‘Re-discovering myself’:Identity formations and transcultural communication training in a global context Dr Celia Thompson University of Melbourne, Australia 4th British Association of Applied Linguistics Intercultural Communication Special Interest Group Symposium 17-18 May 2012, Open University Milton Keynes, UK
Overview• Aim of paper and background to transcultural communication pedagogy• Setting the theoretical scene: -Why transcultural communication? - Identity creation and the symbolic nature of language - Dialogism; the subject-in-process-and-on-trial• Teaching materials: Personal histories• A dialogic transcultural communication activity• Preliminary analysis of student interview data• Concluding comments and where to next?
Aim, background & theoretical landscape• My teaching background and aim of paper;• The importance of ‘trans’cultural communication: - multidirectional movement, flow and mixing; - “transnational flow of people” (Canagarajah, 2007a, p. 935); - ‘translanguaging’, ‘translingual language practices’ (Makoni & Pennycook, 2007).• Identity is constructed through language, which operates in symbolic ways: “The word ‘symbolic’, … refers not only to the representation of people and objects in the world but to the construction of perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, aspirations, values through the use of symbolic forms” (Kramsch, 2009, p. 7).
Dialogism & Bakhtin• ‘Dialogue’ occurs not only between different individuals (‘external’ dialogue), but also occurs within the individual in what he terms ‘interior’ or ‘internal’ dialogue (1981, p. 427): a “dialogue with the self” (1984, p. 213);• In these exchanges that take place within all individuals, the words that are used are ‘double-voiced’. Within each of these double-voicings, Bakhtin believes a conflict between voices occurs as each strives to communicate with the other: “These voices are not self-enclosed or deaf to one another. They hear each other constantly, call back and forth to each other, and are reflected in one another” (1984, pp. 74-75).
The subject-in-process-and-on- trial & Kristeva Kristeva theorises subjectivity as a heterogeneous ongoing process of (trans)formation and becoming (Kristeva 1986, p. 30) in which “identities” engage with one another to produce meanings; these meanings however, are not fixed but are in a constant state of flux and may change over time (Kristeva 1996, pp. 190-191).
A dialogic transcultural communication classroom activityAimTo encourage students from multilingual backgrounds toidentify and reflect on their personal experiences ofcommunicating with others from within and beyond theirown cultures; in so doing, students will be expected toengage with, discuss and reflect on the interrelationshipsbetween language, identity, culture and communication.
Pedagogical resources: Personal narrativesText (i) : Bell (2001)
Jeannie Bell (adapted from 2001, pp.45-52)“We weren’t taught our language, we were deliberatelydenied access to this public knowledge. It was demandedof us that we learn to speak and write English, so we couldbe assimilated, integrated, educated, or whatever. Therewas this deliberate cultural and linguistic genocide goingon. People were made to believe that the only acceptableform of communication and lifestyle was one that mirroredthe white one.”
Edward Said (adapted from 2001, pp. 223-245)“I was born in Jerusalem in 1935. My parents werecommuting between Palestine and Egypt. Wewere always on the move. We would spend part ofthe year in Egypt, part of the year in Palestine, andthe summer in Lebanon. In addition to the fact thatmy father had American citizenship, and I was byinheritance therefore American and Palestinian atthe same time, I was living in Egypt and I wasn’tan Egyptian. I, too, was this strange composite.”
Text (iii) Barenboim & Said (2003)Given the tensions between countries in the Middle East,Said’s friendship and professional relationship with DanielBarenboim, who was born into a Russian Jewish family,who had lived in Argentina and migrated to Israel, is avery interesting one to explore. It was their professionalcollaboration that led to the formation of the West-EasternDivan Orchestra and resulted in students from differentMiddle Eastern backgrounds overcoming many of theirunquestioned cultural assumptions about ‘the Other’ inorder to play music successfully together.
Barenboim & Said (2003)“It wasn’t only the Israelis and the Arabs whodidn’t care for each other. There were some Arabswho didn’t care for other Arabs as well as Israeliswho cordially disliked other Israelis. And it wasremarkable to witness the group, despite thetensions of the first week or ten days, turnthemselves into a real orchestra … One set ofidentities was superseded by another set.”(Said in Barenboim & Said 2003, p. 9)
Obama (2004)“ … she recognized my name. That had never happenedbefore, I realised; not in Hawaii, not in Indonesia, not inL.A. or New York or Chicago. For the first time in my life,I felt the comfort, the firmness of identity that a namemight provide, how could it carry an entire history in otherpeople’s memories … No one here in Kenya would askhow to spell my name, or mangle it with an unfamiliartongue. My name belonged so I belonged, drawn into aweb of relationships, alliances, and grudges that I did notyet understand.” (Obama 2004, p. 305)
Step 1: Defining ‘transcultural communication’• Elicit from students what they understand by the term ‘transcultural communication’(Students could be directed to consider the interrelationships between language, identity, culture and communication: concepts that are embedded within the notion of ‘transcultural communication’);• This could be done first in small groups and then comments pooled for whole class discussion;• Next, key quotations from Bakhtin (1984), Canagarajah (2007a), Kristeva (1986; 1996), Makoni & Pennycook (2007) and Said (2001) can be given for students to discuss in small groups.
Step 2: Discussion of sample text extracts • In groups of four, students should read text extracts 1 to 4 (This activity can be directed specifically to correspond to the pedagogical focus of the learning activity. For multilingual students studying English, for example, it will be important to elicit and discuss any unknown lexical items that may be present in the extracts); • Next, students should select (by underlining) key comments/points in the text extracts that they find particularly interesting and relevant (or different) to their own experiences of transcultural communication encounters; • Students then explain the reasons for these selections to other students in their group.
Step 3: Exploring students’ own transcultural communication experiences• In pairs, students should create a series of questions that are designed to elicit and explore students’ own transcultural communication experiences and reflections: These questions should be finalised in writing;• Each member of each pair should then find another student to whom they will pose the questions they have designed.
Step 4: The interview• In these newly formed pairs (created in the final stage of Step 3 above), students ask and respond to each other’s questions about their own transcultural communication experiences;• The length and complexity (e.g. How much should students refer to relevant literature on transcultural communication in their discussion of their interviewees’ responses?) of the task can be adapted to take into account students’ level of study and the potential percentage assessment weighting allocated to the activity.
Step 5: Review of the task• Obtain student feedback on the activity to reflect on areas for revision and improvement for the next iteration of the task;• It would also be possible, with students’ permission, to make their work available for incoming students in order to build on and extend class materials for this kind of activity for future learners.
Preliminary findings: Student language backgrounds• Random sample of 30 from 120 postgraduate pre- university academic orientation ‘bridging’ program;• Setting: Major urban Australian university;• Students identified 43 different languages;• 5 speakers of Urdu; 4 of Bahasa Indonesian, Bangla and Luganda; 3 of Arabic and Hindi; 2 of Dzonkha, French, Mandarin, Nepali, Pashto, Pidgin (PNG) and Punjabi;• All other languages were spoken by one student only.
Preliminary analysis of student interview data• More than 50% of those interviewed (16 out of 30) felt “comfortable” speaking the language(s) they grew up with;• Students’ feelings about learning and speaking English were not so uniform: 5 reported difficulty in expressing their ideas and feelings in English (and other languages) that they had learned through formal education; 4 students felt “uncomfortable” and 3 students felt “comfortable” using English.
Individual comments about language students grew up with• Feel free;• Feel normal;• Feel ‘being in command’;• Feel proud;• Feel unique/different;• Rediscovering myself;• Sense of nationality.
Individual comments about language of formal education• Difficult to communicate using mixed languages;• I feel elated and try to learn new words and expressions in order to be an eloquent speaker;• I feel sophisticated;• No emotional attachment;• Taken out of own culture;• Try to read between the lines especially in academic writing.
Concluding reflections• Impact of globalisation on all linguistic and cultural identity formations and traditional relations of power between and within different languages and cultures;• Power relations no longer fixed but dynamic, unstable and unpredictable;
Concluding reflections• Dialogic and transformative process of ‘inter-animating’ and ‘re-accenting’ of all languages and cultures engaged in communicative interactions;• Increased movement between and engagement with different transnationally constituted ‘communities of practice’;
Concluding reflections• Emergence of new, multiple and evolving transculturally formed identities raises possibilities for increased recognition and validation of linguistic and cultural diversity and practices.
Where to next?• Theoretical directions: Towards a critical transcultural communication pedagogy that fosters ongoing reflection about the role of power, language, culture and identity in transcultural communicative interactions (see Byram, 2008 & 2010; Dasli, 2011; Guilherme, 2002 on critical global citizenship);
Where to next?• Curriculum design: Student-centred and problem-based that encourages a multi- perspectival and critical approach to transcultural communication training (e.g. elicit from students specific work-related examples of problems they have encountered in different transcultural contexts; develop classroom activities and role- plays based on these scenarios for further discussion).