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June 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 3

ISSN 1755-9715

Education For Multi- And Inter- Cultural Communication in Major EFL Programs In Cuban Universitiesː Curriculum Design

Jorge Luis Rodriguez Morell holds a PhD. He is a full time professor of the Department of Foreign Languages at the University of Matanzas, Cuba. He teaches Translation and Interpreting and History and Culture of the English speaking countries. He is interested in translation studies, metacognition and multi and intercultural studies. He has published numerous articles and two books on these related areas. Email: rodriguezmorell137@gmail.com

 

Abstract

The paper deals with the need to systematize the concept of Education for Multi and Intercultural Communication at the EFL Major Programs in non-English speaking countries, based on the need of future graduates to deal with the reality of cultural diversity lying behind the extended international use of the English language worldwide. To this is added the international and universal cognitive and cultural references any language necessarily deals with. The theoretical and methodological foundations for such a curricular design effort are discussed based on the combination of philosophical, anthropological, sociological, psychological, pedagogical and didactic grounds. An analysis is made of the necessary dimensions to be included in any curricular attempt to face this challenge in any level of study, mainly in Higher Education. Lastly, a summarized presentation of a multi and intercultural EFL Major Program curricular design for the University of Matanzas, Cuba is sketched. A brief evaluation of the results of the ongoing application of this design since 2000 is also provided.

 

Introduction

Since the English Language is an umbrella-like communication tool under which numerous diverse cultures and identities flourish, it is necessary to provide the teaching-learning process of EFL Major Programs at the Higher Education level in non-English speaking societies, with a broad cultural perspective that allows for the inclusion and observance of such a diversity. This necessity stems from the professional need of future EFL university graduates (as prospective language instructors, translators and interpreters or linguistic or literary researchers), to master important discourse and referential clues deeply rooted to the cultural background of the language of specialization, which are essential for oral and written text and discourse processing and response. 

A lot has been written about this topic (McCaughley, 2918; Hadidi, 2017; Al-Rubaie’I, 2016; Darren Millar, 2014; Lado, 2001, Virishaguin and Kastamarov, 1973).  Although the predominant tendency in the existing literature so far is that of considering cultural issues related to language teaching and learning and multi & intercultural communication as such, merely as a set of recordable references to history, traditions, ways of life, religion, geographical knowledge, interaction strategies and the like. Being also part of the truth of the matter, this mere referential approach, at the same time, do not exhaust the full scope and the needed treatment of the cultural and intercultural perspective in the EFL Major Programs teaching-learning process.

Based on the previous problem-situation, the present paper aims at considering a systematized conception of education for multi and intercultural communication to be introduced at the EFL major programs in Cuban universities, starting from its experience at the University of Matanzas (2000-2019). The analysis covers the necessary theoretical and methodological framework for the treatment of the theme, starting by the definition of the full-fledged system of four dimensions for this kind of education through the teaching-learning process of English as a foreign language. The study also deals with the criteria for mapping out the multicultural and intercultural contents to be selected and included in the curriculum of the EFL Major Programs in Cuban Higher Education. The paper finally presents the basic chart for such a curriculum design  according to an ongoing experience being developed at the University of Matanzas, Republic of Cuba since 2000.

 

Theoretical and methodological foundationsː Dimensions of Education for Multi and Intercultural Communication and the criteria for cultural mapping at the EFL Major Programs in Cuban Higher Educationː

In order to place things in a fairly clear perspective from an anthropological point of view (Hall, and Tragger,1953; Hall, 1959, 1990, 1995; Rodríguez, 2016), it is necessary to start by stating a simple truth that is, however, many times, ignored. Any and every process of foreign language teaching and learning is forcefully, also an intercultural communication process in itself. In this connection, four possible interactional and intercultural environments are possible in the teacher-learner relationship. 1) When both, instructor and students are originally non-English speaking individuals who belong to the same alternative liguo-cultural, regional or national context, and who interact upon and through the English language as a main body of knowledge that belongs to a cultural setting equally alien to both of the main protagonists of the process. 2) When the instructor is originally a non-English speaking individual who interculturally interacts upon and through (while teaching the foreign language) with a group of multicultural students originally coming from diverse linguo-cultural-and many times also diverse social, geographical, regional or national- settings. 3) When the instructor is a non-English speaking individual who interculturally interacts upon and through the foreign language with a group of students who homogeneously belong to another linguo-cultural setting that is not English nor the mother tongue and culture of the instructor. And 4)ː when the instructor is from an English-speaking linguo-cultural background and interacts upon and through his own mother tongue with a group of students for whom English is a foreign language with diverse foreign cultural backgrounds. In this last case, the diverse options from 1, 2, 3 and 4 above can also be diversified for the linguo-cultural composition of the students, which adds even more complexity and sub-variants to this last case.

Therefore, as stated above, one first dimension of multi and intercultural communication in the EFL teaching and learning process is determined by the different possible combinations in the linguo-cultural background of the actors who teach and learn the language. To this adds, at the same time, a whole diversity of regional variants of English, with different pronunciation, intonation, pitch, rhythm and in some cases lexicon and even syntactic construction and discourse style variations for both the oral and the written language.

A second dimension of multi and intercultural communication that is ever present in the EFL teaching-learning process are the English-speaking countries diverse sociocultural and idiosyncratic worlds that lie behind the language system itself. These are incorporated into discourse practices (in any kind of written text or oral utterance) in the form or direct or indirect references, on the assumption that the interlocutor knows beforehand what the reference is all about, if she or he is called to understand the message correctly. An example I regularly prefer to quote to my students in order to make them aware of this fact is the communicative situation in which a Viet-Nam war veteran demonstration was taking place in front of the White House a number of years ago, in demand for the fulfillment of presumably delayed health-care payments and the like. Suddenly one wheel-chaired demonstrator hanging a protest sign is addressed by a passing-by journalist who was covering the incidentː "Why are you demonstrating, Sir"? Asks the reporter, to which the alluded individual respondsː "Because I want my honors now, not at Arlington!" Evidently, it is necessary for the non-American learner (or to anyone not acquainted enough with US life and traditions), to have a previous cultural knowledge of the fact the Arlington is the National Memorial Cemetery of the US Armed Forces. This previous knowledge is critical to deeply understand that what the demonstrator wanted to say wasː "I want to be properly taken care of while I am alive, and not so much formally in a posthumous symbolic ceremony when I die."

This same situation is also required in the opposite direction, since in many other instances, the EFL majoring students are acquainted enough with at least a part of the English-speaking world cultural background. However, they are unable or have serious communicative difficulties while trying to express their own social, regional or national identity references and cultural background in English, mostly because they have never ( or have very poorly) been treated before, as part of the EFL integrated practice sessions. Thus, while in these situations, students feel they lack vocabulary, sound equivalences, or enough pragmatic resources in the foreign language to solve the conceptual asymmetry between the two cultural worlds at stake.

A third dimension of the multi and intercultural systematized training EFL Majoring students so much need is at least a propaedeutic background knowledge on the diverse topics of interest liable to be treated in the foreign (as in any other language) discourse practice. This challenge results in the most difficult aspect to be satisfied in the EFL curriculum design and teaching-learning process. Although a number of suggestions on the matter have historically been advanced by many authors in the form of lists of  essentials (Lado, 2001), the critical point stems when deciding what elements to select for the list and which ones to leave out and under what criteria to do both choices. Without advancing recipes that would not point to a solution of the treatment of this issue, one of the most effective platforms might be to assume this problem based on broad and flexible classification criteria.  This may allow for proportional and progressive inclusion of related and diverse topics in the EFL curriculum while, at the same time, providing a guiding principle of balance among the different areas of referential knowledge. The contribution of five authors has helped a lot in the settlement of such an issue, at least in the experience of the Major Program in English with a Second Foreign Language at the School of Languages, University of Matanzas, Cuba. They areː 1)  the work of the American cultural anthropologist Eduard Thomas Hall and 2) the linguist George Tragger (Hall and Tragger 1953; Hall, 1989, 1990, 1995). 3) The contribution of the Classical Literatures professor Walter Temelini from the University of Windsor and the Canadian Center for Multicultural Development and Documentation (CCMDD, 1999). 4) The work of a contemporary Cuban philosopher and professor at the University of Matanzas,  Gerardo Ramos Serpa (1996), and 5) the Historical-Cultural Approach, developed by the Bielo-Russian psychologist and pedagogue Lev Semionovich Vigotsky (1992, 1995, 1996).   

Hall, working together with the linguist George Tragger managed to design a multi-entry map of culture (1953), based on the combinations of systems of primary messages (interaction, association, subsistence, bi sexuality, territoriality, temporality, learning, play, defense and exploitation),   on the one hand, with the definition of three essential aspects of culture, on the other (informal, formal and technical). This map provides a usable source of guidance when designing an EFL multi and intercultural curriculum in terms of its all-around inclusive perspective, thus counting with references for balancing the selection of themes alternatively and progressively in the foreign language teaching learning process. The mapping is also useful as an integral perspective of culture reference guide to provide a systematized sociolinguistic to the teaching-learning process, and to count on an anthropologically communicative platform for more detailed treatment of integrated language practice, such as the issues of social jargons and register, among others. 

Professor Temelini (1999), by his side, developed a concept of humanist multiculturalism aimed at revealing the centrality of the human dimension and its commonality together with and beyond the recognition of differences and asymmetries among cultures. Temelini’s contribution has provided part of the philosophical and pedagogical grounds for what has been coined in our Cuban experience as Holistic, Humanist and Transformational Multi and Intercultural Education Through the Teaching-Learning Process of Foreign Languages and Literatures (Rodriguez, 2016).

Professor Ramos (1996), in turn, has also developed a more updated philosophical perspective on the forms of human activity (economic-productive, political, cognitive, aesthetic, religious), upon which cultural background to consider the liguo-communicative expression of these various forms of activity in any language to be learned.

Lastly, Vigotsky (1992, 1995, 1996) in his time and transcendental to the present, as part of his Historical-Cultural Approach, developed the concept of Proximal Development Zone. This is the space mediating between what the student can achieve by his own effort and what he may achieve only with the interactive and dialogical assistance of the professor and his various classmates. Thus, the necessary presence and help of a context of socialized learning diversity that allows for the progressive assimilation of the foreign language knowledge and abilities by the learner from the external and sociocultural field of interaction into the internal and mental space of the learner. The concept of intercultural communication in language learning is also particularly dear to this approach.

The multi and intercultural curriculum design experience being progressively developed and applied at the EFL Major with a Second Foreign Language Program since 2000, as stated above, has been grounded on the selective integration of the various conceptions previously explained 

Lastly, a fourth dimension that needs to be present as part of the EFL systematized multi and intercultural renewal is the role of non-verbal clues and body language in the communication process (Hall, 1990, 1995). In this connection, the role of anthropological sub-branches in intercultural communication such as occulesics (the asymmetrical value of visual contact in intercultural communication between Anglophones and Latins, for example), chronemics (the asymmetrical value of time treatment between and among different cultures), proxemics (the symbolic different perception of interactional space in communication between speakers from different languages and cultures). The last two components of this series to be taken into account are  cinesics (the diverse value attached to body motion and gestures in communication among and between diverse cultural backgrounds), and haptics ( the asymmetrical interpretation of physical contact while communicating, among and between members of diverse English-speaking and non-English-speaking sociocultural, regional and national backgrounds).

Central to a needed balance in curricular design for EFL Majoring Programs in Higher Education is the idea of awareness of otherness both in the language itself and beyond it, towards all artistic manifestations (literature, films, music and so on) and other sociocultural interactive practices, such as the educational system, political setup, social institutions and the like. Generally speaking, another good definition of the work to be done at the curriculum design level would be to foster a renewed multi and intercultural communication perspective for the already existing definition of communicative competence (Hymes, Swain and Canale, et. al. 2003, et. al.) in all its component dimensions (linguistic, sociolinguistic, pragmatic and strategic). A similar multi and intercultural curriculum renewal could also be based on the concept of cognitive, communicative and sociocultural competence (Romeu, 2004) as mostly developed by SFL (Spanish as a Foreign Language) instructors in Cuban academia, which is an updated and more integrating definition of the concept of communicative competence already given by its original authors .

 

A UM/Cuban ongoing curriculum design experience of education for Multi- and Intercultural Communication at the EFL Major Programs

The Integrated English Practice syllabus within the curriculum of the EFL Major Program at the University of Matanzas, Cuba, is organized into four academic year-long courses, distributed among the subjects Preparatory English, and English Language I, II and III, which spread along the preparatory, freshman, sophomore and junior years of the undergraduate studies, respectively. Before 2000, the contents of the dimensions already detailed in the first section of the present paper were treated in a fragmented, non-systematized and randomly selected way. However, with the application of the concepts of Education for Multi and Intercultural Communication at the EFL Major Programs, the curricular design situation changed progressively. Therefore, a new Multi and Intercultural Approach to curricular design was introduced in each academic echelon, as summarized in the following chartsː

Download table below

 

Conclusions

Education for Multi- and Intercultural Communication is a necessity that calls for better organization and systematization at the curriculum design level in EFL Major Programs throughout the world. This requirement is needed to provide future graduates with an adequate communicative competence while processing the language of study in their various cultural backgrounds. However, efforts in this connection have proved to be insufficient so far.  

A full-fledged attempt to cope with the needs of Education for Multi and Intercultural Communication and the EFL Major Programs should start be clearly defining the concept and dimensions of multi and intercultural communication through foreign language treatment and not limit this scope to the understanding of these same concepts in other areas of knowledge. That is why a flexible and at the same time precise theoretical and methodological foundation is needed to sustain such an endeavor.

The experience of Education for Multi and Intercultural Communication at the EFL Major Program in the curriculum design of University of Matanzas, Cuba presents and original and so far ongoing practice that harmoniously combines philosophical sociological, anthropological and pedagogical foundations, as integrated from various international and national sources and schools, which makes it diverse in itself. Diversity, however integrates functionally into four dimensions without falling into an eclectic perspective.

With almost twenty years of continuous application, this curricular experience has proved to be efficient enough, quite beyond the essential level of success, because it has also been combined with didactic methods, means and procedures that comply and correspond the curricular design achieved. The didactic setup of this experience, as based on the principles of metacognition for the self-regulation of the intercultural communication learning process on the part of the students themselves will be, however, the topic of the following article inn this same series.

 

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