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Thursday, May 15, 2014 (read 820 times)

Intercultural Competency in the Classroom

by Lauris

The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity

On the road to achieving or raising awareness of, if that is the case, intercultural competency among our students, we will need to act as a guide and counselor while not controlling the process. This leads us to a fundamental idea: The objective we should pursue isn’t one where students get to know the other culture they are immersed in, nor should it be enough that they behave adequately in that culture. What we need to achieve is something more profound. Our goal should be something that can be summed up with the letters DMIS or the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity.

If we understand the development of intercultural competency as the ability to relate effectively and correctly in diverse cultural contexts, then this requires a certain sensitivity or empathy when faced with something considered culturally different. In addition, some specific skills the communicator will need to employ need to be understood.

Many people agree that this model is an evolutionary process that takes place over different stages. In the first stage of this process we understand that ethnocentric sentiment plays a leading role. Here we find that one’s own culture is the center of their reality. When a person is culturally entrenched within their culture, this limits their thinking to the belief that cultural differences are nothing less than a direct threat. We must work to make our students understand the cultural differences that take the form of non-verbal language, the particularities of the language itself or different styles of communication. If we can get our students to understand, for example, the origin of some stereotypes and realize the role that these have in the creation of misunderstandings, we will then begin to break through the denial and defensiveness they have towards the other culture. Knowledge relativizes the petrified borders of our thinking and ideas with respect to other cultures and makes them understand their cultural concepts in relation to the other.

Now we arrive to the second step. Relativization or minimizing the importance of cultural differences is the product of a progressive broadening of one’s own mind. This is because the person is able to understand one’s own culture (while observing, analyzing and assimilating the other) within the context of the other culture. This process increases the capacity of finding and using shared elements of communication, showing a greater sense of humor and being able to accept our own errors. All of this will help us reach our goal of breaking through the second stage: the acceptance of cultural differences.

We must recognize the fact that all behavior, as strange as it may appear to us, has a cultural context that makes it not only understandable, but also relevant. Just like the hand gesture that symbolizes the longhorn of Texas (where you raise your index and pinkie fingers); in Spain this is not considered a symbol of pertinence or positive differentiation. In Spain, this gesture is considered an insult. More precisely, this sign (when directed towards a man) is taken as an attack on his masculinity--indicating his status as a cuckold.  How many times have problems arisen from misunderstandings of this nature—simply for the fact that someone didn’t know the meaning of something? And if the person never wanted to know? Which is worse? It’s fundamental we understand that intercultural differences aren’t something that we should consider negative or have to put up with. Instead, they are something we should welcome because these differences permit us to enter into another culture beyond just the lexicon and/or the grammatical.

Once we have reached this point we will start to observe a greater empathy towards the other culture. This empathy requires flexibility and an increase in skills and abilities on the part of the student that will grow in relation to their ability to assume risks while communicating. This increased assumption of risk is achieved thanks to the application of new categories that this newly acquired knowledge has created, making possible the acceptance of mistakes with a more positive attitude including being able to laugh at oneself. Now, we will be much closer to the integration of other cultures which will become another creative element that our students will employ.  This will enrich their ability to express themselves as well as understand and resolve communicative conflicts. Finally, this interaction will make them infinitely more comfortable, giving them an almost pleasurable feeling, speaking Spanish.

Keywords: spanish classroom,spanish teaching,developmental model of intercultural sensitivity,intercultural sensitivity,intercultural competency


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