This week we are pleased to publish our interview with Zhu Hua, Professor of Language Learning and Intercultural Communication, UCL IOE, who will be speaking at the plenary session on ‘Intercultural Communication and Language Learning’ at the 2022 Annual Chinese Teaching Conference.

1, Hi, Zhu Hua, you have previously written that “intercultural communication provides an analytical lens to differences we see and experience in our interactions with other people who may look different from us, speak a different language, or speak the same language in a different way.” Could you talk a little about this, and the potential impact it might have on the language-learning classroom/ experience?

I made this observation when I reflected on the essence of intercultural communication as a field. The overarching concern of intercultural communication over the years is about what we do with differences, e.g. differences in the way we communicate to each other, in self-oriented and other-ascribed (cultural) identities and values we hold. Recently, critical intercultural communication research has proven very helpful in understanding inequality and power dynamics in intercultural communication, and importantly, the questions of how differences are constructed and reified.

These developments have two major implications for language learning. First, language learning cannot be separated from culture learning. To learn Chinese address terms and to understand why strangers on the street may address each other as uncles and aunties, for example, one needs to understand the notion of 家(kinship/family)in Chinese culture. Secondly and related to the first point, we also need to think why we learn a language. The goal of language learning is not simply to develop perfect linguistic skills or amass cultural information, but to become an intercultural speaker who can mediate or move between different cultural and linguistic systems and develop symbolic competence that challenges the status quo.

2, You have argued that “language is key to understanding culture, and culture is an indispensable part of studying language”- what advice would you give to teachers on how to incorporate this into their teaching and learning more?

The first step is to make cultural awareness an essential and integrated component of teaching and to embed culture at all levels of language teaching and classroom interactions, from formulaic phrases to communicative acts, from singing a Chinese pop song to talking about an ordinary school day, and from learning to write Chinese characters to culture of learning.  This goes hand in hand with creating space for intercultural reflections.

3, Finally, when thinking about interculturality studies you have talked about the importance of the learner’s own cultural identity and cultural membership; given that many of our teachers are working within multicultural environments, how could this enhance the language class, and understanding?

In addition to integrating culture in language teaching, we need to create space for intercultural reflections where students can relate to their own cultures, language(s) and experiences and make sense of differences they have discovered.  This does not have to be something separate from main classroom activities. I have observed a good example when a Chinese language teacher and her students, while learning the Chinese phrase (中国人/ zhongguoren), were engaged in discussions about their ethnic identities, citizenships and sense of belonging. Through this kind of conversation, a new set of cultural identities and deeper understanding of intercultural relationship will emerge.

Thank you, Zhu Hua!

We look forward to welcoming ticketholders to Zhu Hua’s plenary on Saturday 12th November at the IOE.