Intercultural Communicative Competence and English Language Education in a Globalized World

David McMurray, The International University of Kagoshima

This year’s top billing at English teacher conferences here in Japan as well as overseas goes to scholars who believe it is essential for students to learn to competently communicate with people from different cultures. Keynote speakers who are specialists in Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) were chosen to address the annual Japan Association of College English Teachers (JACET) convention to be held in Kagoshima from August 29 to 31 and the international Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) convention held in Toronto from March 25 to 28.

An example of how ICC can be taught was provided by Godfrey Baldacchino who was invited to present his research on resolving island territorial issues at Kagoshima University, the site of the JACET convention as well as at the International University of Kagoshima (IUK) in February. In deciding upon a desired outcome for his lecture on this divisive topic, the seasoned instructor from Malta on sabbatical from the University of Prince Edward Island aimed at nurturing his students’ capacity for reflection and evaluation of their own and others’ values, beliefs, and behaviors. In essence, the mainstream lecturer from a sociology discipline suggested that if the students wanted to one day become key players in resolving Taiwanese, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese island conflicts, they should have a high level of ICC. ICC is the ability to interact with people who have different social identities as well as their own individuality (Byram, 2008, 2012). Byram (1997) suggests that ICC has five components: attitudes, knowledge, skills to interpret and relate, skills to discover and interact, and critical cultural awareness.

Previous lecturers who had spoken on global issues at IUK include Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress and Caroline Kennedy, the US ambassador to Japan. These guest speakers, who were protected by dozens of security officers, were able to distill an intense debate among the audience of mostly Japanese, Taiwanese, Korean, and Chinese majors in intercultural education for whom English was a foreign language. Their key messages were about changing the world and encouraging students to gain an intercultural education so that they could become critically involved in taking positive grassroots-level actions in the world.

Assisting students in Japan to acquire ICC can be developed through guest speaker sessions according to Nakano, Fukui, Nuspliger, and Gilbert (2011), but it is challenging when essential content such as conflict resolution is taught in a foreign language. An educational approach that effectively addresses this challenge is Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). Inviting guests from other societies and encouraging a diverse student body on campus to register for these lectures provides ample opportunity for exposure to different cultures. Offered as optional lectures, students can receive additional exposure to the English language without requiring extra time in the regular curriculum.

In deciding upon a suitable way to present a sensitive topic that touches on economy-led geopolitical circumstances, Baldacchino borrowed from the CLIL approach. CLIL has its roots in immersion learning; Canadian schools are the forerunners in this field. English is the medium of instruction for his graduate degree programs in Canada that attract French, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese speakers. For his lecture in Japan that was taught in English he focused on the learning of content. Baldacchino (2007) planned a lesson illustrating several case studies of islands in the world which are shared by two or more countries. His pitch to students was that Japan could better work to share or divide possession of the islands that Taiwan, China, Korea and Russia claim they exclusively own. He appointed a teaching assistant (TA) recently hired as an EFL teacher at a local high school to help with reading and the simultaneous learning of essential vocabulary. CLIL is a lexical approach. Realizing that the reading of text prior to a lecture would be helpful, the TA encouraged learners to notice keywords when reading from a manuscript provided prior to the lecture. The TA also provided interpretation during the lecture and facilitated the question and answer period.

Using a CLIL approach, the guest speaker and TA were successful in teaching the islands studies subject as well as the language. This seems to concur with the conclusion of the case analysis by Nakano et al. (2011, p. 50) that, “There is strong evidence to support a variety of the benefits of guest speaker sessions.” Participants experienced a valuable lesson in the importance of ICC. The learners were immediately drawn into studying a complex topic which motivated them to acquire essential language and intercultural competence so they could communicate in a glocal community of classmates and instructors from Japan and abroad. The English language was experienced in a real-life situation in which students used the language to debate a global issue.

As globalized societies seek to expand across oceans and boundaries, English has become an essential lingua franca in today’s world. To be fluent in today’s world, foreign-language students need to combine ICC with grammatical knowledge, reading, listening, speaking, and writing skills. Globalization has also been a trigger for the development of CLIL methodology aimed at teaching English as a foreign language in a manner that responds to students’ needs today. 


Baldacchino, G. (2007). A World of Islands. Charlottetown, Canada: Institute of Island Studies.

Byram, M. S. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Byram, M. S. (2008). From foreign language education to education for intercultural citizenship: Essays and reflection. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Byram, M. S. (2012). Conceptualizing intercultural (communicative) competence and intercultural citizenship. In J. Jackson (Ed.), Routledge handbook of language and intercultural communication. Abingdon, UK: Routledge (pp. 85–97). 

Nakano, Y., Fukui, S., Nuspliger, B., & Gilbert, J. (2011). Developing intercultural communicative competence through guest speaker sessions: Two case studies. Human Welfare (3)1, 23-52.