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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:


South Hobart Primary School (Tasmania) is an inner city school having 125 students from K-6. The Indonesian coordinator and teacher has worked hard promoting Languages Learning in the school and students from Year 2 have been involved in a Languages programme though the whole school has joined together for special language events and Indonesian celebrations.

Teachers worked together to implement an across-school, across-curriculum topic exploring the diversity of Indonesia through language, literature and the visual arts.

The planning was placed within the Tasmanian Essential Learnings Framework. Several staff participated in the ALPLP and received training and professional learning in IcLL. All teachers worked with the Indonesian teacher to plan and present programmes to students. It was decided to include junior primary classes in the programme as well.

Upper primary students 'tutored' the younger students in Indonesian and made big books and other useful resources for the junior primary classes. This had a by-product of extending the interest and engagement in the Indonesian programme for the older students. It also cemented Indonesian vocabulary and grammar.

In addition to the learning activities undertaken, which varied from class to class, there were whole school 'tuning in' activities. Classes presented displays of their learning, and there were assemblies involving singing and food. There were activities to support victims of the tsunami in Aceh. There were also some common learning tasks undertaken by all classes; all watched and discussed the same videos on Indonesian life.

Junior primary students focused on learning about each other, with learning about Indonesian children and Indonesian names and language for family members and family life. One class linked Balinese children's names to numeracy and counting. Children in Bali are given names according to birth order. They worked out their 'Balinese name' based on their birth order, and made a mask with that name on. Whenever they donned the mask, they spoke simple Indonesian.

The students looked at simple Indonesian stories and folktales and considered their structure and insight into Indonesian life. They needed more and more Indonesian language as they wanted to say and do more and more complex things. Many taught their parents at home. Parents requested a vocabulary and phrase guide so they could extend communication in Indonesian at home.

Upper and middle primary students undertook learning activities that would enhance their understanding of cultural diversity, explore similarities and differences between Australian and Indonesian values. They concentrated on analysing the ways that folk tales, stories, factual texts and the visual arts disseminate cultural and linguistic information.

After collecting a range of Indonesian authentic texts and artefacts they made displays to illustrate some thinking and research on culture and language, including Indonesian visual art and puppetry.

Students expressed a wish to know more about the geography of Indonesia, particularly in relation to the tsunami.

Learning activities included an Indonesian rap song. Students enjoyed transferring the language learned in the rap to conversational role plays. They also discussed the cultural aspects of gesture and compared cultural gesturing. Following these exploratory activities, students pooled their knowledge about Indonesian language and culture to carry out some analyses using a ‘Positives, Minuses and Interesting’ (PMI) approach.

The students showed they were able to draw broad conclusions of differences and similarities between the cultures of Indonesia and Australia. Their intensive Indonesian language learning programme gave the students a clearer understanding of the lifestyles of Indonesia.

IcLL: Providing a curriculum focus

The IcLL project was extremely successful and it has become very evident that the teaching of culture is embedded in even the simplest language acquisition and that intercultural learning allows students to reflect on their own changing and variable cultures.

Students were engaged in cultural learning by inquiring into the lifestyles of Indonesians and reflecting on Australian habits. They were engaged in, and focused on, looking at both the English and Indonesian language. They were encouraged to make connections between their language and Indonesian.

Students have been able to make informed comments, express their opinions and reflect on their own culture. They realise that there are differences within their own culture as there are in Indonesia, a country, like theirs, that is changing…

— Language coordinator, South Hobart Primary School

I felt the IcLL work might be detrimental to my Prep/1 students who would be overwhelmed with getting used to full-time school, getting used to routines and rules and this would be too much too soon. I was very wrong. They are so young and many are unaware of what country they live in… I was not convinced that this unit would have any relevance to them. I was very wrong. I created an Indonesian display for the first day of school and was convinced the parents would be very negative… All feedback was encouraging, so once again I was very wrong.
 — Teacher, Hobart South Primary School

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