Learning about mix of cultures 'critical'

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 09/07/2014

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With the number of cultures in New Zealand classrooms climbing, the ability to teach intercultural competence is critical, says a language expert.

Nearly 200 language teachers and professionals from New Zealand and Australia are in Palmerston North for the New Zealand Association of Language Teachers' 40th anniversary conference.

One of five keynote speakers, Dr Jonathan Newton from Victoria University, talked yesterday about intercultural communicative language teaching, or iCLT.

iCLT is teaching students to be more aware and build a better understanding of their own culture and of other cultures, which is not just a body of knowledge, but a set of practices requiring skills and attitudes, he said.

Newton was part of a team commissioned by the Ministry of Education to review literature on intercultural language teaching and learning, and present an evidence-based framework of principles for teaching languages from an "intercultural, communicative perspective".

He helped develop a set of six principles to guide iCLT in New Zealand schools in 2010, including integrating language and culture from the start, engaging students in social interactions, acknowledging diversity and encouraging connections.

"We all present culture in the classroom, whether we know it or not, and the principles are a tool for aligning this teaching with the New Zealand curriculum," he said.

"But they're a starting point and not an end point; they're a dialogue in intercultural practice," he said.

Newton has been working on how teachers have engaged and interpreted the principles and how interculturally-informed languages education has trended over the four years since they were launched.

Task-based language teaching, or getting students to reflect on culture through practical projects such as emailing a Japanese exchange student bound for New Zealand a list of Kiwi tuck shop foods, has proved popular to help students gain a better understanding of other cultures.

The aim of intercultural learning was to increase international and cross-cultural tolerance, with iCLT critical to making the most of diversity in classrooms, schools and the wider community, Newton said.

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- Manawatu Standard

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