An Intercultural Communication Simulation

Asako Kajiura, Intercultural Communication Trainer and Translator; Greg Goodmacher, Kwassui University


Key Words: Speaking, Intercultural Communication, Writing
Learner English Level: Intermediate through advanced
Learner Maturity Level: High school through adult
Preparation Time: Varies
Activity Time: 1 or 2 class sections

One part of being a good global citizen is to be able to understand and be sensitive to features of other cultures, such as body language, discourse patterns, and male and female roles. A role play which simulates entering into and interacting with another culture helps student to both practice their English skills and develop their awareness of how people in other cultures interact. This simulation is appropriate for intermediate and advanced level students. Classroom activities before the simulation and the actual simulation can take up to two one and a half-hour class sections or less, depending upon the levels of the students. Teachers can vary the difficulty of the language and tasks involved to fit various class levels.

Preparation for the simulation involves teaching the concepts of body language, especially regarding greetings, leave takings, and personal space. Students must know vocabulary such as bowing, shaking hands, hugging, kissing, touching palms together, etc. Additionally, they must be introduced to both the concept of gender roles and the vocabulary for discussing gender roles. For teaching the concepts and vocabulary above, sections from videos which show people from various cultures interacting in many ways, such as greeting, eating, leaving, interrupting, etc., are very useful. Students watch with the task of observing and recording how males and females from these cultures interact.

If possible, do the simulation with another teacher and his or her class. If this is not possible, divide your class in half. Place the students in two different rooms, so each group is ignorant of what the other group is doing. The students must be told to imagine and to create a new culture with unique body language for greetings and leave takings, etc. They must also decide what types of questions are asked and what topics are discussed when meeting strangers, as well as how men and women in their cultures differ regarding discourse and body language. The students or the teacher can write these social norms on the board. Each student must also create his or her own identity which includes a new name and occupation. If students have trouble deciding how people interact in their new culture, the teacher might offer suggestions such as touching elbows or men standing behind women when greeting others. For lower level students, the teacher can assign social rules and individual identities. When students understand their new culture's rules of social interaction , they should practice following their rules until they no longer need to look at the writing on the board, which is subsequently erased.

In the next stage, a small group of "explorers" from each culture travel to the other culture with instructions to meet the foreigners, introduce themselves, and observe the foreign group's body language, conversation rules, and gender roles. These "explorers" are to enter the other classroom (culture) while following the rules of their original culture, but they can adapt to the foreign culture if they wish. Give them around five minutes to interact. The interaction time depends upon the time available, the language skills and interest levels of the students.

After this, the "explorers" return to their home cultures and report their observations and ideas about how members of the foreign culture interact. Following this, a new group of "explorers" leaves for the foreign culture and the process is repeated until all students have spent time exploring and observing the foreign culture.

In the final step, all members of the two cultures come together in one classroom. Representatives from each culture express their assumptions about the social rules of the other culture. Each group tells the other group if the assumptions are correct. If the assumptions are incorrect, the groups explain their rules of social interaction. The groups also discuss how the two cultures differ and what they share in common.

This simulation can be followed up with writing activities. One is a writing task where students reflect upon what they have done and learned, and the other is an essay comparing and contrasting the two cultures. Another possibility is writing advice for someone going to a foreign culture.