in order to prepare students to interact effectively with people from different cultures. The chapter not only describes each of the techniques, but also gives example exercises.

In Chapter Six, ‘Investigating the Intercultural Communicative Competence of Polish Students of English’, the author focuses on the context, objectives and methodology of the empirical research he carried out at Polish State Colleges. First, he describes the IC course, which aims at developing full-time English major students’ ICC in the last (third) year of their studies. The course contains 30 contact hours and a wide range of topics, starting with a short historical overview, followed by the most fundamental concepts in IC. Then students learn about cultural diversity, how to develop an ethnorelative attitude, the role of stereotypes, the concepts of multiculturalism, the process of communication and its basic models, the notion of sociolect and idiolect, the verbal and non-verbal components of IC, and political correctness. In order to make the course more efficient the lectures are interactive, and the theoretical approaches are supplemented with case studies and simulation games. After the detailed description of the course, the aims of the research study are defined. One of the aims was to measure the level of ICC of the students of English Philology at four Polish Colleges before and after attending the IC course offered at the institutions. The other goal was to create a cultural profile of the Polish intercultural communicator, who is a student of English. The empirical research was inspired by the research studies into intercultural sensitivity conducted by Milton J. Bennett, Guo-Ming Chen and William J. Starosta, and Wolfgang Fritz and Antje Moellenberg, and the author designed a tool to measure intercultural sensitivity. The most often applied research methods of IC were used, namely self-reflection, participant observation, qualitative interviews and questionnaires. Then the questionnaire used in the study and the research design are presented in detail. At the end of the chapter the author gives a detailed description of the four Polish institutions where the study was conducted, and pays special attention to the multicultural character of the towns.

The last chapter, entitled ‘Findings of the Investigation’ describes the outcomes of the research. At the four institutions altogether 150 students participated in the study and the results proved that before taking part in the IC course the participants highly respected the values and opinions of people from other cultures, but they needed to focus on improving their openness and to learn how to use verbal and non-verbal cues effectively; their low level of confidence in intercultural encounters was also detected. After completing the IC course the findings showed that the students’ positive attitudes towards intercultural differences increased significantly, which proves that the participants improved their skills and became more open, friendly and sensitive towards strangers in intercultural encounters; also their understanding and respect of otherness increased. Furthermore, they could adapt their behaviour more easily and effectively, their confidence in communication grew stronger and their willingness to engage in intercultural interactions heightened significantly. As far as the culture-specific profile of the students is concerned the outcomes of the research proved that before participating in the IC course ethnocentrism was the characteristic feature of the Polish students, and they displayed denial, lack of interest and avoidance of intercultural encounters. At the interviews they also admitted lacking intercultural knowledge, skills and attitudes, which accounts for their fears, uncertainty, low self-confidence and high risk avoidance. However, after completing the IC course a shift to ethnorelativism, a positive change in intercultural sensitivity and self-confidence could be observed. The results of the course evaluation questionnaire revealed that all students found the IC course highly effective, they expressed positive opinions, and they became motivated to pursue their studies of IC further.

The ‘Conclusion’ summarizes the most important findings of the empirical research. The ‘Bibliography’ section closes the book by listing the used English and Polish scientific literature on seventeen pages.

EVALUATION

The book offers a theoretical overview of culture, communication, intercultural communicative competence and the development of ICC and the findings of the empirical studies carried out at four Polish State Colleges.

One of the major strengths of the book is that it contributes to the field of intercultural communication by providing a well-discussed and detailed theoretical background of IC and its development. It is an outstanding book, because the author included the works of Polish scholars, and several elements and examples of Polish language and culture. The book is a unique combination of theory, practice and research results. Also, the bibliography at the end of the book offers the reader ample opportunities to further explore the topic, which is another merit of the book. The tables and figures in the book not only help understanding the described details but also make the book look more attractive, interesting and enjoyable to read.

Besides the above-mentioned advantages, the book is useful for foreign language teachers, practitioners and educators of IC because they can find several approaches, techniques, and practical examples they can employ in their everyday teaching, and by adopting them they can raise their students’ motivation, make their classes more interesting and help their students’ to further develop their linguistic and intercultural competences.

The book is essential for scholars and researchers of linguistics interested in intercultural communicative competence development, because of its strong theoretical background providing several examples of scientific literature and the detailed description of the empirical research and its findings, which will inspire thinking, theorizing and action. As it is suggested in the book one aspect of further research can be to carry out the same research at other institutions in the world and compare the results; another angle can be to carry it out among students studying at other Faculties of higher education and compare the research findings.

In short, the book written by Piotr Romanowski is a worthwhile read and welcome addition to our body of knowledge on intercultural communicative competence and its development. At the same time it is an important contribution to the fast-evolving field of Intercultural Communication Studies. The book is of manageable size and scope, clearly worded, interesting, useful and opens new avenues for future research and study.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Tünde Bajzát is an associate professor at the Language Teaching Centre of Miskolc University, Hungary. She holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Pécs, Hungary. She has taken part in several national and international conferences in Hungary and abroad in Belgium, China, Finland, Italy, Lithuania, Malaysia, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea and the USA. She has published several articles and book reviews in international journals, conference booklets, and online in Hungary and worldwide. Her research interest includes: language use at the workplace, intercultural communication, developing intercultural competence and foreign language teaching, learning and acquisition.


Review originally published on LINGUIST List (28.4756)


To find out more about Intercultural Communicative Competence in English Language Teaching in Polish State Colleges and to purchase a copy, click here.

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