Developing Intercultural Awareness through Reading Comprehension while Designing Materials

Derly Meliza Céspedes Roncancio

Lately, terms like world citizens, cultural and intercultural awareness have become more common in different fields of society and education is not the exception. Within the classrooms, we can find cultural diversity since the first day of class. In Colombia, thanks to its cultural diversity, teachers can face classrooms full of cultural variations. In this context, teaching and learning English as a foreign language is mandatory. In this scenario, two important factors are present cultural difference and a language that is not part of students’ own culture (English). This event should be considered when preparing a lesson thinking about how to develop intercultural awareness among students while learning an L2.

Before addressing the issue of how to develop intercultural awareness, it is worth defining this term. Intercultural awareness is the basis of communication because it implies two different processes, the awareness of the mother tongue culture and the foreign culture (Zhu, 2011).  It means that when students start recognizing general cultural terms in their mother culture like language or customs. Once this recognition is done, students can compare and find similarities with the foreign culture.  For example, when they can recognize in which countries their mother and foreign language are spoken.  As a result, while planning classes there should be a time where students can analyze and recognize their own culture so to compare theirs with the foreign one. In the same line of thought, intercultural awareness is an attitudinal process where a person identifies commonalities among groups and notices some predominant features while developing an individual perspective and insights on the matter (Adler, 1986). To sum up, intercultural awareness is a competence that allows any person to understand, respect and break cultural prejudices by recognizing one’s own culture and finding commonalities and differences between it and foreign culture.

A key tool to develop that competence is through reading comprehension. The first step in this process is to choose the readings for the class. There are two types of readings: extensive and intensive. In this case, extensive reading is the one that has more than a page and can be chosen by the teacher according to their students’ needs. Thus, teachers should create their own libraries as well as design their own reading tasks (Harmer, 2005). Hence, this article is focused on extensive reading. Once the teachers choose this type of reading, they can start creating their own tasks. By doing so, teachers should consider that reading is an interactive process between the reader and the text and it must be dynamic (Dutcher, 1990). Regarding this assumption, the reading tasks should be designed to make reading comprehension easier and interesting for to the students. They ought to be involved in a dynamic process of reading while bearing in mind their previous knowledge and the connections students make while reading new information.

While designing the reading tasks, it is important to consider three important moments for helping students to understand texts and even more when they are beginners in language learning. These are the pre, while and post reading activities. These help learners to recognize what they previously know, relate new information to the previous one and create new meanings. Based on this, the pre-reading activities allow students to recognize their previous knowledge. By doing so, they activate their knowledge about the topic and evaluate what they truly know. Once they do this process, the while reading activities are developed in this moment of the task, new knowledge is presented that should be clear and logical for the students. Finally, the post reading activities help learners to identify their new acquired knowledge, display their findings about the differences and commonalities related to the cultural topics presented in the readings, and to reflect about their attitudes toward these aspects.

As it was mentioned above, once teachers choose the type of reading, they must design their tasks when creating their materials (tasks, worksheets, workshops, etc.). In this sense, there are some principles that teachers should consider which help them make authentic materials, adapt them to students’ needs and characteristics, do research and evaluate students (Tomlinson, 2012). As a result, creating own material help teachers in many ways like building their own library helping students to be engaged in their learning process and scaffolding students during the reading process while making sure they comprehend the readings. Similarly, Núñez et al. (2013) and Núñez, Tellez, Castellanos and Ramos (2009) conceived materials as “teaching resources and strategies used to maximize students’ language learning” (p. 172). This implies that creating own materials eases students’ learning. Thus, it is the result of knowing students’ needs and learning styles. Finally, Núñez et al. (2013) argued that materials are “socio-cultural resources that facilitate not only linguistic interaction but also cultural exchanges between the various human groups” (p. 10). In this sense, creating own materials helps to develop students’ intercultural awareness because it allows them to interact and share information about their own cultural experiences. Also, it helps them to be more critical about their contexts and more respectful about the differences.

As a conclusion, intercultural awareness is a competence that can be developed inside the classrooms through the development of materials for improving reading comprehension skills. Once teachers recognize that intercultural awareness is a competence that can be developed in the classroom, they can use readings in English that explain various cultural issues. This allows students to develop awareness towards their attitudes about their own and others’ cultural representations. For students to do so, it is important to develop materials that help them understand this while learning and reinforcing their foreign language. To make this happen it is necessary to design pre-reading activities that allow students to identify the information they already know, while reading activities which help them to acquire new knowledge and post reading activities where students identify commonalities and differences between their own culture and their peers.



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