Developing English Language and Intercultural Learning Capabilities

Case Study One: The English language project

Authors: Li Xuan, Kathleen Heugh, Fiona O’Neill, Ying Song, Angela Scarino and Jonathan Crichton

Global mobility has dramatically changed the demographic profile of universities in predominantly English-speaking countries. Many international students choose study abroad opportunities in countries such as Australia where there are also many local students with diverse linguistic backgrounds. However, the plurality of languages, cultures and knowledge systems are largely rendered invisible in higher education contexts where English dominates. This paper reports on the first of two cases studies in a project which explored how undergraduate students experience a translanguaging approach (García & Wei, 2014) to develop their English language capability in order to study through English. This was part of an action-based research intervention which sought to develop academic proficiency in both English and the primary language/s of students, and their intercultural capabilities, simultaneously, through explicit encouragement of students’ use of their linguistic, cultural and knowledge repertoires, and their reflective engagement with the process. This report outlines data and findings from student participation in three English as additional language courses during 2014 and 2015. Data include ethnographic observation of student engagement in classes, student interviews and diagnostic analysis of student writing. Drawing on multilingual teaching and learning pedagogies (Heugh, Li & Song, ftc.), including translanguaging, students’ were encouraged to build on their linguistic, cultural and epistemological resources to expand their academic language repertoires. The findings highlight how students do this while developing their metacognitive awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity and their multilingual repertoires. It draws attention to the pedagogical value of students’ academic proficiency in both primary language and English and this has implications for developing a more robust pedagogy and theory of translanguaging and intercultural communication. This is significant in the context of 21st century human mobility when we consider that many of these students will be required to communicate in their social and professional lives across multiple languages and cultures.

Key words: Linguistic repertories, multilingualism and translanguaging

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Case Study Two: The intercultural learning project

Authors: Fiona O’Neill, Angela Scarino, Jonathan Crichton, Kathleen Heugh and Li Xuan

An increasing number of international students are studying in higher education in English-speaking countries, and many local students come from backgrounds where English is not their primary language. This is significant when we consider that as graduates, these students will be required to live, communicate and work with others both within and across multiple languages and cultures, in other words, interculturally, whether they choose to remain in their home country, or to live and work abroad. There exists the potential for learning through the exchange of linguistic and cultural resources and associated ways of knowing. However, the crucial role of languages and cultures in learning is poorly understood, and the ways in which students experience engaging with one another in their diversity could be enhanced (Tsui 2014). This report is based on a semester long twinned case study which explored how undergraduate students and their teachers experienced an intercultural approach to learning, teaching and assessment in a core undergraduate course of 550 students. This was a collaborative, action-based research intervention which sought to enhance student engagement and experience through their intercultural learning, to see the world ‘through other eyes’ (Andreotti and Souza 2008). This involved designing learning and assessment activities that encouraged students to draw on their languages, cultures and knowledges and to engage with the course content and with each other through practices of reflection and reflexivity. Data gathered included students’ written texts, observations of routine teaching staff meetings, and interviews with students and teaching staff. The analysis involved thematic coding, focusing on students’ emerging capability to understand and act in light of their linguistic and cultural diversity. The findings highlight the nature and importance of intercultural capability and the need to rethink notions of ‘student experience’ and ‘engagement’ and to recognise the central role of language/s and culture/s in all students’ learning.

Three key words: Intercultural, learning, reflection and reflexivity

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