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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Intercultural Language Learning

Eileen Siboulet
Senior Education Officer (LOTE), Queensland LOTE Centre

It is important that students are able to learn from and participate in Australia's cultural and linguistic diversity.

The Australian Government and state and territory governments have jointly identified the goal 'that students understand and acknowledge the value of cultural and linguistic diversity and possess the knowledge, skills and understanding to contribute to, and benefit from, such diversity in the Australian community and internationally'.
(MCEETYA 1999, pp. 3–4)

To assist language teachers achieve these goals, the Australian Government commissioned the Report on Intercultural Language Learning, with the brief to 'investigate and disseminate research on good practice for the integration of sociocultural elements into language teaching' (Report p. 2). The Report, published in July 2003, was prepared by the Research Centre for Languages and Cultures Education, University of South Australia, and the School of Languages and Linguistics, Griffith University, Queensland. 

This article outlines key elements of the Report.

Language and culture

The Report addresses 'the interrelationship of languages and cultures in the learning, teaching, assessment and evaluation of languages in Australian schools' and provides teachers with a 'framework for designing curriculum for intercultural language learning'. (p. 1)  

The Report defines culture as 'a complex system of concepts, attitudes, values, beliefs, conventions, behaviours, practices, rituals and lifestyle of the people who make up a cultural group, as well as the artefacts they produce and the institutions they create'.

It adds that 'knowledge of and engagement with the system of culture are fundamental to being able to communicate successfully and provide a basis for the ways in which speakers of a language establish shared meanings and communicate shared concepts and ways of seeing the world'. (p. 45)

Many researchers now believe that the target of second language teaching and learning should be on developing the 'intercultural speaker' – a person who can use two languages and who has developed the strategies to deal with another culture. 

By contrast, the communicative language teaching approach sees the 'native' speaker as a target norm for second language acquisition. This approach, the researchers argue, does not allow for the wide variations in linguistic norms and competence among native speakers of the same language. They maintain that the communicative language teaching approach overlooks the necessity to understand communication between non-native and native speakers as intercultural communication, rather than communication in the target language. (p. 11)

In other literature, approaches to culture in language teaching have been identified under four broad groupings: High Culture, Area Studies, Culture as Societal Norms and Culture as Practice (Crozet and Liddicoat, 2000; Crozet, Liddicoat and Lo Bianco, 1999). While noting these categories, the Report argues that the first three are of limited value for arriving at intercultural understanding and that the Culture as Practice approach best supports intercultural language learning.

In the Culture as Practice approach, culture is viewed as the lived experience of individuals, that is as sets of practices. Behaviour is recognised as context-sensitive, negotiated and highly variable. Cultural competence is seen as the ability to interact in the target culture in informed ways.  

Individual members of a culture are seen to enact it differently and pay different levels of attention to the norms that operate in their society. Cultural competence is understood as a process in which students can engage right from the beginning of their language learning. Culture is not an extra add-on, something to be included from time to time.  

Culture is seen as being about actions and understanding, not about being able to recall factual information. Students learn to develop an intercultural perspective, comparing the culture and language in which they live with that of the target culture and language. They gradually establish their own identity as a user of another language.  

Intercultural language learning in the classroom

Language teachers assist learners to understand that:

  • They are members of a cultural group, whose ways of understanding the world are not necessarily the same as others.
  • Cultural systems are transmitted through the process of socialisation in which language – both its linguistic forms and the messages conveyed by them – plays a primary role.
  • Many cultural codes are acquired unconsciously.
  • Defining language as simply a symbol system made up of words, encoded by sounds or graphic conventions and arranged by rules of syntax, is inadequate for understanding language as a human communication system. (p. 45)
Language, culture and learning are fundamentally interrelated concepts.  Implementing intercultural language learning in the classroom means the fusing of these three elements into a single approach.

Teachers develop with learners an understanding of their own language(s) and culture(s) – termed the 'First Place' in the Report. From this point they then relate to an additional language and culture – the 'Second Place'.  Teachers then help learners move to an intercultural position where different points of view are recognised and mediated – the 'Third Place'.

Teachers need to understand that the Third Place is not a fixed point common to all learners.  Rather, the Third Place is negotiated by each learner as an intersection of the cultural perspectives of the self and the other.

Learners work out solutions for themselves. There is no right or wrong answer. Learners make choices about what to hold on to and what to relinquish. To do this, they need to develop strategies of observation, exploration, reflection and mediation.  

Teachers need to respect the integrity of their students' informed choices and be aware that learners' observations may be positive or negative. Learners may find their experimentations comfortable or uncomfortable and evaluate them as having been successful or unsuccessful.  

Intercultural language learning is based on five pedagogical principles, which align closely with Productive Pedagogies. They are:

  • Active construction
  • Making connections
  • Social interaction
  • Reflection
  • Responsibility.
A detailed elaboration of these principles can be found in the Report from pages 47 to 51.
One example of the Report's practical value is in the direction it has provided to the Queensland LOTE Centre in the design and delivery of a series of seminars during 2004.

As the Report points out (p. 1),  'moving towards intercultural language learning will make a qualitative difference to students' engagement in learning languages in Australian schools'.


Crozet, C. and Liddicoat, A. J. (2000) 'Teaching culture as an integrated part of language: implications for the aims, approaches and pedagogies of language teaching.' A. J. Liddicoat and C. Crozet (eds), Teaching Languages, Teaching Cultures. Melbourne: Language Australia.

Crozet, C. Liddicoat, A. J. and Lo Bianco, J. (1999) 'Intercultural competence: from language policy to language education'. J. Lo Bianco, A. J. Liddicoat  and C. Crozet (eds), Striving for the Third Place:  Intercultural Competence Through Language Education. Canberra: Language Australia.

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) (1999) Adelaide Declaration: National Goals for Schooling in the 21st Century.

Research Centre for Languages and Cultures Education at the University of South Australia and the School of Languages and Linguistics at Griffith University (2003) Report on Intercultural Language Learning. Project developers: Anthony J Liddicoat, Leo Papademetre,  Angela Scarino, Michele Kohler.


Key Learning Areas


Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
Languages other than English (LOTE)
Intercultural studies
Educational planning
Education policy