Linguistically and Culturally Appropriate Language Teaching


The following article is part of a series of articles examining the future of language learning in the Digital Decade. It is part of the Future Classroom Lab DIGI-LINGO project, a three-year initiative aimed at exploring the capabilities of digital environments to unlock the potential of language learning, develop new teaching guidelines for digital language learning, and design easily accessible methods for virtual language exchange.

Intercultural understanding or intercultural competence, terms that have been interchangeably used, is “a disposition and competence, and includes: knowledge and understanding; beliefs, values, and attitudes; intercultural, interpersonal and life skills; and engagement in positive action” (Rader, 2018 p. 24). Byram, Gribkova & Starkey (2002) described the components of intercultural competence as follows: attitudes referring mainly to curiosity and openness, “readiness to suspend any disbelief about other cultures and belief about one’s own” (Byram, Gribkova & Starkey, 2002, p.12). Knowledge about different social groups and communities and about its products and practices. Skills of comparison, interpreting, relating, discovery, interaction; and critical cultural awareness to evaluate on the basis of different criteria cultural perspectives, practices and products (Byram, Gribkova & Starkey, 2002). At this time, when the world is confronted with local and global issues in relation to migration, sustainability, climate change or water scarcity; cultural understanding plays a crucial role to foster the collaboration and communication needed across cultures (Rader, 2018) and develop inclusive citizenship among the young learners. Inclusive citizenship refers to the competences needed in order to function as a democratically and interculturally competent citizen (Council of Europe, 2016).

The need to be an informed, compassionate and engaged member in the local and global community is also visible in our classrooms, as Garcia (2009) mentioned, learners need to become global citizens and develop a international mindedness (Rader, 2018) as the classrooms are also becoming more and more linguistically and culturally diverse. Therefore, Rader (2018) claims that intercultural understanding needs to be strategically, intentionally and mindfully developed by every teacher, not only foreign language teachers, and across the whole curriculum (Rader, 2018). The European council (2016) also provides a framework to develop competences required for democratic culture and intercultural dialogue to foster inclusive citizenship among learners.

According to Byram, Gribkova & Starkey (2002), one of the main concerns among the teachers when teaching interculturality is the lack of knowledge about these cultures. Teachers wonder how they are going to teach a culture without previously having any exposure to it. Byram, Gribkova & Starkey (2002) emphasize that the goal of teaching intercultural dimension “is not the transmission of information about a foreign country” (p.14). According to the researchers, the intercultural dimension focuses on: helping learners to understand how intercultural interaction takes place; how social identities are part of all interaction; how their perceptions of other people and others people's perceptions of them influence the success of communication; how they can find out for themselves more about the people with whom they are communicating. (Byram, Gribkova & Starkey, 2002, p.14).

Therefore, teachers do not need to have extensive knowledge about the culture they want to talk about. Besides, it is nearly impossible to know everything about a culture since the diversity found within any social group is greater than imagined and additionally, identity as well as social beliefs and values and concepts that evolve and change. The teacher can give some information about the culture, but the main goal of the teacher is to design activities and classcontexts that help create a conversation among students. The objective of the teacher is hence, to create tasks that allow the learners to make a comparison with their own culture and perspective. When designing tasks, for instance, the teacher could put issues of poverty and social justice in the tasks to create meaningful context to work on the values, attitudes, skills, knowledge and critical understanding (Council of Europe, 2016) to develop inclusive citizenship among learners.

The first step to respond to the teacher’s concern mentioned by Byram, Gribkova & Starkey, (2002) and some of the challenges mentioned before regarding multiculturalism and multilingualism in CLIL classrooms (Gracia 2009; Coyle, 2015; Skinnari & Nikula, 2017, p.241; Coyle, 2018) could be to provide opportunities for teachers to develop intercultural competence, only then, teachers would be able to design and implement a culturally responsive curriculum and accompany students in the development of their personal intercultural competence (Rader, 2018) to create an inclusive classroom.

In order to create linguistically and culturally inclusive classrooms, a very important aspect is to be able to “really see” your students, valuing their cultural and linguistic identity would promote a “sense of belonging” in the group (Rader, 2018). Nevertheless, seeing the “other”, your students, and accompanying them in their development of intercultural competence may be challenging if you have not reflected on certain aspects yourself as a teacher. As Rader mentions “it is through understanding and valuing our own personal and cultural identity that we are able to recognise the value that personal and cultural identity holds for others as well” (Rader, 2018 p.).

The teacher should reflect on personal identity, for instance: “what are the cultures and languages that make me who I am? What beliefs and values do I hold and how were they formed? What is my personal story and what has been my life experience?” (Rader, 2018). Becoming aware of the value of your personal identity will help you as a teacher value, respect and honour your students’ identity. Besides, the better you “see” your students the more will you get to know yourself, as intercultural understanding involves a reciprocal process (Rader, 2018). It would also be crucial for teachers to reflect on the complexity of identity, the dichotomies between “me” and the “other” and the relationships between dominant and subordinate identities to become aware of the unequal power and avoid falling into stereotypes and internalize negative messages about the subordinate identities (Rader, 2018).

As you are involved in the reciprocal process of getting to know yourself and your students, it is vital that you reserve time to ask questions to your students and families to get to know who they are, and give them time to tell you who they really are. Otherwise, incorrect assumptions could be made, especially because there is an increasing number of “Third Culture Kids”, who are having different “cross cultural” experiences, growing in our classrooms. Rader (2018) defines Third Culture Kids as children who spend most of their developmental years outside of the culture of their parents as they do not live in the passport country or they have moved inside the country, for this reason, their identity is influenced by these cultures to varying degrees. A child who is living or has lived, has meaningfully interacted with two or more cultures for a significant period of time is defined as a Cross Cultural Kid (up to age 18) (Rader, 2018). The new cross cultural experiences have included new profiles to the Third Culture Kids we could find in our classrooms: “children from bi/multicultural homes, bi/multiracial homes/ children of immigrants, children of refugees, children of borderlands, children of minorities, international adoptees, educational cross cultural kids who go to school within a different cultural context than the traditional home culture or schools, and domestic cross cultural kids who have moved within subcultures within the child’s home country” (Rader, 2018).

Bearing this in mind, getting to know how your students and their families identify themselves becomes increasingly important to be able to understand the cultural differences in the classroom and work together, growing learner-teacher partnership (Coyle, 2018, p. 173). In addition to that, it is significant to provide students with opportunities to explore their identities as we also acknowledge all of their cultures and languages that make them who they are (Rader, 2018). This could be the key for intercultural inclusion and a transition from “assimilation” (fitting in, being like everyone else) to “integration” (belonging, being who you are and reaching in to the new culture; adapting) as “when students are valued they are more deeply engaged, and when they value themselves they can more deeply engage with others” (Rader, 2018). Another practical strategy that Byram, Gribkova & Starkey (2002) recommend is using role playings or simulations in order to increase self-awareness and encourage observation.

Considering the diversity among the students in increasing numbers of our classrooms, and the different profiles that have emerged from third culture kids (Rader, 2018), it is important to highlight that “no curriculum for language education should or could be transposed directly from one national system to another” (Byram, Gribkova & Starkey, 2002, p.15). If doing so, one of the pillars of the PTDL approach, generating and sustaining commitment and achievement would not be appropriately applied in the classroom. Another issue common to teachers and linked to the curriculum is the need to follow a previously designed curriculum. In these cases, Byram, Gribkova & Starkey (2002) recommend starting with the themes or topics suggested in the textbook or material selected and then, to move forward into more critical and intercultural topics that can be related. One of the strategies can be connected with making the students start with familiar situations and then, ask them to reimagine those situations in an unfamiliar context.

If direct encounters with other cultures are not available, then teachers should prepare students to ask the appropriate questions. Thus, teachers can help students understand that retaining their own culture and languages and reaching into the new cultural context are equally important to understand each other better and be able to learn, work and live together (Rader, 2018). The following Table 5 summarizes the principles that should be considered to successfully work on intercultural competence in the FL classroom:


Keep reading insights about the future of language learning – “Analytical Framework and Identification of Best Practices”, “Methodology and questionnaire”, “Results and recommendations based on questionnaires”.