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Intercultural communication in European ELT

It is now common knowledge that perceptions of appropriateness and politeness are culturally specific and that cross-cultural communication bears the risk of causing misunderstanding. Is it therefore not annoying that most ESL/EFL courses do not equip students with sufficient knowledge to avoid misunderstandings stemming from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds? Equipping learners with knowledge about how language works (meaning how people understand what is said, even when it is not obvious as the literal meaning is not the same as the intended meaning of the speaker), seems to be an essential element of language education. Teaching speech act knowledge (how to apologise, how to refuse, etc.) and skills (when to employ what strategies) is not a task beyond the teacher’s grasp. It is feasible and rewarding, and what is most important, it prepares students for the challenges of intercultural communication.

What kind of English do we learn and teach?

European citizens are a diverse group of people who, although different, do share a vast number of experiences, beliefs, behaviours, and who are characterised by emerging tendencies in the way in which they communicate. Europe, being in the process of becoming a diversified unit of intertwined cultures and languages, is no longer a set of individual, isolated countries protecting and securing solely their own interest. With the hopes of an even greater union between EU member states and the ideal of a plurilingual European, fluent in intercultural communication, with European loyalty and ties to their roots, a need for action in European ELT classes is needed. It is no longer enough for people across Europe to learn English, since the English being taught and learnt is not one, but many.

With different Euro-Englishes being used (e.g. Polglish, Spanglish, etc.), intercultural communication is not made easy, but to the contrary, the variability creates obstacles where there should be none. Pragmatic transfer, being an integral part of language learning, influences the way L2 is used, and with speakers from different cultural backgrounds the probability of misunderstanding is large due to the possible lack of a common reference point to what is polite, appropriate and desirable linguistic and non-linguistic behaviour. Consistency, clarity and transparency of linguistic rules facilitate more effective communication, which is crucial for intercultural cooperation and the strengthening of ties between citizens of the member states.

British English words and grammar + Pragmatics of Euro-English = English for European Communication