Incorporating ICC (Intercultural Communicative Competence) in TAFL (Teaching Arabic as Foreign Language): a case study at beginner and elementary levels
In an age characterised by increasing globalization, plurilingualism and interdependence between different countries and cultures, but also marked by religious and ethnic conflicts as well as tensions between communities, language teaching and learning needs more than ever to go beyond its traditional linguistic and communicative objectives. Then the question educational institutions, specifically language instructors and developers of foreign languages (FL) curricula, should answer is: How can we promote values and attitudes that recognize experiences of diversity and openness to other cultures? This can be done among other starting from the assumption that languages represent not only means of communication, but also have an infinite capacity to shape reality through the construction of shared cultural representations. Indeed, languages are not only carriers of culture, but they are also culture. Consequently, language acquisition should include not only linguistic, sociolinguistic and pragmatic/discourse elements but should also integrate (inter)cultural interactions, i.e. the development of (inter)cultural representations and transactions between individuals. In this regard, modern FL curricula cannot overlook the significance of the so called “Intercultural Communicative Competence” (ICC), that is the ability to effectively and appropriately interact with people, who are linguistically and culturally different from us, anticipating and avoiding various types of prejudice, discrimination and misunderstandings. In these terms, acquiring a new language corresponds first of all to the contact with and the discovery of alterity, that is the act of becoming aware of Otherness, gaining increased awareness and acceptance of the cultural differences, moving towards a better understanding of C2, ideally reaching a high level of adaptation and integration in the target cultural context and community.
Although the need for and importance of integrate the cultural component in FL programs is now firmly established and many valuable teaching methods has already been presented and practiced, the development of ICC still remains a secondary or even neglected goal. This applies in particular to the field of Teaching Arabic as Foreign Language (TAFL), where only few efforts have been made to investigate and define the concept of “Arabic culture” for educational purposes as well as to delineate specific contents and methods to promote ICC in the classroom. This shortcoming which still characterizes the Arabic didactics can be seen as a singular paradox: in fact, learning a “truly foreign language” as Arabic and facing a multi-facetted cultural context, which like the Arabic one is inherently interconnected to the language, can extremely overwhelm learners. This in turn may not only increase the risk of a negative “experience of foreignness”, broadening the affective gap between learners and the target culture, but may also negatively affect the learning process as a whole.
Thus, the purpose of my doctoral research is to prove whether and how the gradual development of ICC within the framework of AFL university instruction in the home country can positively affect and improve the Language Proficiency of Arabic students at the beginner and elementary level. The method used for the research is a qualitative data collection trough an illustrative case study whereas the population is represented by undergraduates in Arabic and Islamic studies at German Universities.