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Intercultural language learning

Intercultural language learning provides a framework for how intercultural understanding can be developed through language learning. The inextricable link between culture and language underpins the framework.

Getting started with intercultural language learning – A resource for schools produced for AEF's Asian Languages Professional Learning Programme (ALPLP) is about the theory of intercultural language learning (IcLL) and the practice of it together so that teachers can see the impact of applying the principles of IcLL in the classroom and across the school. 

You can also explore intercultural language learning by watching the Language Learning Space videos and viewing associated references and resources.

Intercultural language learning as a whole school initiative

Through participating in the ALPLP, several schools are implementing intercultural language learning as a whole school initiative to develop students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes to successfully interact within a diversity of languages and cultures.

The programme aimed to increase support for Asian languages within schools and to increase connections between languages and other learning areas by developing intercultural language learning as a whole school initiative. Phase 2 was designed and offered to school teams, comprising teachers of languages and other learning areas and school leaders.

In addition to changes in content and pedagogy, many schools are reviewing organisational aspects such as structures that enable Languages teachers to plan with other teachers in curriculum teams.

The following are examples of innovative programmes from three schools:


A group of teachers at Macarthur Anglican School on the rural outskirts of Sydney planned an IcLL unit of work that would teach a small class of Year 11 students the nature and purpose of IcLL and recruit them as 'action-researchers' to prepare resources useful to other students of Indonesian working in an IcLL approach. The team who participated in the ALPLP was led by the Indonesian teacher who is also a member of the school leadership team, and included teachers with expertise in ICT, ESL and English.

At the same time, it was intended that the students would gain increased linguistic knowledge and skills and significant capabilities in intercultural understanding and communication as a result of their investigations and work.

The project undertaken was focused on an examination of 'family' and in particular, the importance of family in constructing and expressing 'identity'. With the assistance of the teaching team, students designed and undertook a survey eliciting information on how families are constructed in Australia and their significance in how individuals see themselves.

Students examined authentic texts from Indonesia and Australia with representations of family life, including family magazines, advertisements, and Indonesian primary school textbooks.

Students brought a critical literacy perspective to the analysis of these texts in terms of social and cultural significance and purpose. Through this work they gained a deep understanding of the potential and real differences in Australian and Indonesian views of family and of the ways that social views are formed. Working with the Indonesian texts helped prepare them for their concurrent investigation that involved interviewing Indonesians on video, in Indonesian, about their personal views of family.

The students decided that the interviews should cover a range of Indonesians in terms of age, sex, religion and island of birth. Fortunately, the local Indonesian community helped find a range of Indonesians able and willing to be interviewed by the students at the school.

The students conducted the interviews and analysed them for commentary about family and its relationship to personal identity. They also analysed the language use, for example the use of higher order pronouns to refer to parents, and the cultural and linguistic features of language use shaped by the island of birth. These were rich considerations leading to significant metacognitive understandings. They have compiled their research into an impressive resource available for use by other students.

Year 11 students as researchers

In different cultures people speak differently, not only because they communicate using a different linguistic code, that is a code of different lexicon and grammar, but more importantly because they have different ways of using this code. (Wierzbicka 1991:67)

Learning a foreign language, therefore, involves a great deal more than learning the literal meaning of the words, how to put them together, and how to pronounce them. We need to know what they mean in the cultural context in which they are normally used. And that involves some understanding of the cultural and social norms of their users (Holmes 1992:305).

Pragmatics is concerned with the way understandings are reached as a result of the interrelationship between language use and the social or cultural context in which it is being presented.

Pragmatic competence allows an individual to decode and encode utterances (including their inference), and to interpret and convey utterances in a range of contexts… it enables an individual to connect what is said to what is mutually understood… In order to interpret or infer meaning from the context in which utterances are made, an individual must combine linguistic, cognitive and social rules (Bates 1976:2).
— Handout for Year 11 students, Macarthur Anglican School

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