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Language and Education

ISSN: 0950-0782 (Print) 1747-7581 (Online) Journal homepage:

Cultural Stereotyping and Intercultural
Communication: Working with Students from the
People's Republic of China in the UK

Kate Stephens

To cite this article: Kate Stephens (1997) Cultural Stereotyping and Intercultural Communication:
Working with Students from the People's Republic of China in the UK, Language and Education,
11:2, 113-124, DOI: 10.1080/09500789708666722

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Published online: 29 Mar 2010.

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Song Liling explains that the Chinese dislike the story because of its portrayal of the oriental woman. In traditional Chinese opera. It is suggested that ideas about Chinese culture should be set in historical context. 11. Sources are quoted regarding the recent history of English language teaching in China. Song Liling uses Gallimard’s new government position to pass secrets to the Chinese. But the film goes beyond observation on stereotyped notions of femininity and Western fancy and confusion about the East.Cultural Stereotyping and Intercultural Communication: Working with Students from the People’s Republic of China in the UK Kate Stephens D iv ision of E d u c a tio n . why are the parts of women played by men? Song Liling. A recent study of Chinese students attitudes towards academic study is described and the results are presented of a small-scale attempt to test the generality of its findings: 12 Chinese visiting scholars were given the opportunity to reflect upon and respond in writing to some comments from the earlier study. and about stereotyping as a form of projection. Gallimard can no longer love him because the woman of his imagination has been destroyed. Song Liling reminds Gallimard that if the woman had been an American. and the problematic nature of the concept of culture is discussed. In the film. Song Liling. In prison. tells us it is because only a man really knows how a woman is supposed to behave. kills herself when he returns with his new wife to take away her child. follows him. It is argued that the results support the view of culture as a contested area of discourse. No. The story is a European fantasy about the East. Stephens LANGUAGE AND EDUCATION Vol. Butterfly. Recent interest in culture in relation to language learning is described. Gallimard returns to Paris from his posting in China. and some historical description is given. the question of our own role 0950-0782/97/02 0113-12 $10. in Cronenberg’s film version of the ambiguous M. her suicide would seem not romantic but insane. and the man Japanese. Sh e ffie ld S1 0 2 JA . after a period of imprisonment by the Red Guard. It is concluded that Chinese attitudes to towards academic study are diverse. Univ e rsity of S h e ffie ld . 2. We are left with the question of Gallimard’s own role in the creation of Song Liling. Frenchman Gallimard falls in love with Song Liling after ‘her’ performance in the Italian opera Madame Butterfly. In working with students from China in Britain. having remained loyal to her absent American husband. and is eventually revealed as a spy. 1997 113 . In the process he is also revealed as a man. taking the part himself of a man portraying a woman in a pantomime of Chinese Opera. The opera tells of a Japanese woman who.00/0 ©1997 K. U K This paper considers the problem of cultural stereotyping in work on intercultural communication. It also has something to say about what is contained in the eye of the beholder. Gallimard kills himself. It is argued that communication problems may be more economically explained in terms of aspects of language proficiency rather than cultural differences.

In anthropology. Faced with Chinese culture.1 14 L a n g u a g e and Educ a tio n in the creation of images of the Chinese must be raised. points out that the idea of culture involves an abstraction and reification through the grammatical nominalisation of what should be better conceived as a process subject to change. while some work on intercultural communication draws upon notions of dimensions of cultural difference such as individualism/collectivism (for example. (Street. The interplay between these perspectives is a matter of concern for the process of cultural description. westerners can have a great sense of difference. A culture can be described in terms of a set of categories which are generated by the participants in that culture. It also presents evidence from a small-scale study regarding how 12 Chinese visiting scholars following a course for English Language teacher trainers in the UK responded to some generalisations about their own culture generated a research study by Jin & Cortazzi (1993). and . (Street. 1993: 27) He concludes: ¼if every time the term ‘culture’ is uttered warning bells ring and neon lights flash¼. Clyne. ‘etic’ description. in anthropology the notion of culture has itself been contested. Much of this literature is reviewed in a recent ‘state of the art’ article by Dirven & Putz (1993). the problem of unhelpful cultural stereotyping can be avoided. or it can be described using a system developed by outsiders to that culture. The work they review includes attempts to map and quantify cultural differences. the Confucian legacy and the effects of the cultural revolution. ‘emic’ description. the tension between internally and externally generated category systems is well known. then I shall feel that I have succeeded. 1993: 25) And: The reification and naturalisation of ‘culture’ hides the kinds of questions about power and social change that are currently at the forefront of anthropological enquiry. than with cultural description: Culture is an active process of meaning making and contest over definition. It is my experience of working with Chinese students in an academic context. He suggests that the study of culture should be concerned more with the process of how notions of culture arise and are contested. (Street. since the early anthropological work at the beginning of this century. This paper addresses itself to the question of how far. in making arguments about the relationship between culture and language. Moreover. Dirven & Putz claim that. in our concern to properly take cultural difference into account. that the idea of a distinctive Chinese ‘way of thinking’ has wide currency. a lack of individualism and independent thought. 1994). and a second even stronger one in the eighties. studies of attitudes towards different cultures. 1993: 43) There is a large literature on intercultural communication of relevance to language teaching. Street (1993). there have been two peaks of interest in the subject: one in the sixties and seventies. including its own definition. This sense of difference can be expressed in allusions to authoritarianism and a more communal approach to things.

rather than tending towards the collectivism generally associated with China. However.W o rking w ith Chin e se Stu d e nts in th e UK 115 sociolinguistic studies of obstacles to communication between cultures. Ruben (1989) locates the develop- ment of the study of cross-cultural competence in the practical training needs and adjustment failures of Americans working overseas. obtained in separate interviews. Their study has broken new ground in giving a voice to the experience of the growing number of Chinese students in higher education in Britain. Dirven & Putz suggest that there is a relative lack of theoretical interest in the language culture relationship in the UK. he points out. the view presented of Chinese academic norms and expecta- tions is contrasted with an idealised view of academic life in Britain. and the problems this gap is believed to pose for communication between Chinese students at British universities. and that the promotion of cultural awareness is an integral part of the language teacher’s task. and that there is a great deal of diversity of attitudes depending on age. Kealey (1989) provides an example of a study which concerns itself with the prediction of cross-cultural effectiveness of Canadian technical advisors. She describes historical studies of Chinese values alongside the results of her own survey conducted while working as a ‘foreign expert’ in China. The dialogue gives dramatic life to what appears to be a radical mismatch in expectations. She sounds a note of caution about the tendency towards overgeneralisation in descriptions of Chinese cultural attitudes. The accelerating pace of globalisation. but which should be seen as part of a historically situated and contested discourse. Fantini (1995) provides an overview to an edition of The International Journal of Intercultural Relations which is concerned with the language culture relation- ship. The views of another group of students presented below suggest a range of variation and disagreement. Jin & Cortazzi focus on an alleged gap between British and Chinese ways of thinking. They present a selection of comments from supervisors and students. He is concerned with the apparent neglect of cultural issues by language teachers. the students she surveyed tended towards individualism. Firstly. Secondly. One exception to this apparent lack of theoretical interest in Britain is the recent study of cultural orientation and academic language use by Jin & Cortazzi to which this paper is in part a response. the voices of both British supervisors and Chinese students are presented with an air of typicality. which has a surface appeal. accentuates the need. there are a number of points to take issue with in Jin & Cortazzi’s paper. it is grounded in a view of individually oriented and collectively oriented cultures. She concludes that. the relationship between literacy and world view is explored by Edwards & Nwenmely (1995). which is . in the form of an imaginary dialogue. sex and subject of study. and their supervisors. The notion of ‘intercultural competence’ has arisen at the interface between the study of cross-cultural communication and applied linguistics. Thirdly. In the same volume. He suggests that students’ failures in linguistic communicative compe- tence may be due to lack of cultural competence. and Liu (1995) addresses the question of transfer of sociocultural attitudes in second language use. While interest in multiculturalism in British schools is widespread. which does not seem to be supported by other evidence. Of particular relevance to this paper is a contribution by Garrott (1995).

Most of the 12 visiting scholars agreed. following a non-award-bearing course. i. and the views expressed are not presented in an attempt to offer alternative generalities. and they were given the opportunity to discuss their responses while I was not present. to give me their own written comments on the views expressed by the students in Jin & Cortazzi’s study. although they would not be identified as individuals. Their views. I think I should obey whatever they need ¼ I am so used to this way of working. The group members were asked to write their views. following a course for English language teachers at a British university. but one wrote: Difference between cultures is a matter of degree. while Jin & Cortazzi’s students were studying for research degrees. One of Jin & Cortazzi’s students said: My supervisor said I should choose whatever I wanted ¼ But from a Chinese way of considering the matter. It is not clear from their report how far the quotations used are representative of the range of students interviewed. The visiting scholars were similar to Jin & Cortazzi’s sample in that they were following a course of postgraduate study. They represent a very small attempt to test the generality of Jin & Cortazzi’s view. They quote one interviewee who said: There are differences between the two cultures: the ways of thinking are different too. which are counterposed to the voices of the students’ academic tutors. The headings used are those aspects of apparent cultural difference which Jin & Cortazzi invoke in their report. They were told that their views might form part of a report. are presented below. than as a straight forward description of empirical reality. The Students’ Views Jin & Cortazzi surveyed the attitudes of 101 postgraduate students. including those educated both before and after the cultural revolution. There may be some Chinese who have some ways of thinking in common with some British. alongside those presented by Jin & Cortazzi’s students. individual and collective cultures tend to promote individual and collective ways of thinking. No attempt was made to match the samples.e. This was a small group with whom I had been in almost daily contact for several months. They differed in that they were practising teacher trainers. It is worth noting that the ages of the Visiting Scholars varied with a range of 30 years.1 16 L a n g u a g e and Educ a tio n itself better understood as a converse of the same discourse. I want to consider which angle they {the tutors} think about a matter. ‘Independent/Collective Ways of Thinking’ According to Jin & Cortazzi. However. They present some quantitative data regarding language attitudes and language competence. to do . I am told what to do. I invited a group of 12 Chinese visiting scholars. The Chinese tend to think as the group thinks. the force of their argument about cultural orientation rests on a small number of selected voices.

The comments to the two groups say much about deference to authority. So now I feel very passive about choosing a research topic. and they contrast this with the British expectation of independence and self-expression. but three took issue with the view of how things are in China: In China some students would do like this mentioned above. The visiting scholars are clearly resisting the generalisations of the earlier study. What I want to learn must be in accordance with the interest of the state. . but it is definitely untrue with postgraduate experience. but some wouldn’t. ‘Independent/Dependent Way of Working’ Jin & Cortazzi describe the Chinese expectation of being told exactly what to do by the supervisor. because I think it is free for me to choose any topic to write here. It seems that in China some students work independently. because perhaps they do not need this aspect of research ¼ I don’t know what they really think. They quote a student who said: Here we have to learn how to do things on our own. For example: In China the interest of education is quite different from the British interest of education. I don’t feel embarrassed here. My group confirmed the view that Chinese students do appreciate a need to be independent in study in Britain. It’s true that we here have to learn to do things on our own. An impression is gained from these responses of a varying texture of views regarding the nature of academic study in China. But it seems to me that their way of considering a matter is that you choose what you are interested in ¼ But as for me I feel very embarrassed to ask. Our supervisors won’t bother to tell us. The way in which different situations may elicit different responses is recognised in the comment above. the degree of student support varies and there is a difference in postgraduate and undergraduate work. depending on a variety of factors. our supervisors would guide us step by step to start the research and help us all the way through. Most of the visiting scholar group expressed a qualified agreement with this statement. This may be true about undergraduate experience. It’s not quite true that supervisors in China would guide their students step by step to start the research and help them all the way through¼ These three views point to the difficulty of making generalisations about student–tutor relationships in China.W o rking w ith Chin e se Stu d e nts in th e UK 117 the research according to the need of the authority. But some referred to a difference in degrees of control of research rather than fundamentally different ways of thinking. It is a complex matter to separate out what is due to ‘culture’ and what is due to historically situated political circumstances. It may be that apparent tendencies towards group-oriented thinking are overde- termined by the demands of an authoritarian system. But in China.

My group all concurred that there is an identifiable Chinese style. British tutors see Chinese students as having difficulty with academic writing. that one should take care not to give offence.1 18 L a n g u a g e and Educ a tio n ‘Discourse Patterns in Writing’ According to Jin & Cortazzi. they say it round about. For it is also a basic requirement to provide sources and review literature in the West when one writes on a research topic. There is no present without the past and origin. very implicitly. The conclusion comes from step by step reasoning. if the supervisor’s or instructor’s . I disagree with the idea above. Therefore we should report from the root. Jin & Cortazzi claim that their students believe that a Chinese style exists. and the nature of one’s personal relationship with the supervisor might affect the progress of the research. Jin & Cortazzi’s student claimed: The Chinese style of writing is constructed with reasons and feelings. but the situation has changed now. that’s not true. From Confucius’ time. While neither of these individual comments provide compelling evidence for generalisations of any kind. The voice of the tutor we are given claims that the Chinese tend to rely on proverbs and have difficulty with structuring their writing in a logical fashion. the visiting scholars all agreed that the supervisor has a superior role. they wouldn’t say something back straight. ‘Tutor–Student Relationships’ On the question of the relationship to the supervisor in China. The following are comments from the visiting scholar group: No. together they show the existence of a contested discourse. Students can arise questions which they don’t agree with. they just hint a little bit. otherwise the reasoning cannot be made clearly. might be viewed as typical also of a Western academic style. no matter whether they suit us or not ¼ if they don’t agree they just keep silence or if they say something. Sometimes. On the question of disagreement with a supervisor’s words. But I would not regard this as typically ‘Chinese’. we have been told we must present a source and origin. one of Jin & Cortazzi’s student claimed: We generally wouldn’t disagree with our supervisors’ words or instruc- tions. Even the minority who are more straight forward. perhaps the idea from the traditional China a few years past. The second comment is pointing out that what is described as ‘Confucian’ in the first comment. One of the visiting scholars wrote: I’m not sure what is being said here about the Chinese style of writing. The majority are like this. although none offered any descriptive information about what this style might be.

This is. during and after the Cultural Revolution seeming to have an effect. and I have considerable confidence in the honesty of their responses. . Sometimes differences in perspective seemed to reflect age. with education before. in which the individual is unwilling or unable to assert his or her own ideas is not entirely confirmed. may point out the point which they think doesn’t hold water or something like that. They were deliberately given time to reflect and discuss before committing themselves to paper. They did not. These are only a small number of voices speaking on the question of the culture of one quarter of the world’s population. agree that constant support would be given at every step and at every level in China. I knew them well. The idea of variation and change were referred to. Somewhat true. my group presented a mixed picture which included the possibility of disagreement. It is possible that Jin & Cortazzi’s group were willing to invoke available stereotypes. But still there are people who are very critical and outspoken.W o rking w ith Chin e se Stu d e nts in th e UK 119 words don’t suit us Chinese students. if not many. the student will offend the supervisor if they refuse too much. some. The visiting scholars agreed that they were expected to be independent in their studies in Britain. however. Jin & Cortazzi’s picture of a collective culture. the visiting scholar group sometimes accepted generalisations about the nature of Chinese culture. Regarding my personal relationship with these students. The tendency of conformity is strong in China. however. and confirming the view of ‘culture’ as an area of contested discourse rather than a reified construct. On the question of writing. On the question of the possibility of a conflict of ideas arising in the relationship with the supervisor in China. the comment that presentation of sources is not particularly Chinese. The visiting scholar group were not working towards a degree. they did not need my good opinion. All that can be concluded from them is that differences of opinion do exist. but a basic feature of all academic writing is illuminating. Similarly. but they were not always willing to do so. These comments were made by individuals spanning the broad age range of the group. which they might have been less willing to endorse given the opportunity for a more reflective approach. If there is a lack of individual freedom in research in China. It’s difficult to generalise the attitude of the ‘we’. Questions could be asked about the differences between the level of response given by the two groups. Some may just keep silence. this comes across as historical and circumstantial rather than attributable to profound differences in ways of thinking. an important conclusion. my group might have expressed more stereotyped views if their relationship to the institution had been different. Chinese and Western cultural difference is constructed differently by different individuals. In general. I found that friendly disagreement was a constant feature of our discussions. suggesting that Jin & Cortazzi’s view is oversimplified. Usually. which may have been conditioned by their relationship to me and the institution in which they were studying. It may also be that those who keep silence are not quite sure or quite understand what the supervisor said.

He claimed that the rhetoric of this authoritarian order is maintained because individualistic chaos is never far from the surface and concluded that in British society conformity is more thoroughly internalised than in China.1 20 L a n g u a g e and Educ a tio n Cultural Difference. That is. stereotyping is part of a psychological process of social cognition. by which we organise ourselves for new experiences. The idea of the lack of individualism in Chinese students’ essential psycho- logical make-up needs to be considered in relation to the history of highly centralised and authoritarian government. but in relation to contemporary culture it may miss as much as it reveals. . It misses the astonishment of one newly-arrived Chinese student at the orderliness of British society. But he goes on to describe the emergence of the idea of choice and job selection alongside the market orientation of post-cultural revolution China. She gives a detailed and fascinating account of these influences. This political history probably explains more of Chinese caution in relation to foreign educational practices than the existence of fundamentally different ways of thinking. and become dysfunctional prejudices when this change cannot or does not take place. This picture of a system in process of change is confirmed by Shen (1994). The idea of exchange of ideas would not make sense without some notion of difference. Cheng Kai-Ming (1994) gives an informative account of the influence of cultural tradition on the organisation of post-compulsory education in China. Stereotypes my change in response to new experiences. Japan. Bastid (1987) describes the history of successive foreign influences on education in China. there is a risk in overgeneralising about differences between the ways in which Chinese and British people think. Change and Cultural Knowledge I do not wish to suggest that there are no generalisable differences between the British and the Chinese which affect educational attitudes and organisation. A broad brush view of the Chinese as collectively-oriented and the British as individualistic may say something about the historical development of ideology. and the relative lack of individual consciousness in traditional Chinese culture. and Chinese reactions to them. Something needs to be known about the modernisation of China and the way in which the goal of economic development and market orientation have legiti- mised individualism. from the behaviour of drivers on the roads to the tendency to accept authority in the absence of obvious sanctions. America and the Soviet Union. This student commented that order in China is maintained in much more explicit and authoritarian ways. from early Jesuit missionaries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the influence of Britain. any consideration of individual versus collective attitudes in China should be considered in a historical context. The determination of families for the educational and economic success of their children may cut across some of the expectations of academic life. She explains the recent period of eclecticism in terms of wider attainment of basic education. as well as the anti-intellectual climate of the cultural revolution. Nevertheless. The way in which the cultural revolution affected people’s way of thinking by disrupting their education needs to be considered in detail. He draws connections between a centrally controlled education system. and the political repudiation which much of this influence has attracted. Moreover.

and even the appearance of careers guidance on the school curriculum. and individual differences consistent with differing educational experiences and home environments. In Jin & Cortazzi’s work. A tendency of Chinese students to rely heavily on the their tutors could be a function of being in a very foreign land and having to meet institutional requirements in a language in which one is less than totally confident. What is ‘professed’ about the UK academic community may be ‘expressed’ differently in the behaviour of participants. English language has not enjoyed political approval during all periods in China. We are asked to assume that. here. As Cheng points out. Familiarity with any cultural group can reveal individual differences which eventually seem more pronounced than initially perceived or expected similarities. personal matters do not enter into the student–tutor relationship. My own experience of working with mainland Chinese students has dis- abused me of more stereotypes than it has supported generalities. students do not rely in an over-dependent manner on their supervisors. cynicism about authority. I have found independent-mindedness.W o rking w ith Chin e se Stu d e nts in th e UK 121 It may be that an anti-individualism ideology in China took sustenance from a collectively-oriented traditional culture. liking for argument. With the acceptance of economic development as a national goal. the vast expansion of self-study programmes. Our understandings of culture are prone to stereotype and unrealistic generalisation on both sides. . and again during the turmoil of the cultural revolution until 1975. for example. It is hard to believe that there is not a strong and developing individualistic strand in Chinese culture which has given impetus to the economic changes of the last decade. It was politically out of favour during the period of Russian influence in the 1950s. has found its way into the education system via. then my experiences of working with Chinese students in the UK do not particularly lend it support. If a collectively-oriented culture signifies an overriding ten- dency to conformity and cooperation with the group. The circumstances of learning English in China have obvious implications for the ability of Chinese students to communicate in English in Britain. There is a difference between the values which groups explicitly avow. there has been an explosion of entrepreneurial activity in China. and those which are implicit in their behaviour. I have had a sense of cultural difference and discord within Chinese groups. The Language Question There is a possibility that behaviour due to apparent cultural differences may be more economically explained. the growth of vocational high schools in which students choose jobs rather than having them assigned to them. and they freely offer profound disagreement without fear of causing offence. It is implicit in their work that British academic life is conducted in a climate of intellectual freedom and lack of political control. stereotypes of academic expectations of Chinese students are set against an idealised view of British academic life. the recent political sanctioning of individual choice. Yao Xiuqing (1993) gives an account of the history of foreign language teaching in China since 1949. But the extent to which ideologies of collectivism are internalised in the thought processes of Chinese people in general can be overstated.

and where the ground rules for the expression of ideas are made clear. A combination of circumstances may help to explain the limited English language skills of some Chinese students. Silence may be an indication of profound disagreement which cannot be expressed. It may also be an indication of incomprehension regarding the type of response which is expected. . it has met with some resistance (Li Xiaoju. these have been limited in impact because of traditional views about the educational process and teachers’ own English language competence. there may be an embarrassing silence. preformed feeling of some speech. Writing therefore holds a peculiarly central place in the process of education and cultural solidarity in China. For students communicating in a foreign language. with teaching of English being often limited. significantly for Chinese students who come to the UK. these have more often been American than British. While communicative methodology has begun to have an impact at tertiary level. the teaching of writing in Chinese itself has some special characteristics which may influence the way in which foreign languages are learned. and those whose education took place either substantially before or after. teachers seem to readily locate the source of difficulty in communication in their students. In higher education in particular. 1990) In addition. according to Li Rushou (1992) to the chanting of party slogans. it can function as a written lingua franca for the nation. Classical English texts and translations of Chinese texts into English seem to have dominated classroom teaching until relatively recently. foreign language textbooks were banned and criticised. writing.1 22 L a n g u a g e and Educ a tio n During this latter period. Exposure to native speakers has been limited and. it may also be an indication of failure to understand the words which have been used. It is my experience that Chinese students will participate freely and inde- pendently in discussion where they understand the language that is being used. There is a generation gap between those whose education was disrupted by the cultural revolution. Where neither of these conditions are met. grammar and translation. Classroom activities have been largely limited to intensive reading. While there has been some influence of methods which emphasise the spoken language. Spoken Chinese consists of a variety of dialects which might be called different languages. There is a balance of competence in favour of the written language leading to a curiously literary quality of some writing and a bookish. The official curriculum in China recognises five skills rather than four: it is widely recognised that one of the most important uses to which English is put in China is translation from and into Chinese. Chinese students seem to be just as susceptible to this kind of embarrassment as other groups. There have been differing educational opportunities between rural and urban areas. There seem to have been high standards of accuracy at the expense of fluency and spontaneity. Because written Chinese is an ideographic language. These factors together may account for the struggle for many Chinese students in the early stages in Britain to listen to and understand English. They can be sufficiently culturally sensitive to want to know what the ground rules for interaction are before they express themselves.

the spread of a language must say something about its potential for becoming culturally disembedded. Ontario: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. In seeking cultural explanations for miscommunication between Chinese students and their tutors in the UK. English is the most commonly used language of international communication. It is taken to follow from the corrective recognition that language and context are interrelated. The number of users of English as a foreign or second language is far in excess of the number of people who use it as first community language. According to Dirven & Putz. there is a danger of overlooking what gaps may exist in students’ language proficiency and experience. there is a huge problem of how far the language is embedded in a particular culture. different expectations and even profoundly different ways of thinking.W o rking w ith Chin e se Stu d e nts in th e UK 123 Conclusion With the growth of interest in sociolinguistics and the recognition that language as a system can never be entirely divorced from its social context. but which are not supported by strong research evidence. It is largely through the foreign language that foreign culture becomes accessible. But the idea that words can be separated from the things they are meant to denote was an important development in language study. Marianne (1987) Servitude or Liberation? The introduction of foreign educational practices and systems to China from 1840 to the present. and focus instead on how the concept of culture is deployed in their own discourse. Language is the cultural product which makes cultural translation possible. it is an obvious fact that one of the reasons we learn foreign languages is to overcome cultural differences. Language teachers without an interest in culture are obviously handicapped. but may be also attributable to different sets of experiences. Written Chinese has a far greater number of users than the users of any particular spoken Chinese dialect. and at the same time resorting to overgeneralisations about culture which have a surface appeal. It is now a commonplace belief that the misunderstandings that can occur between people of different cultures may not be reducible exclusively to language difficulties. it is a major medium of intercultural communication. While specific cultures are implicated in the languages that we use. It is now proposed by some theorists that in addition to learning the language. some theorists have extended the debate between grammatical and communicative competence to include a third-term cultural competence. . However. Like Chinese. References Bastid. that language teachers should concern themselves with culture in addition to language. In our concern to learn or teach a culture we may overlook the fact that this is done through a language. English language teachers should perhaps follow the anthropologist’s lead in acknowledging the elusive nature of ‘culture’. teachers of English as a foreign language have become increasingly interested in the role of culture in communication. While cultural differences clearly exist. In Ruth Hayhoe and Marianne Bastid (eds) China’s Education and the Industrialised World. where the medium of intercultural communication is English. attention needs to be paid to the teaching of cultural competence.

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