Developing intercultural skills as part of the schools exchange visit

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This tutorial offers teachers some political background information and practical ideas for promoting and supporting intercultural learning, using structured tasks within the framework of the schools exchange.

Intercultural learning is not something that happens automatically, nor does it occur in every situation where people of different cultural backgrounds come into contact with each other. As in other educational settings, guidance and support are necessary pillars of the learning process. If intercultural learning is to be achieved in student exchange situations, then we must heed the following advice: “The more professionally organised, monitored and moderated intercultural meetings of students are, the more likely it is that sustainable […] results will ensue.” (Alexander Thomas 2011: PAD aktuell (newsletter on European and international school exchanges, p.19)

Michael Byram developed a Model of Intercultural Communicative Competence (1997) for teaching foreign languages which defined five essential skills:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Attitudes
  3. The skill or ability to interpret a cultural event or document and understand it in an intercultural context 
  4. The skill or ability to independently acquire new knowledge about other cultures
  5. Critical cultural awareness of the society and its values and practices.

In order for these skills or some of these skills to be acquired and to make the learning outcomes visible, Dr Gabriela Fellmann, a German teacher, carried out an empirical study from which she formed proposals for teaching practice. Using the task-based language learning approach, she suggests a 3-phase model as well as didactical principles for the intercultural meeting (see diagram). She states “Setting definitive tasks is the basis for ‘active design’ of meetings and encounters.” (Fellmann 2016: Austausch bildet, ‘The formative exchange’ magazine, p.23).

SEG tutorial diagram

Are you interested in more practical ideas for preparation, implementation and follow-up of a student exchange visit?

As part of the PluriMobil project, the European Centre for Modern Languages has developed grade-specific material for primary and lower secondary schools and secondary levels I and II, as well as material for teacher training. There is a Start Guide, which explains access to PluriMobil. In addition to lesson-ready teaching plans, you will receive a handbook with clarification of ways in which teaching plans can be utilised at various grade levels.

The Council of Europe has more ideas for preparing and carrying out class units in its Toolkit for Intercultural Learning. There are suggestions for ready-to-go class activities and short theoretical background texts.

Intercultural Dialogue Guidelines is a compilation of principles for intercultural dialogue within informal learning activities. It includes indicators for assessing whether your activities are compatible with the principles and are encouraging intercultural learning.

Do you need political background information in order to formulate your project application or your concluding report?

At European level, work is constantly undertaken to integrate intercultural dialogue in political guiding principles and to support projects that promote intercultural exchange. The Council of Europe has compiled a summary of developments from the substantive debates on intercultural dialogue. The site also features reference documents on the theme.

The Council of Europe Compendium contains definitions and explanatory notes on intercultural learning, how work in the field and the political guiding principles have changed over the decades and what future perspectives have emerged.

More information
•    European Centre for Modern Languages
•    European Federation for Intercultural Learning