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Investigating reciprocal meaning-making as an element of intercultural language learning in the languages classroom.


The Australian Curriculum: Languages is based on an intercultural orientation to the teaching and learning of languages. Reciprocal meaning-making, or interpreting self in relation to others as language users, is a key element in an intercultural orientation. The concept of reciprocating is embedded in the language-specific curricula currently being developed. It is therefore worthwhile exploring how this concept can be realised in practice. In this article I report on classroom-based research I undertook in which teachers explored the concept of reciprocating in their teaching and students' learning of French language. I discuss the findings of this study and conclude with a discussion of the value of the concept as a dimension of intercultural language teaching and learning.


Australian Curriculum, curriculum, curriculum development, Intercultural language learning, reciprocal meaning-making, reflection, Australian Curriculum: Languages


Intercultural language learning underpins the Australian Curriculum: Languages. With the development of the new curriculum comes the opportunity for teachers to explore the constructs of intercultural language teaching and learning, and how these place learners at the centre of learning and meaning-making for themselves. I have done this through classroom-based research as part of postgraduate study, and present my exploration and findings in this article, especially with regard to the idea of learners interpreting themselves in relation to others, and how teachers might develop pedagogies for language teaching and learning through a focus on this orientation. To date, little work has been done on contextualising intercultural language learning at the primary level. The students who took part in this study were all 10 and 11 years old, who have approximately one hour of French study per week.

I begin with some contextual exploration of intercultural language learning, and then outline my study and analysis of my findings. Finally, I suggest ways that my study might inform other teachers as they begin to work with the new curriculum, and with these considerations.

(Note: pseudonyms have been used for teachers and students, throughout.)


An intercultural stance towards language teaching and learning has been developing over the last two decades or so in the Australian schools context. The fundamental premise of this stance is that language, culture and learning are seen as interrelated and that this interrelationship is at the centre of the learning process (Liddicoat, Papademetre, Scarino & Kohler, 2003, p. 43). We have moved from teaching 'culture' as isolated facts to developing in students a capacity to connect or engage with the new culture, always in relation to their own (Scarino & Liddicoat, 2009). Two projects within Australia that have explored intercultural language learning through teacher practice in recent years, and which have informed my study are the Intercultural Language Teaching and Learning in Practice (ILTLP) project (Scarino, Liddicoat, Papademetre, Kohler, Scrimgeour, Dellit, Crichton, Morgan, Loechel, Mercurio, Crozet & Carr, 2008) and the Professional Standards Project: Languages (Scarino, Liddicoat, Crichton, Curnow, Kohler, Loechel, Mercurio, Morgan, Papademetre & Scrimgeour, 2010).

Communication has been the main goal of language teaching for many decades, and most Australian languages curricula are based on a communicative approach to language teaching. Although much of the discussion about language acquisition is based on a cognitive view, socially oriented theories such as those proposed by Sfard (1998), Lantolf (2000) and Larsen-Freeman (2007), which look at how participation changes and develops in the learner as part of social interaction, have also had a significant impact in how languages curriculum is described and approached. Lantolf (2000) discusses language learning as a 'mediated' process, mediated by others through social interaction, by the self through private speech and through culturally relevant artefacts. Kramsch (1993, p. 205) discusses language as social practice through which teachers and learners establish a 'sphere of interculturality', where understanding another culture 'requires putting that culture in relation to one's own' and where 'it is through the eyes of others that we get to know ourselves and others' (1993, p. 222). She describes intercultural competence as 'positioning the self both inside and outside the discourse of others' (2011, p. 359).

The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Languages (ACARA, 2011) (hereafter the Shape paper) has been written from such a socially situated view of language learning. It builds on previous state and national language policy and curriculum frameworks, and research and literature that addresses language learning from a socio-cultural perspective. The Shape paper has informed and continues to inform both the design and development of the language-specific curricula, and describes clearly the learning of languages as an intercultural process. The term 'reciprocating' was used in the Shape paper to emphasise a mutually reflective dimension of intercultural language use and language learning. 'Reciprocating' was one of three proposed strands (Communicating, Understanding and Reciprocating). In interview, the lead writer states that although the conception of intercultural language learning has always been that the process of using and learning language is intercultural and intracultural, so that through intercultural exchange with people we are led to reflect back on ourselves, the intracultural dimension has been less strongly picked up (Scarino, 2011 personal communication). By adopting a new term, the writer's intention was to expand communicative language teaching to include the mutual or reciprocal engagement with and reflection on self and other that communication entails. In 'reciprocating', the quality of communication is defined not only as an exchange of words but as an exchange of meanings and involves the mutual interpretation of meanings between student and student, student and teacher, teacher and student, student and other interlocutor. In this sense the exchange of meaning is reciprocal.

The use of the term 'reciprocating' has been a contentious issue. Many participants in the discussions involved in formulating the Australian Curriculum: Languages do not see the value of the term, believing the concept to be already embedded within 'intercultural language learning' and encompassed within the two other strands. In the development of language-specific curricula and in the Framework for Australian Languages the notion of 'reciprocating' has not been accepted as a strand in its own right, but has been integrated with the Communication and Understanding strands.


My study was designed to allow three teachers of French at primary level to reflect on their own teaching and students' learning while considering the concept of 'reciprocating', understood as reciprocal meaning-making, as originally described in the Shape paper (ACARA, 2011). I was interested in exploring the possibilities of the concept in classroom practice. Individual teachers considered the concept, reflected on it and applied it to a short cycle of planning, teaching and assessing. The research question for the study was as follows:

   How do teachers conceptualise and
   operationalise 'reciprocating' in their
   teaching and students' learning of

The concept of 'reciprocating' is present within an intercultural orientation to language learning. Reflecting upon and interpreting self in relation to others in communication as language users and learners (ACARA, 2011, p. 23) is a key element explored in this study. The study was framed in relation to the five principles of intercultural language learning (see Report on intercultural language learning (Liddicoat et al, 2003) and Teaching and learning languages: A guide (Scarino & Liddicoat, 2009, p.35)). These five principles are active construction, making connections, interaction, reflection and responsibility.


The qualitative study was undertaken as a collective case study (Creswell, 2007). In Case Study 1, Anne worked with a class of 26 Year 4/5 students during their weekly one-hour lesson. In Case Study 2, Claire also worked with a Year 4/5 class, with one 50-minute lesson a week. Both Anne and Claire normally follow the Accelerative Integrated Method (AIM), in which communication is carried out in structured French. The AIM methodology involves the presentation of high-frequency vocabulary through gesture, and is contextualised in story and drama (Maxwell, 2001). In AIM lessons, students speak predominantly in French. Despite this, there is little emphasis on culture. Both teachers were keen to experiment with an intercultural orientation, while acknowledging it would be different from their regular methodology. They would not be using a structured program to guide their teaching, and would rely on their own questioning and guiding of the students' discussions from an intercultural perspective. Case Study 3 is my own case study. I worked with a class of 29 Year 5 students during their weekly one-hour French lesson. Over the past few years I have begun experimenting with intercultural language learning and the concept of reciprocal exchange in my classes.


The three participating teachers met initially to discuss our interpretations of 'reciprocating' and to plan together a short series of lessons designed to develop this capability. Based on an interview the author had with the lead writer of the Shape paper, we saw 'reciprocating' as a key dimension of both intercultural language use and language learning: an exchange of meaningful communication that in the process reveals 'self' in relation to others.

We agreed on the theme of le pain et la boulangerie: shopping for bread at a boulangerie and considering the role of bread in French culture and our own. Although we had planned for five lessons, two of us in fact spent seven or eight weeks on the topic. The other taught four lessons and a non-French speaking relief teacher took the final lesson. Each teacher kept a journal during the course of the study. The journals capture the teachers' conceptualising and operationalising of their understanding of the concept of 'reciprocating' at the point of planning and in teaching and learning. Teachers also audio recorded a short classroom interaction (mainly in English) between the teacher and students and collected samples of student writing in both French and English. Video recordings were made of short student conversations or 'role-plays' in French. In one case, the ensuing discussion was also recorded.

The following tasks were agreed on as forming the common basis of our lessons:

* Viewing a 15-minute episode from the DVD Families of France, in which a young boy from Lyon introduces us to a day in his life and that of his family; following the video with a class discussion in English in relation to the students' meaning-making from it.

* Introducing the topic of bread using a series of photographs, showing images of common products sold in French boulangeries. This PowerPoint was put together by the three participating teachers and was designed to give a similar introduction to all three classes.

* Students reflecting in writing about one element from the above discussions in relation to themselves.

* The teacher sharing some of these varying reflections with the class, then the class reinterpreting in relation to these.

* Students preparing conversations in French, in pairs or threes, that take place in a boulangerie, in writing, then in performance.

* I prepared a menu board to assist in this last activity. It was copied and shared by all three classes. Ten common items were chosen from the PowerPoint presentation. They were illustrated, written in French handwriting and accurate prices in Euros were included. The researcher contacted a friend in France to verify up-to-date pricing. This was so as to provide an as authentic experience as possible for the students.

* Videoing the performances and ensuing discussion involving peer evaluation of each performance.

* Students writing a final reflection on the following questions: In your opinion, what are the differences between buying bread in Australia and in France? You may like to compare Baker's Delight to a French boulangerie. Which do you prefer and why?

Planning in common naturally does not take into account the specific nature of individual classes. There were some variations across the three case studies, especially in how the three teachers went about questioning and interacting with their classes and the additional extra activities that were incorporated into the teaching and learning process as a result of working with the students' meaning-making in situ.


The acts of communicating and of learning demand that both the learner and the teacher attend to meaning and to meaning-making. Through my study, I found that it is by putting the learners at the centre, specifically their interpretations and the meanings they create, that their learning is made real. They make sense of the new world they are exploring by reflecting on the world that they know, by comparing the two and by interacting, not as a different person, but as themselves with an expanded view that comes from considering a diverse other. In the following section I outline how teachers went about enabling these processes. I use the five principles of intercultural language learning as the platform for my analysis.


Learning involves purposeful, active engagement in interpreting and creating meaning in interaction with others. For students, it is more than a process of absorption of facts but continuously developing as thinking, feeling, changing intercultural beings (Scarino & Liddicoat,

2009, p.35).

In a pedagogy that assists learners to make meaning of their learning, a crucial element for the teacher is attending to the learners and their meaning-making. After watching the Families of France episode, each teacher held a discussion with her class about what they had noticed, in particular similarities to and differences from their own lives. In Case Study 2, Claire picked up on a comment from one group for further discussion. This group was quite concerned that the father had left his children at home asleep to go out and buy a baguette. This led to a discussion about living in apartments, the proximity of boulangeries and how bread is a part of French daily life. Here, Claire used the students' own meaning-making to lead into the topic of the role, place and significance of bread. In Case Study 3, we discussed the students' impressions in general, picking up on various similarities and differences between themselves and the family on the DVD. I encouraged students to comment on whether they thought certain things were a general cultural difference or whether they pertained to this family in particular. Students brought up issues like the long school day, going to school in the dark and the sports played by the children in the film. At this point I was not necessarily looking at steering the conversation towards the topic of bread, although it was commented on. My aim was to establish a comparative perspective (Morgan, Kohler & Harbon, 2011). Students were engaged, continuously reflecting from their own perspective on the family in the DVD. In Case Study 1, Anne comments that this sort of unstructured discussion was a very different approach from how she normally worked, where she was used to being the one 'imparting knowledge'. She felt as though she was relinquishing some control over the direction of the discussion. However, I seethe interaction and questioning, which Anne sees as 'instructions', as a necessary process for eliciting and understanding learners' conceptions.

Maintaining a comparative perspective is a part of the second principle for developing intercultural language learning.


Learning is developed firstly through social interactions (interpersonally) and then internally within the mind of the individual (intrapersonally) (Scarino & Liddicoat, 2009 p. 35).

Maintaining a comparative perspective involves constantly moving back and forth across and between the two languages and cultures, and referencing others that might be present in the class. It means making comparisons within the class and within French culture. For the teacher, this involves a balance between being open to what students are saying, and giving direction, leading them to make connections while providing them with the knowledge to be able to do this. Projects such as the Intercultural language teaching and learning in practice (ILTLP) project (Scarino, et al, 2008) and the Professional standards project (Scarino et al, 2010) explored these issues. The examples of teacher practice developed in these projects (available on the project websites) and papers from the ILTLP project (see special issue of Babel, Vol. 43.1) provided useful insights into how other teachers establish questioning processes and activities to assist learners to make connections across languages and cultures.

I use Case Study 2 to further illustrate the key ideas of attending to the meaning-making of the students and the balance the teacher makes between being open and giving direction. While discussing bread in French daily life, students were invited to consider their own experiences with bread. Claire subtly controlled the direction of the discussion, eliciting responses from students, attending to their thoughts and the meanings they imparted on the information they were receiving. That is, the students were not passively receiving information; they were interpreting and connecting with it as they were encountering it. At the same time, the teacher's role is to question how they are interpreting it. Claire started with a story from her own experience. She then invited a student who had lived in France to share her experience of French bread. Next, she opened up the conversation to the class by asking them to share similar experiences. Having built a picture of delicious, soft, crunchy bread and eating it at all meals, Claire invited the class to offer explanations as to why bread is important to French people. Through the discussion, the teacher took points from the DVD and comments from the class to compare and question their own experiences. There was a continual comparison of the students' own experiences with what they know of French culture. In questioning, Claire had an idea of what she expected as answers, but let the ideas come from the students. For example:

T: One of the things that I noticed was that the bread over there, it goes ... It's really yummy when you first buy it but then by the next day it goes stale a bit more quickly than the bread in Australia. Anyone have ideas about why that would be so?

S: In the video they bought the bread every morning. Maybe that's because there's less preservatives in it, which means it goes off quicker.

Claire follows this comment by asking the class what they think about preservatives in bread and their own preferences, another example of principle 1 in which students are actively constructing their own knowledge and meaning.

In another example Claire asks the class what they see as the best thing about eating bread. One student replies:

   Well bread kind of goes with any
   types of food. So it's quite good to
   have because you can have it with
   breakfast, lunch or dinner. Whereas
   some foods you can only have for
   dinner or only have for breakfast.

   Another suggests: It's also very filling
   and it has lots of fibre.

In both these examples, the teacher is never far from making a comparison back to French culture. At other moments questions raised by students lead the discussion in interesting directions that may not have been anticipated, such as: Do you eat wholegrain in France? Do they have a special spread like we have vegemite?

While reflecting and responding to this in relation to their own experience, it is still clear that this discussion is about France and French culture. Claire does this by asking: 'What do you think about...? "How do you feel about ...? "Why do you think ...?'. Students are developing their intercultural and intracultural selves in relation to others, through this questioning (Morgan, 2008; Scarino & Liddicoat, 2009 p. 35).

Following the discussions, in each case study, the teacher chose one point raised in discussion and asked students to write a brief reflection of one or two sentences on it. Each teacher took these reflections and used them in different ways. In Case Study 1, Anne's students commented on their impressions of the father in the film buying bread early each morning. Anne was surprised and pleased at the diversity evident in the reflections. A selection follows:

* Bread is fresher in the morning.

* It would be annoying to get up that early just to get bread.

* They have to go out every morning because the stick is not very long.

* Maybe they want to get there before it gets busy.

* I wonder how they feel after a week of that (getting up early).

* Bread is more yummy fresh.

In Case Study 2, Claire used several of her students' reflections to guide her approach to the next part of the topic. She reflected, herself, on the meanings her students were making and built on this to make the experience real for them.

A comment: I would like to learn all about the different types of bread and I would like to go to France' led into the teacher introducing the boulangerie price list in French the following lesson.

The following comments led to Claire setting up her bread-maker in the classroom with a loaf near completion as the students entered the room for their lesson:

* It is really interesting how they make it, especially how it is done by hand.

* As I was watching, my mouth was watering.

* I like that it is eaten the day you buy it.

* When you buy it in the boulangerie it is still warm.

* I would like to try some bread that's freshly made.

By preparing the lesson in this way, Claire wanted to make the experience real for her students. She had hoped to make another loaf in a later lesson, using French flour that she was able to source. She would have liked students to have been able to compare the two.

In Case Study 3, I used the students' reflections as a way for them to question their existing ideas and practices in relation to others (ACARA, 2011, p. 23). I selected a range of contrasting responses from the students' books and listed them on the board for the class to see:

* I eat white bread.

* I eat all sorts of brown bread.

* I don't eat lots of bread because I don't like it.

* I like eating bread and French people do too.

* I usually eat multi-grain bread from Baker's Delight.

* At home my Dad makes crusty bread.

* I think it is a great idea to eat bread for almost every meal.

* I can't believe that French people eat so much bread.

We read these together at the start of the following lesson and briefly discussed the differing perspectives. I asked them if the same questions had been put to a class of French students whether they thought there would be as many varied answers. Some thought French children's answers would show less variety as they all eat bread, maybe mostly baguettes. Others thought that there would be at least as many varied answers as there was such a variety of bread to choose from. We also had an interesting discussion about those who don't eat bread because it is not in their culture or for health reasons. They wondered how these people are catered for in France. This stemmed from the fact that one of the students in the class is a celiac and another has an allergy to yeast. By returning to the reflections in this way, I was building a sense of continuity and attending to learners' meaning making, talking about shopping for bread in French and discussing the meaning of the concept of bread in French and part-English.


Interacting and communicating interculturally means continuously developing one's understanding of the relationship between one's own framework of language and culture and that of others (Scarino & Liddicoat, 2009 p. 35).

A certain amount of discussion and writing in English are necessary with beginner learners of the language, where their level of thinking far outstretches their second language capabilities. This in no way means, however, that French does not take a central role in teaching and learning interculturally. Making language and culture experiences as real as possible is a part of this process. In each of the three case studies, students were guided through a process to produce their own conversations in French. A written text was worked on and then a performance prepared. Artefacts such as the boulangerie images and the price list of products provided authentic source texts. In Case Study 1, Anne introduced the vocabulary she wanted her students to use by listing phrases on the whiteboard. She uses the term 'role-play' with her class, modelling it several times with students 'playing the role' of customer, before they use this model to create their own written version. In Case Study 2, the students contributed to the development of the written model. A number of groups chose to incorporate expressions about taste and smell into their plays. The lesson in which they had tasted and discussed the fresh bread had been a meaningful experience they were keen to adopt in their own productive communication. Here is an example, as written by the students (no corrections have been made to the students' work):

Mum: Ooooohh, cet odeur! Ca sent bon! Vous desirez?

Daughter: Je voudrais un croissant et deux pain au chocolat.

Shopkeeper: Bonjour Madame, comment allez-vous?

M: Ca va bien!

S: Qu'est-ce que vous desirez aujourd'hui?

M: Je voudrais un croissant, deux pains au chocolat et une baguette s'il vous plait!

S: Bien sur Madame.

C'est tout aujourd'hui Madame?

M: Oui s'il vous plait.

S: Voila! C'est trois euros Madame

M: Voila! Merci madame!

M & D: Au revoir Madame

(Translation: Oh, this smell! It smells great! What do you want?/ I'd like a croissant and two chocolate breads/ Good morning, madam, how are you?/ I'm well/What would you like today?/ I'd like a croissant, two chocolate breads and a baguette, please./ Of course, madam. Is that all today, madam?/Yes, thank you/There you are. That's 3 Euros, madam/ Here you are. Thank you./ Goodbye, madam.)

In Case Study 3, we also discussed vocabulary we would need and talked about polite forms of address. We practised with a number of volunteers and me as boulangere. I was not concerned with students 'playing the role' of shopkeeper. I wanted them to experiment as themselves, as though they were really entering a boulangerie to buy bread. Although the basic pattern was the same, I threw in extra complications like 'Dbsole, il n'y en a plus' (sorry, there is no more) or 'Attends cinq minutes, ils sontau four' (wait five minutes, they are in the oven), to which they had to decide how to respond.

Next, with the contribution of the students, I modelled a simple shopping exchange on the board. Students copied this into their books to use as a model for their own writing:

(B = Boulanger/boulangere C = client/e)

B: Bonjour Mademoiselle

C: Bonjour Madame

B: Qu'est-ce que tu veux?

C: Je voudrais une baguette et quatres croissants, s'il vous plait.

B: Qa fait 4 [euro] 90.

C: Voila 5 [euro]

B: Voila 10 centimes de monnaie

C: Merci Madame

B: Au revoir Mademoiselle

(Translation: Good morning miss/ Good morning madam/What do you want?/ I want a baguette and four croissants, please/That's 4 Euros and 90 cents/ Here's 5 Euros/ Here's 10 cents change/Thank you madam/ Goodbye miss)

In setting the writing task, I asked them to make their conversations as natural as possible. What would be said? How would different people address each other? As general practice, I do not use the term role-play with my classes. Although they are still artificial constructs, by calling them 'conversations' the emphasis is on putting the student in the situation, rather than them playing the role of another. Yes, one of them does play the part of a boulanger, and some chose to act as adult customers. However, they have first considered the situation from their own 11-year-old perspective. They are creating the conversation, not practising something written for them.

At first I was concerned I may see little variation between the conversations. However in the end, I was pleased at the wide variety of takes on the same simple premise. This was even more evident in their final performances than in their writing samples, as they brought their conversation to life.

To further the authentic experience, we completed the topic with a visit to a boulangerie; albeit set up in our classroom. The students used their French to purchase pre-ordered bakery items from a boulangerie. Croissants, pains au chocolats, brioches, pains aux raisins and ficelles had been collected fresh from a local French patisserie before school and were still warm when the class arrived at the classroom boulangerie. A student's grandmother visiting from France and a Year 11 student, acted as boulangeres. Students purchased a pastry and sampled a piece of ficelle. Money was exchanged (toy Euros) and correct change was given. As the boulangere could not speak English, the experience was as authentic as I could make it within an Australian primary school.

In Case Study 2, Claire provided a similar opportunity for her students to practise their purchasing skills, when she set up a French Village, borrowed from the Alliance Francaise.

In interaction, participants engage in a continuous dialogue in negotiating meaning across variable perspectives held by diverse participants. (Scarino & Liddicoat, 2009, p.35)

While producing their own efforts in the target language, students go through a process of reflection. What words to use? What do they know how to say? What do they need to find out? As they perform they reflect: Am I presenting myself as I mean to? How will others interpret what I say or do? In the following examples from Case Study 3, I show how language is dynamic (Shohamy, 2006), how students continuously negotiate meaning, adapt and develop their language through interaction.

To the following written example, the performed exchange has several modifications.

B: Bonjour Mesdemoiselles

L & S: Bonjour Madame

B (addressing one): Qu'est-ce que tu veux?

L: Je voudrais deux batards

B: Oui, oui.

S: Je voudrais un pain au chocolat

B: D 'accord. Ca fait trois [euro]

S: Voila cinq [euro]

B: Deux [euro] de monnaie

L & S: Merci

B: Au revoir

L & S: Au revoir

(Translation: Good morning, young ladies/ Good morning madam/What do you want?/1 want two rolls/Yes, yes/ I want a chocolate bread/ OK, that's 3 Euros/ Here's 5 Euros/ 2 Euros change/Thank you/ Goodbye/ Goodbye)

In the performed version the customers remember to address the boulangere politely and they make small, natural, additions:

L & S: Bonjour Madame

B (addressing one): Qu'est-ce que tu veux?

L: Je voudrais deux batards, s'il vous plait

B: Deux?

L: Oui

B: Oui, oui. Et toi?

S: Je voudrais un pain au chocolat

B: D'accord. Qa fait trois [euro]

S: Voilb cinq [euro]

B: Deux [euro] de monnaie

L & S: Merci

B: Au revoir

L & S: Au revoir (The girls leave their purchases on the counter)

B: Mesdemoiselles, Mesdemoiselles!

L & S: Oh non! Merci Madame.

(Translation: Good morning, madam/What do you want?/1 want two rolls, please/ Two?/Yes/Yes, yes And you?/1 want a chocolate bread/ OK, that's 3 Euros/ Here's 5 Euros/ 2 Euros change/Thank you/ Goodbye/ Goodbye/Young ladies, young ladies/ Oh no I Thanks madam)

The following piece of writing does not do justice to the liveliness or engagement of the performed version:

B: Bonjour Mademoiselle

C1&C2: Bonjour Monsieur

C1: Une baguette, merci

C2: Non, non. Deux, (shows 2 fingers)

B: Oui, Mademoiselle, (go away and come back) Voila.

C2: Oh, merci! Merci!

C1 & C2: Merci! Oh, oui merci!

B: Deux euros vingt

C1 & C2: Au revoir Monsieur

B: ... Oh. Au revoir Madames

(Translation: Good morning miss/ Good morning (Mr)/A baguette, please/ No, no. Two/Yes, miss. There you are/ Oh, thanks, thanks/Thanks, oh, yes thanks/ 2 Euros, 20 cents/ Bye/ ... oh.! Bye (ladies))

The boulanger is bumbling and the giggling girls are in a hurry. They skip in, singing and tap a bell on the counter. Client 2 calls out to the boulanger as he disappears out the back. He calls oui, oui, in reply. On returning he trips, sending the loaves of bread flying. He apologises as the girls cry oh, non, their hands to their faces. As the embarrassed boulanger hurries back out, the girls start a conversation between themselves. Ca va? Oui, ca va ... The girls giggle and tap their watches as they wait. The boulanger returns with fresh loaves. Voila he says and the conversation continues as written. In this example also, the students add phrases that were not in their original text, but emerge as natural conversation. In feedback, the class commented on creativity and humour and also that they thought it was a realistic scenario that was easy to follow and made sense.

Role-plays as constructed forms of conversation, are of course unnatural. They cannot be reflective of true conversation, but are a necessary way for students to practise the language they are learning. Finding opportunities for students to interact in an authentic way is more challenging. In the act of communication with an 'expert' speaker of the target language, students are interpreting language and responding as they go. As they make meaning of what is being said to them, they respond according to their interpretation of that meaning and then adjust their responses according to the perceived interpretations of the other. It is a reciprocal process in that the other is also following this adjustment of language and self. For both, it requires attendance on meaning and on meaning making. In the primary classroom, the expert speaker is normally the teacher. I discussed previously how in Case Study 3, as I was introducing the idea of conversing in a boulangerie, I threw in phrases and comments that did not conform to the basic model, for example. By including a level of unpredictability in the day-to-day communication in the target language, students are better able to manage in an authentic situation. Opportunities for students to interact with native speakers (if not their teacher) are more difficult to set up in regular classroom learning, but not impossible. In Case Study 3, I used a visiting grandmother from France to act as boulangere. This was invaluable, although not a resource I will be able to access in future. Faced with a native speaker, the students had no choice but to communicate in French if they were to get their pastry. One student reflected that he found it hard to speak to the French people. But for most, using the language was a part of the overall experience of participating, eating and interacting.


Learning involves becoming aware of how we think, know and learn about language and culture as well as concepts such as diversity, identity and one's own intercultural thoughts (Scarino & Liddicoat, 2009, p. 35).

Reflection plays a crucial role in an intercultural language learning orientation. It is through this reflective process that learners make sense of their learning and of their role as intercultural language user and language learner (ACARA, 2011, p.25).

In this series of lessons, reflection took place at every step along the way. Students reflected in discussion and in writing in English. Reflection happened as students prepared their written conversations in French, corrected them and prepared them orally. Their reflection emerged through their work in French, particularly as they moved from the written to the spoken. In one case study, students reflected on each other's performance. Reflection formed a part of each lesson, informally or as a designated part of an activity.

Reflecting on an authentic text involves listening to it, viewing or reading it and projecting oneself into the situation. A learner may consider: Have I been in this situation, or something like it? What do I do/ say? Is this outside my experience? Can I imagine myself in it? I illustrate the active construction and making of connections by students in the following extract from a discussion in Case Study 2.

S1: I was wondering, do you eat wholegrain bread in France?

T: I didn't see much wholegrain bread. It was mainly white. But what about you, Natasha? (who has lived in France)

S2: Yeah, the baguettes are all white and there isn't much wholegrain bread. It isn't like there isn't any, like there is. But it's mostly white bread.

S3: In France do they have a special spreading? Like here its vegemite, do they have one in France?

T: I think there is really yummy jam. I had really yummy jam.

S4: Oh, Dalfours, is it? It's a French jam that we get.

T: Beautiful

S4: Yeah, it's really nice.

T: Nutella is another. When I had some French students come and stay with me, they loved Nutella on their bread.

S2: My best friend in France, her favourite topping on baguette was Nutella.

The discussion moves between individuals' personal experiences, referenced to French culture. In making their own meanings, students are asking themselves: Am I familiar with this situation? Can I imagine myself in it? How does this situation connect to me? They are re-examining self in relation to others and others in relation to self (ACARA, 2011, p.25).

In the following series of questions and statements from Case Study 3, one student's reflections illustrate her making sense of her learning as an intercultural language learner. During a discussion in which the class is asked what they think of when they think of bread and France, Zoe says: / think of all of the different pastry foods, as well as them being along roads and all of the things on view.

The teacher looks for clarification:

T: So Zoe, you think of a street, is that right?

Z: Yeah

T: with a patisserie with all of the cakes and pastries on view in the window?

Later in the discussion, on viewing a photo of a boulangerie, Zoe asks: Do some bakers live on top of their bakery?

Later still, when we are comparing a boulangerie to a patisserie she asks: Do they sell like, instead of not pain ... at a patisserie do they only sell the sweet pastries?

This is Zoe's own line of questioning. Other students comment on different aspects of what they see. In Zoe's final written reflection she comments:

I think boulangeries in France would make fresher bread. They don't sell cakes, but sometimes patisseries and boulangeries are in the one shop.

She notes also that they address people as Madame and comments I like the French politeness.

Reflecting on peers' interpretations of a French situation involves questioning assumptions, both those of the learner and others. On watching or listening to peers' French responses or perspectives, a learner may ask: What rings true? What is my experience? In Case Study 3, following the presentation of each conversation to the class, we had a discussion that constituted peer assessment. These discussions were one of the most important elements in developing intercultural sensitivity because as analyser, as well as audience and performer, students come to make meaning of the nature and processes of communication itself (ACARA, 2011, p.25).

The following extract shows that students' analysis moved beyond simply commenting on pronunciation, fluency, memorisation and clarity of execution. They reflect on the fundamentals of communication and language use across languages and cultures. They are making sense of what this means to them.

Millie: At the start it seemed pretty unnatural watching them say synchronised lines.

T: Was that with the two boys?

Millie: Yes. One could say 'Bonjour Madame' and the other could say 'Bonjour'.

T: So to you, that part of it didn't feel like a natural conversation.

Millie: Yes

Hayley: I thought it was really cool and interesting how, as Mandy said, (the two boys) said their words at the same time but I didn't think it was unnatural ... because I know that sometimes people do just accidentally say words at the same time.

Jasmine: Like if you were at the shop you might say bonjour at the same time. So it wasn't that unrealistic.

Students are discussing what constitutes the natural flow of conversation. In the following extract, the difference between a natural conversation and an artificial one is touched on.

Amy: ... I felt I was in an actual bouiangerie.

Erin: I thought it sounded a bit robotic. Like they were sort of stopping in-be-tween-each-word, and so for me it didn't seem all that realistic.

T: Amy just said she felt like it was in a real bouiangerie and Erin felt it was robotic. Who can make a comment on their two different opinions?

Hayley: I agree with a bit of both of them because I thought that Amy said she felt like she was in a real shop in France and I also thought the same as Erin as it did sound a little robotic.

T: Do you think it started really smoothly and then got a little robotic towards the end perhaps?

Others: Yes, yes, definitely, definitely.

Tom: Maybe she thought that the script was like a real conversation in a bouiangerie but they were speaking a little robotically?

T: So the script that they produced was pretty authentic, is that what you would say?

Tom: Yes

T: But perhaps a little more rehearsal to make it smoother.

As students reflect on their learning and themselves as intercultural language learners, they are also developing a sense of responsibility.


In communication, learning involves accepting responsibility for one's way of interacting with others within and across languages and for striving continuously to better understand self and others in the ongoing development of intercultural sensitivity (Scarino & Liddicoat, 2009 p. 35).

Through reflecting on their own and others' communication, learners ... learn that different ideas and ways can be regarded as 'normal' to others, while being 'new' or 'foreign' to them. This experience invariably challenges and ideally extends their ways of seeing and representing the world. (ACARA, 2011 p. 23)

Learners reflect on the language and culture they are learning through the lens of their own culture (Kramsch, 1993). They create meanings for themselves as they adjust their own perspective in relation to others. It is through shared experiences, shared beliefs and practices that they identify with a particular culture. Through intercultural exchange they reflect on what it means to be part of a culture. In so doing they explore and develop their own identity (Kramsch, 1993). They ask 'What does this mean to me?' Their ways of viewing and representing the world are extended.

Through the process of meaning-making, students reflect on their individual experience in comparison with shared experiences that connect them to their culture. This is always in comparison to others and to the other culture. Take the aforementioned examples where students reflect on the DVD episode or the discussions centred on bread. By comparing varied experiences and attitudes around the class with each other, in comparison with variations in what they observe of France they move from simply 'noticing' to questioning assumptions, reinterpreting and reconsidering. It is a constant referencing back and forth. They reconsider in relation to themselves and they reconsider in relation to the other culture and language. They see that France is not one homogeneous culture. In so doing, the cliches and stereotypes can be noted as such.

In Case Study 2, Claire uses the image of a man wearing a beret, riding a bike with baguettes under his arm. Students agree this is a stereotype. She then asks:

Do you think that all French people would go to the bakery before breakfast and then on the way home from school?

Students think probably not. She asks them:

Can you say something is true for everyone in a country?

They are led from 'noticing' to 'reflecting'.

In Case Study 3, when using a similar cliched image, a student asks what is a cliche. To illustrate, we discuss equivalent cliches in Australia.

T: ... It would be like saying a cliche for an Australian person might be um ...

S1: wearing shorts and thongs

T: Okay, someone wearing shorts and thongs

S2: At the beach

T: At the beach. Everybody in Australia wears shorts and thongs all year round and lives at the beach and goes surfing.

S3: And has a barbecue.

Students understand stereotypes in their own culture. When pointed out to them, they are able to see them in French as well. Developing such awareness can mean that over time students build these observational and questioning skills for themselves. Through this interplay between languages and cultures, students build their own identity. I take a student's reflective comment from each case study to illustrate this:

I have never tried French bread but I would like to try some. I think it looks tastier and more effort goes into French bread when here it's not so big a fuss. But I prefer the way of buying Aussie bread each week. (CSV

The French buy their bread daily. I buy my bread daily but others don't. (CS2)

I would prefer (the French system) because I like the idea of bread without anything but the good stuff, how it's baked fresh, and how they address people. They address people as Madame. In Australia they just order although there is an occasional 'how are you' or 'have a nice day'. (CS3)

Students are making meaning of their learning while questioning their own assumptions or the assumptions of the culture to which they identify. They are doing this at the same time as comparing themselves with another culture. In only a short series of lessons, we see the beginnings of a developing intercultural sensitivity (Scarino & Liddicoat, 2009 p. 35). The Shape paper specifies that one of the aims of learning languages is that over time learners develop respect for multiple perspectives and an understanding of the diverse, rich and dynamic nature of the contemporary world (ACARA, 2011, p. 23).


Through this study, I have shown how the teachers in my study have attempted to operationalise intercultural language learning by focusing above all on meaning and reciprocal meaning-making. Teachers attend to the meanings that their students are making and developing, while maintaining a comparative perspective. In facilitating the making of connections for learners, teachers maintain a balance between being open and giving direction. Providing texts and experiences that are as 'real' as possible is a key element in this balance. Building opportunities for reflection is an essential part of this pedagogy. A focus on language and language use in the context of culture is maintained. Recognising the interconnectedness between language and culture is important in the making of meaning. Teachers lead their students to create meaning for themselves as they adjust their perspective in relation to others. Through this study I have found that it is not only what is done in the classroom that is important, but also how each teacher sees and understands intercultural language learning.

The teacher in Case Study 1 sees and understands the intercultural above all as a cultural process. Anne reflects on her dilemma in leading the discussions without feeding the students too much information. She comments that she finds it hard to stop herself from 'leading them to what you want'. She wonders how to get 'them' to come up with ideas. For Anne, maintaining a balance between openness and direction is a challenge in the pedagogy for meaning making.

On reflecting on the whole unit, Anne comments: As we got into the play work I felt like it was sort of what we normally do anyway and I started to lose the connection with the reciprocating bit. For Anne, the interconnection of language and culture and its importance to meaning-making was perceived as a challenge. Anne's final comments are that she enjoyed the challenge and notes that with practice and better understanding ... (I) would become more efficient in delivering and exploring.

The teacher in Case Study 2 sees and understands an intercultural orientation to language learning as a comparative process. She attends to her students meaning-making, in particular the cultural connections they are making. She understands that reflection plays a role in this.

On reviewing her lessons, Claire notes missed opportunities to take things further. She says: After listening several times I noticed that although I thought I was giving the students opportunities to reciprocate, it was not in a natural way but more 'clipped' as I often moved on quickly to the next hand up instead of exploring a little more deeply the students' perspective. How to facilitate the connections students make was perceived as a challenge.

Claire was disappointed that she was unable to include peer assessment of the 'plays'. She comments that she normally builds this into her program. She often creates a rubric for the task of peer assessment. In her conceptualising, she began to consider ways to capture the intercultural within such a rubric. Unfortunately she was unable to complete this. She was not present when her students filmed their plays. She comments: In a less 'compact' group of lessons I would refilm after viewing and student assessment. This would lead to a deeper level of learning and understanding. Maybe / would have a formative, then a summative assessment.

In Case Study 3, I saw and understood intercultural language learning as a multifaceted concept, one that involves both an intercultural and /Intracultural element. I saw that students make sense of their language learning through the lens of their own culture. I also saw it as a reflective process, as learners and their teacher considered how language influences culture and culture influences language.

I also perceived the balance between openness and direction as a challenge. Like Claire, I note in my journal that in hindsight I sometimes brushed over what could have been a good point for further exploration. I wonder what good connections and original thoughts were missed amongst the raised hands. I comment that in getting students to write a short reflection at the end of the lesson, I may be giving those who are not so vocal in class an opportunity to express their thoughts. As teachers, we need to be cognisant of the meaning-making of all learners.

In my conceptualising of an intercultural orientation to language learning, I thought much about how to balance English discussion and maintain a focus on using the French language. I looked for ways to keep French language at the fore and the focus of every lesson. The interconnectedness of language and culture are important in meaning-making, as is maintaining a focus on language and language use in the context of culture.


How we bring learners, through language use and language learning, to an understanding of others, especially linguistically and culturally diverse others, and, in so doing, to a better understanding of themselves, is an educational challenge. The curriculum area of Languages has a major role to play in this.

This study was small, involving only three teachers and centred on one unit of work on a single theme, conducted over a short period of time. We were, however, able to focus on pedagogies considering languages and cultures in an interconnected way, and to consider the role of reflection in making meaning.

What the study shows is that language teaching and learning as an intercultural process is a conceptual matter. However, pedagogies that consider languages and cultures in an interconnected way and the role of reflection in meaning making are complex issues for all teachers of language. It requires a shift in teaching stance. With the Australian Curriculum: Languages we have the opportunity to engage our learners in a way that does justice to communication as the exchange of meaning, that places them at the centre of their learning and that develops in them an intercultural capability. As teachers of languages, we need to take up this opportunity to explore our teaching practice in light of our students' learning.


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Catherine Skene currently teaches French at Glen Osmond Primary School in South Australia. She has been teaching French at primary level for 28 years, mostly in SA government schools, and spent three years as a Primary French language consultant with the SA Department of Education and Children's Services. She is interested in exploring intercultural language learning with young learners in the primary setting, and has been involved with a number of projects through the University of South Australia, where she gained a Masters of Education (Languages Education) in 2012.


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Date:Feb 1, 2014
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