Monday, February 9, 2009

Model of cross-cultural interaction

Flowerdew and Miller’s (1995) model of cross-cultural interaction will help answer these questions. After carrying out a three-year ethnographic study on the interaction between American, British, and Australian lecturers and Hong Kong Chinese students, the two researchers proposed a four-element framework for analyzing second language lectures at four cultural levels—ethnic culture, local culture, academic culture, and disciplinary culture (see Figure 4).

The first element, ethnic culture, is defined as “social-psychological features which affect the behavior of students and which may contrast with the social-psychological make-up of Western lecturers” (p. 356). For example, the Chinese students’ Confucian heritage has place an emphasis on family value and respect for elders. However, their reluctance to express opinions in front of the teachers may be associated with another Asian value of saving face. A “high level of achievement motivation” (p. 358) is also considered pertinent to their ethnic culture.
The second element in this framework is that of local culture, which is defined as “aspects of a local setting with which the members of a particular society are familiar” (p. 359). An example was that the Chinese students expressed their complaints for the lectures’ lack of use of local examples when elucidating concepts in their presentations.

A third element is academic culture, which refers to “those features of the lecture situation which require an understanding of the particular academic values, roles, assumptions, attitudes, patterns of behavior, and so on” (p. 362). They note that academic culture is situated at several different levels: (a) within a group of countries (European nations for example), (b) at a nation level, (c) within a group of institutions, (d) in a given country, or (e) within a particular institution. In the case of the Hong Kong Chinese students, they have found that four features are involved. The first feature is that memorization is being used as a primary cognitive learning strategy. This strategy has been highly developed since a young age. The second feature is that the Confucian value for respect to teachers and the language barrier produce a significant avoidance of classroom interaction with teachers. A third observation is “the propensity of students to help each other” that is rooted in the Chinese “collectivist approach to social interaction” (p. 363). The fourth feature involves the lack of creativity on the part of students due to rigid examinations and assignments and “lacking in critical and original thought” (p. 365).

The fourth dynamic in this framework, disciplinary culture, is defined as “the theories, concepts, norms, terms, and so on of a particular academic discipline” (p. 366). It connotes that some disciplines may be common to different cultures, however, they may use different theories, concepts, and norms that are expressions of those cultures. Taking lecture structures for example, Flowerdew and Miller (1995) point out that the other-culture student is faced not only with learning lecture structures related to various disciplines but must also cope with the discourse features of English language.

Flowerdew and Miller suggest that their model may be useful to researchers and educators in the fields that involve oral instruction across cultural boundaries. However, they lament “there is a dearth of information as to the cross-cultural aspects of lectures which can assist Western lectures in teaching non-Western students” (p. 370).

Flowerdew, J., & Miller, L. (1995). On the notion of culture in L2 lectures. TESOL Quarterly, 29 (2), 345-373.

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