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October 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

Developing Intercultural Communicative Competences With Young Learners? Yes, Of Course

Eva Reid is an associate professor at the Department of Language Pedagogy and Intercultural Studies at the Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra. She is professionally interested in three areas of methodology of teaching English as a foreign language: intercultural communicative competences, teaching pronunciation and teaching English to gifted pupils. She has written numerous articles, conference papers, book chapters, two monographs and co-written 4 sets of English language textbooks for primary school pupils. She enjoys working with teacher trainees and in-service teachers of English language. E-mail:



It is often believed that young learners do not need to develop intercultural communicative competences for various reasons, such as that they are too young, it is too early in their foreign language learning, their English is not good enough, etc. Based on many resources and my own research, I claim that even very young learners need to be presented with aspects of intercultural communication, which are of course adjusted to their age and level of English. This article will explain and give examples of suitable cases and activities for development of intercultural communicative competences of young learners.


Intercultural communicative competences

Nowadays, intercultural communicative competences are with no doubt considered as a very important part of foreign language education. It started with changes in the 1970’s in language teaching and learning, which has undergone a ‘cultural turn’ with the emergence of the ‘communicative approach’ and ‘communicative language teaching’, which was before largely neglected (Byram, Holmes, Savvides, 2013). Communicative language teaching should develop communicative competence, which includes the ability to use language in socially appropriate ways. Social appropriateness means that learners gain sociolinguistic and pragmatic competences, and these are culturally bound. Social contexts require consideration of the ways people from different cultures think and behave, and how this reflects in communication. This need for appropriate social communication in a foreign language emerged to a combination of ‘communicative competence’ and ‘intercultural competence’, which is the ‘intercultural communicative competence’. Language carries values and meanings of a culture, and language cannot be used without carrying the meaning even in the most sterile environment of foreign language classes (Byram, 1989). CEFR (2018) states that learners should not only acquire a foreign language, but also skills to use language that it would satisfy their communicative needs in another country, exchange information with people from different cultures and achieve wider and deeper understanding of ways of life in different cultures. In other words, culture cannot be withdrawn from foreign language teaching, because it includes appropriate use of language in different situations with representatives of different cultures. Learning just vocabulary and grammar of a language does not provide learners with competences to use the language appropriately in a social context. Many people have experienced scenarios when they came to a foreign country (after learning a foreign language for many years) and in practice their ability to communicate was not 100% satisfactory and they encountered awkward situations or misunderstandings. They were able to use grammatically correct language, which may not have been always socially appropriate. This was the result of an inadequate foreign language education. However modern foreign language education has the ambition to prepare their learners to be able to communicate appropriately in every situation with representatives of different cultures, to have intercultural communicative competences.

Most teachers these days are aware of the need to include culture to their foreign language lessons. However, the majority of teachers treat culture as an extra fifth skill in addition to teaching speaking, writing, listening and reading (Byram, 1989, Reid, 2014). Culture is not the additional fifth skill and it needs to be intergrated in all communicative activities (understanding, speaking and writing). In understanding (reading and listening), learners need to be able to interpret symbols of other cultures and relate them to their own. Plus, understanding language with different accents is also important in listening. In writing, awareness of cultural norms of what is right and wrong is vital. Speaking is the most obvious in communication, where learners can cause misunderstanding or misinterpretation if they are not knowledgeable enough of social appropriateness of the language use.

The next question is when to start with including cultural aspects. In my own research findings, I realised that most teachers believe that culture should be taught in higher levels of proficiency. They believe that it is too early to teach young learners cultural aspects at the beginning of their foreign language learning, and if to teach culture, then only traditions around celebrations such as Christmas or Easter (Reid, 2014). Based on many studies including mine, I claim that cultural aspects need to be taught right from the beginning of foreign language education and at every age level, which need to be of course carefully considered and adjusted to the age and proficiency level.


Contents of teaching/developing intercultural communicative competences

Surely, most people can appreciate the above mentioned reasons why to include culture in all communicative activities. What actually are these cultural aspects that should be included in foreign language teaching? CEFR (2001) emphasised the importance of intercultural teaching and learning, but did not provide any specific guidance for teachers how and what to do. Based on various models and information in CEFR, I created a guidance model for teachers including contents, teaching techniques and materials (Reid, 2014, 2015). For socially appropriate language, sociolinguistic and pragmatic competences are needed. These include greetings, use of exclamations, politeness phrases, idioms, register, dialects, accents, advising, persuading, socialising, etc. Non-verbal communication is also very important for successful communication and it includes gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, body contact, extra linguistic speech sounds (for silence, approval, disapproval, disgust), prosodic qualities (loudness, pitch). Certainly, socio-cultural knowledge is not only motivational, but also vital for successful communication. It includes aspects of everyday living (food, meal times, table manners, traditions), living conditions, interpersonal relations (class structure, family structure, relations between sexes, generations), values, beliefs, attitudes, social conventions (punctuality, dress code, present giving etiquette), festivals, traditions, celebrations, etc. Cultural aspects of a foreign language should be taught in comparison with one’s own cultural norms and habits, so learners would become aware of diversity of cultures.

Modern English language textbooks include cultural aspects developing sociolinguistic and pragmatic competences and socio-cultural knowledge, however non-verbal competences do not receive enough attention. With the method of content analysis, we have compared (Reid, Kovacikova, 2017) three English language textbooks for primary schools (A1) considering their contents for development of intercultural communicative competences. These books were compared: Family and Friends by Oxford University Press (2014), English Adventure by Pearson Longman (2005) and Cool English School by Taktik Košice (2015). All textbooks included sociolinguistic competences, with Cool English School and Family and Friends having the greatest variety. Cool English School had the best elaborated pragmatic competences including interaction patterns, short answers, phrases for encouragement, idioms (touch wood, fingers crossed). Non-verbal competences were also the best developed by Cool English school (onomatopoeia on animal sounds, exclamations). Family and Friends included onomatopoeia for animals, but these are not common species in Slovakia (tiger, snake, parrot) and their teaching is inappropriate especially when pupils do not know these sounds for these animals in the Slovak language. Surprising was the lack of socio-cultural knowledge in Family and Friends and in English Adventure. Cool English School offered rich information on food, housing, school uniforms, Halloween, Christmas, Easter, greetings cards. Concluding the analysis, the Cool English School was the most elaborated one and suitable for Slovak pupils. Family and Friends also included a lot of cultural teaching, but it was too general focusing on learners from many countries. English Adventure was the least suitable for development of intercultural communicative competences.

Below are some examples of suitable cultural teaching for young learners. Several examples are complemented with pictures from the Cool English School (Reid et al, 2015, 2017) textbook for third and fourth grades of primary school.

From the sociolinguistic and pragmatic competences examples from the A1 level of the use ‘please’ and ‘hello’ are given. The word ‘please’ is one of the first words to be taught at any age level. It can be often seen how people misuse the word ‘please’. They translate and use it the same way as in their own language. For example, Slovaks use ‘please’ (prosím) as a response to ‘thank you’, which is wrong in English and ‘you’re welcome’ should be used. ‘Please’ is also inappropriately used instead of ‘here you are’ when giving something to somebody. As the word ‘please’ is among basic vocabulary at the A1 level, its use needs to be taught properly right from the beginning and not to be re-taught at later stages of proficiency. Another example of basic vocabulary used in social contexts are greetings. I have experienced many times that learners use greetings the same way as in Slovak. They use the formal translation of a formal greeting ‘good day’ (dobrý deň), which is a very formal form of greeting hardly ever used in the English language. Also the greeting of ‘hello’ (ahoj) can be misused. It is used by Slovak learners like it would be in Slovak, not only upon arrival but also for departure instead of ‘good bye’. Another example is the use of ‘excuse me’ and ‘sorry’, which is expressed in Slovak by one word (prepáč) and learners need to acquire the correct use of these expressions.

Sociolinguistic and pragmatic competences of greetings and apologising (Reid at al., 2015, p. 17; 2017, p. 18)

From the non-verbal competence, e.g. gestures for good luck can be taught. Children can be taught that the Slovak ‘holding thumbs’ is ‘crossed fingers’ in English, that gestures are not universal and have different meanings in different cultures. Onomatopoeia, extra-linguistic speech sounds expressing likeness, disgust, disapproval are often considered as universal, however they are culturally bound. Extra-linguistic speech sounds for liking food and drink is ‘yummy’ (mňam) and for disgust of food and drink is ‘yuck’ (fuj). Some more examples are exclamations for silence ‘shush’ (pst), attracting somebody’s attention ‘oi’ (hej), onomatopoeia for animal sounds of dogs ‘woof’ (hav), or frogs ‘croak’ (kvak).

Gestures for good luck and extra-linguistic speech sounds for likeness and disgust (Reid et al., 2015, p. 39, 48)

From socio-cultural knowledge, Christmas and Easter traditions are the most popular to teach, but also interesting facts about houses (typical brick house construction, rows of terrace houses, separate taps for cold and hot water), school uniforms (compulsory school uniforms for primary and secondary education), currencies (different money in different countries), food (fish and chips, Sunday roast, pies) and drinks (black tea with milk) can be very motivating for learners.

Socio-cultural knowledge of currencies and schools (Reid et al., 2015, p. 84, p. 101)


All the above mentioned examples which were complemented by extracts from the textbooks Cool English School are just some examples of how cultural aspects can be taught to young learners. There are many more oportunities of what to include to English language lessons at this early stage. Cultural aspects should be included in every topic and integrated in the communicative activities. Cultural teaching can be enriched with authentic materials (photographs, magazines, product labels, maps, brochures, restaurant menus, toys, videos, songs, books, etc.), which bring more reality to the classroom (Reid, 2014). Authentic materials are natural carriers of culture, however they need to be carefully chosen to be appropriate for age and proficiency, comprehensible and interesting. By including culture to English language classes from very early age can motivate pupils to learn English and they see that it is not a sterile subject full of new words and rules, but they can see that it is a means of communication with interesting facts and information. Secondly, when pupils start acquiring correct use of language already from the beginning of their English language learning, then there is a much greater chance to avoid misunderstanding and embarassing situations in their future.

The paper includes research results gained as a part of a project KEGA 020UKF-4/2020 Designing a textbook and multimedia support for courses developing intercultural communicative competence in English language with regard to the needs of tourism industry.



Byram, M. (1989) Cultural studies in foreign language education. Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters.

Byram, M., Holmes, P., Savvies, N. (2013) Intercultural communicative competence in foreign language education: questions of theory, practice and research. Language Learning Journal. 43(3), pp 251-253.

CEFR. (2018) Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Cambridge University Press. [online]. Available from: [Assessed 13 July 2020].

Reid, E. (2014) Intercultural Aspects in Teaching English at Primary Schools. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Reid, E. (2014) Authentic Materials in Developing Intercultural Communicative Competences. Language, Literature and Culture in Education 2014: The International Conference on Language. Nitra: SlovakEdu.

Reid, E. (2015) Techniques Developing Intercultural Communicative Competences in English Language Lessons. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences: WCLTA. 186, pp 939-943.

Reid, E. et al. (2015) Cool English School. Pupil’s Book. Kosice: Taktik.

Reid, E. et al. (2017) Cool English School 4. Pupil’s Book. Košice : Taktik.

Simmons, N. (2014) Family and Friends. Oxford : Oxford University Press.Worrall, A. (2005) English Adventure. Harlow, Pearson Education Limited


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Tagged  Various Articles 
  • Useful Techniques for Developing Communicative Competence at the Primary Level
    Klaudia Pauliková, Slovakia

  • Developing Intercultural Communicative Competences With Young Learners? Yes, Of Course
    Eva Reid, Slovakia