The Development of Intercultural
Communicative Competence
through a telecollaborative
exchange between Chinese and
Spanish students
Rocío Blasco García
The University of Hong Kong
• Introduction
• Intercultural Communicative Competence
• Telecollaboration and ICC
• The Study:
Description of the Study
Results and Discussion
• New technologies in the foreign language
• Internet  inexhaustible source of materials
• Computers essential tool
o For foreign language learners
o For teachers
• Today’s students are digital natives
• Learning a foreign language in a non-immersion
environment presents challenges:
o Practice of oral skills (small size oral groups)
o Acquisition of intercultural competence (it has gained
importance since the 90s)
• Byram (1997)  “successful communication is not
judged solely in terms of the efficiency of
information exchange. It is focused on establishing
and maintaining relationships.”
• Intercultural competence (IC)  “the ability to
understand and relate to people from other
• How do we teach intercultural competence? How
do students acquire it?
• Internet provides synchronous and asynchronous
tools (chats, videoconferencing, skype, email, wikis,
forums, blogs, etc.) to communicate and develop
• Present study explores the acquisition of intercultural
competence in students of Spanish and Chinese as
a foreign language.
• Reasons:
o Difficulty to get close to language and culture due to
geographical distance
o Students wanted to communicate with peers of similar
ages and interests
• Result: an email exchange project between HKU
students and students of Chinese at CSIM (Centro
Superior de Idiomas Modernos) Universidad
Complutense, Madrid
Intercultural Communicative Competence
• Learning a language effectively requires acquisition
of language skills and of the culture behind the
• Agar (1994) languaculture “culture is in language
and language is loaded with culture”
• Creation of a ‘third space’ between the culture of
origin (C1) and the target culture (C2)
• Once the ‘third space’ is created and
characteristics of both cultures are accepted
without judgment a learner has acquired ICC
Byram’s model of ICC (1997)
• Five principles or savoirs which are interdependent
interpret and relate
(savoir comprendre)
Of self and other;
of interaction:
individual and
polítical education
critical cultural awareness
(savoir s’engager)
Discover and/or interact
(savoir apprendre/faire)
relativizing self
valuing other
(savoir être)
Byram’s model of ICC (1997)
• Attitudes  towards people perceived as different
(prejudice or stereotype)
• Knowledge  of social groups and their products in both
cultures (know the general culture but also how to act
• Skills of interpretation and relation  interpret a
document/event from another culture and relate it to
one’s own
• Skills of discovery and interaction  social interaction
with members of the target culture
• The interaction between the 4 components leads to
critical cultural awareness
• Learners become intercultural speakers
How to assess acquisition of ICC?
• Byram (2000) uses five criteria:
• A) Interest in knowing about other people’s way of
life and presenting my own culture to others
o Interest in other people’s experience of daily life (especially
things not usually presented to outsiders)
o Interest in the daily experience of a variety of social groups
within a society
• B) Ability to change perspective
o Understand other cultures by seeing things from a different
point of view and by looking at my culture from their
How to assess acquisition of ICC?
• C) Knowledge about one’s own culture and that of
another country for intercultural communication
o Facts about living in the other culture, the country,
state and people.
o Engage in and maintain a conversation with people of
the other culture
• D) Knowledge about (the process of) intercultural
o Resolve misunderstandings from lack of awareness of
the view point of another culture
o Discover new information and new aspects of the
other culture for myself
E) Ability to cope with living in a different culture
o Cope with a range of reactions to living in a different
culture (euphoria, homesickness, physical and mental
discomfort, etc.)
Intercultural Speakers
• Byram (2000, p.2) describes intercultural speakers as
“someone with some degree of intercultural
competence is someone who is able to see
relationships between different cultures – both internal
and external to a society – and is able to mediate,
that is, interpret each in terms of the other, either for
themselves or for other people”
Telecollaboration and ICC
• Telecollaboration  online interaction between
learners and native speakers of a language who
carry out collaborative activities, debates or cultural
exchanges with the aim of learning the language
and culture of their partner (Vinagre, 2010).
• It occurs when language students in diverse
international locations make use of internet
mediated communication tools to improve and
develop their linguistic competence as well as their
intercultural competence (Belz, 2003)
• Telecollaboration is an excellent option for people
who cannot go to the country of the target
Telecollaboration and ICC
• Three most common models of telecollaboration
according to O’Dowd (2007):
• Cultura  focus on the integration of culture into the
language classroom. Compares the 2 cultures, uses
the mother tongue.
• eTandem  two learners offer reciprocal support and
teaching through synchronous or asynchronous type
exchanges. Two principles: reciprocity and autonomy.
Use of mother tongue and target language
• eTwinning  no guidelines for use of language,
content or structure of the exchange. Designed for
schools , platform for collaborative projects.
Telecollaboration and the Study
• A hybrid between Cultura and eTandem was
adopted for various reasons:
o Purpose  to analyze the cultural exchange, not the
linguistic aspect.
o Cultura required a high proficiency in the foreign
language (not possible for Spanish participants)
o eTandem required bilingual emails which required high
proficiency (not possible for Spanish participants)
o The investigator did not read Chinese (a problem for
monitoring the email exchange)
• A compromise was reached by using English/Spanish
as the languages for communication
Telecollaboration and the Study
• Email was chosen as the tool for communication for
a number of reasons:
o Previous studies have shown it to be an effective tool
(O’Dowd, 2003; Hertel, 2003; Liaw, 2006; Vinagre, 2010)
o O’Dowd (2006) opines that asynchronous tools are
better for research into intercultural aspects because:
• they allow time to reflect upon questions and
• they allow the printing and sharing of texts (sent and
• students produce more profound and detailed
content about their culture.
Telecollaboration and the Study
o Email allows students to think about the content of their
messages and the best way to express themselves.
o Time difference between Spain and Hong Kong.
Description of the Study
• 9 Chinese students of Spanish (HKU) & 9 Spanish
students of Chinese (CSIM, Madrid) (only 7 pairs
• Exchange between December 2009 and March
• Similar ages
• Chinese participants studying Spanish as a Major or
Minor (level of Spanish B1-B2)
• Spanish participants learned Chinese as an
extracurricular activity (level of Chinese A2)
• All had English as their L2
• Random pairing, 2 emails per week (given topics)
• Also 3 questionnaires and a learning journal
• Qualitative methodology to look at the qualities of
the phenomena rather than measure them
• Triangulation was carried out by analyzing emails,
answers to the 3 questionnaires and the learning
journals of each participant
• The project looked at 3 questions:
o Can ICC be developed through an email telecollaborative
o Is email a useful tool to learn the target language culture?
o Is it possible to incorporate this type of activity within the
language classroom?
• We are only going to look at the analysis of the email
exchanges, carried out using the criteria proposed
by Byram (2000)
Results and Discussion
• Corpus of 258 messages
• Results presented according to each criterion
A. Interest in knowing about other people’s way of life
and presenting my own culture to others
Chinese Participants
Spanish Participants
Own Culture
Other culture
Results and Discussion
• This criterion had the highest number of results
• In a previous study (Vinagre, 2010) it was argued
that the reasons may have been that students were
told to discuss their culture with partners
• This would give way to comparison between the 2
• Present their own culture had similar results for
Chinese and Spanish participants(185 & 189)
• Showing interest in knowing the other person’s
culture had different results, much higher for
Chinese students (103) than Spanish students (40)
• Possibly it was because Chinese students started the
exchange, so they started the questions
Examples – Present own culture
• Eileen (Semana 3, mensaje 5.1) Por cierto ¿sabes que el Año
Nuevo Chino se acerca? Este año es un poco interesante
porque el primero día del Año Nuevo Chino y el Día de San
Valentín caen en el mismo día. Es el festival chino que me
gusta más. ¿Sabes qué hacemos en este festival? Visitamos
nuestras parientes y los niños son felices porque pueden
recibir los “paquetes rojos” en que se puede encontrar dinero.
Solo la gente que está casada distribuye los “paquetes rojos”
• Ethel (Semana 6, mensaje 6.2) En esta ocasión vamos a
hablar de supersticiones. Tengo que admitir que en este tema
los chinos somos unos expertos. Aunque la gente puede no
tener una creencia religiosa determinada, hay muchas cosas
que se deben o no hacer. También tenemos un “festival de
los espíritus” durante un mes entero que siempre me asusta. Te
voy a hablar de ellas una por una. Para la gente que va a
hacer negocios es importante, antes de empezar, quemar
incienso para los dioses, y celebrar una gran fiesta en la que
hay un cochinillo asado y fruta colocados en un altar.
Ejemplos – Interest for other’s culture
• Jenny (Semana 3, mensaje 3.2) Me pregunto, ¿con
qué frecuencia van los españoles a los pubs/bares?
¿Es ir a las discotecas una parte importante de la
cultura y estilo de vida de España?
• Adriana (Semana 2, mensaje 2.1) Quería
preguntarte, ¿qué es el dim sum? ¿me puedes
hablar sobre el festival de medio otoño?
Results and Discussion
B. Ability to change perspective
Chinese Participants
Spanish Participants
• The least represented in the study
• Chinese students (16) & Spanish students (13)
• Although students were eager to know more about
the partner’s culture they could not put themselves
in the other’s position to reflect on their own culture
Examples – change perspective
• Ethel (Semana 2, mensaje 2.2.2) En cuanto a los
sé, me parece es un poco cruel de verdad. Aunque tienes
razón que viven muy bien hasta el día y la verdad es que
nunca la he visto la corrida. Pero todo lo que hemos
hecho a los toros durante la corrida me parece bastante
triste. De todas formas, pienso que los toros significan
mucho para vosotros verdad? No sé por qué esto debe de
ser prohibido si es un símbolo importante para los
españoles, lo cierto es que cada día la gente hace
muchas cosas malas a los animales y el planeta. Lo de los
toros sí que considero cruel pero tampoco es tan malo
cuando ponemos comparación a los demás. Espero que
no te moleste mi opinión...a ti qué te parece Ignacio?
Examples – change perspective
• Susana (Semana 5, mensaje 5.2) Y estuve
pensando estos días sobre los españoles y sobre si
son abiertos de mente hacia los extranjeros porque
depende principalmente del lenguaje, es decir, si el
español está interesado en otras culturas, en hacer
nuevos amigos y puede hablar la lengua,
normalmente son muy amistosos y abren sus
mentes pero si no es ese el caso, si prefieren
simplemente tener sus amigos, seguir con sus vidas
normales y si especialmente no hablan el idioma
entonces o son tan amigables como debieran. Así,
dependiendo de la persona son de una manera u
Results and Discussion
C. Knowledge about one’s own culture and that of
another country for intercultural communication
Chinese Participants
Spanish Participants
• Examples of knowledge of the partner’s culture,
second most popular criterion
• Chinese students (52) & Spanish students (35)
• Chinese students had an extensive knowledge
about Spanish culture due to travelling to the
country (5), some also had taken culture courses at
Results and Discussion
• Spanish students did not take Chinese culture
• Only 3 had travelled to China
• All participants compared the 2 cultures
Examples – Knowledge of other’s culture
• Eunice (Semana 2, mensaje 2.2) ¿te gusta ver películas?
¿Qué tipo de películas te gusta? He visto algunas
películas en español por ejemplo, Volver, El Orfanato,
Jamón Jamón, Open your eyes, y creo que todos son
muy buenos. Mi favorita es Volver.
• Jacobo (Semana 6, mensaje 6.2) En cuanto a las
supersticiones, sí conocía lo del número 4 ya que me lo
dijo mi profesora de mandarín al empezar las clases de
pronunciación, lo de quemar cosas de papel para la otra
vida lo vi en un documental hace unas semanas. :-)
Results and Discussion
D. Knowledge about (the process of) intercultural
Chinese Participants
Spanish Participants
• Results were quite similar for both groups: 33 for
Chinese students and 28 for Spanish students
• To guarantee communication it was necessary to
engage in the exchange, create a cooperative
atmosphere (emoticons, thanking each other,
informal tone, avoidance of awkward topics)
Examples – knowledge about intercultural com
• Vincy (Semana 6, mensaje 6.1) Para la mayoría de los
chinos, piensan que español es perezoso, pero muy
apasionado. La razón es que los chinos son muy
trabajadores y no pasan mucho tiempo durmiendo y
haciendo actividades de ocio. Sin embargo, ellos ven
que la mayoría de los españoles a tomar la siesta
después de terminar el almuerzo. Parecen que
espanoles son perezosos.
• Manuel (Semana 4, mensaje 4.1) He conocido poca gente en
Asia, la mayoría de Taiwán. Siempre me han parecido
amables y educados, pero también distantes. Es muy difícil
saber qué está pensando o cual es su opinión sobre un
asunto. Y si algo le parece mal no lo dice. Parece difícil que
un chino diga "NO".
• The present study was carried out with the objective of
analyzing how email exchanges could contribute to the
development of ICC in foreign language learners in
Hong Kong and Spain.
• The results obtained confirmed that students had
developed their intercultural competence in all four
aspects albeit at different levels.
• Data collected through other instruments also
corroborated the fact that students felt they had
acquired intercultural competence.
• Email exchanges allowed participants a unique
opportunity to contrast and compare their own cultural
practices and those of their partners regardless of the
physical distance.
• This was highly valued by all participants
• Through the process of having to compose
messages, all students developed their intercultural
competence because they had to think about their
partner’s habits, way of thinking, interests, feelings,
• They also had to consider the best way to present
• Intercultural speakers are those who “can establish
a relationship between their own and the other
cultures, to mediate and explain differences – and
ultimately to accept that difference and see the
common humanity beneath it” (Byram & Fleming,
1998, p. 8).

The Use of E-mail for the Development of - UNI