E.M. Montañés-Brunet

Univesrity of Valencia (SPAIN)
Designing a syllabus to teach Intercultural Communication to foreign language higher education learners poses a key question for lecturers, namely, how to bridge the gap between the “safe” and controlled environment of the classroom and the unpredictable and multicultural environment students will face in their professional careers.

The use of recent and relevant feature films is clearly a powerful tool to open up the class to the globalized and multicultural world we live in. Our teaching practice has brought us to use films to develop intercultural awareness, both with Business English and English for Tourism students, following a methodological strategy we have coined “film-induced learning” that fosters learning English and developing cultural awareness by watching films in class with an “active viewing” attitude. However, with more advanced students, a step forward is required; it calls for an integrated approach to teaching and learning.

The aim of the present paper is to describe the integrated approach to develop intercultural skills we have designed and applied to a group of 4th year students of the optional subject “Intercultural Communication in English for Tourism” at the Faculty of Economics (University of Valencia).Its main objective is to integrate the development of intercultural skills into a wider spectrum of “soft” skills, such as verbal and non-verbal communication, with emphasis on active listening and presentation skills, teamwork and cooperation, negotiating, problem solving and decision making, not to mention creativity, respect, responsibility, empathy, assertiveness and self-esteem.

The course has a flexible syllabus designed so that learners cooperate in its completion. There are some fixed elements, such as the manual -“Communicating across Cultures” (Bob Dignen, 2011) - and the film to be watched and analysed. This year the film was “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (John Madden, 2015) for these students had already watched “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (John Madden, 2011) during their 2nd year at University. The variable elements rely on the learners: students in groups (teamwork) choose a topic from the manual (e.g. Negotiating across cultures), do some research, and deliver a presentation in class. In addition, they choose a film that shows instances of intercultural misunderstandings, conflicts or even breakdowns in communication: they introduce the plot, show some excerpts, point out at the intercultural matters they observe and make the audience participate in the “solution”. The task is complemented with a brief presentation on a country and culture of their own choice. Learners are encouraged to form multicultural groups: Spanish and Erasmus students cooperate working in international teams performing real tasks and giving their opinions about their own countries and cultures, so that stereotypes can be confronted.

To conclude, this integrated approach builds upon the cultural awareness already reached by the learners and goes one step forward as they become the main characters in the lesson: they are the providers of the film extracts that are analysed and discussed in class, together with information about the cultures portrayed in the films. They are responsible for their own learning and for “teaching” their classmates. They are thus able to show and share their interests with their partners: genuine intercultural communication does happen.