A selective investigation of the University of the Western Cape‘s students and teachers attempts at intercultural communication : exploring the connections between intercultural communication competence and identity construction
Life in the twenty-first Century globalised world brings people into contact with others from different cultures who use different languages. Through these contacts, the need for interactions makes these people to find different ways of understanding one another and to generate knowledge. For them to achieve this objective, they need a strong medium. L2 and Foreign language education has been develop to unravel such challenges posed to competence in intercultural communication, with the emphasis placed on how to communicate with a different "other" since the world is now a small village. Foreign and second language teaching and learning (a social practice) in this study, is tangible to eradicate linguistic and cultural barriers. In this case, it does not only require to promote competence through linguistic capital (language), but more importantly, it arouses intercultural awareness. For these issues to develop and consolidate intercultural communication competence, language practitioners need to deviate from the rationalist reductionistic approaches to language teaching and learning in favour of an ecological or a constructivist perspective, which views language learning as a social practice. In view of this, whatever language the participants may use for communication does not matter, what really matters is that they need to switch to any given language as a situation may demand. In upholding a constructivist perspective, this research hypothesized that engagement and participation as a social practice, does not only increase competence in the target language, but it also helps the participants to develop in terms of emotional maturity and character (Bilton and Sivasubramaniam 2009). This research made use of the qualitative research methodology, revolving around an ethnographic design, to understand the outcomes and the fluidity of interactions among a diverse community of the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. Such an understanding can therefore only be deduced from the perspectives of the role-players through their engagements and participation in activities and events in and out of the classrooms. The research population constituted lecturers, tutors and students of the above institution. The four principal tools used for data collection included: the Interviews, Questionnaires, Naturally Occurring data and Participant Observation. The interviews were both formal and informal and together with the Questionnaires, they were all open-ended. Their open-ended nature was not only because of the interaction it provided between the researcher and the researched but also because they aroused an awareness of diversity and a need to understand otherness. The findings from the study affirmed that the participants gained competence in intercultural communication through the different levels of interactions that were used to enhance participation, engagement and involvement. In view of this, the participants benefited from provisional understanding, tentative interpretations and the affective environment. Furthermore, it could be said that interactions provided them the rationale to challenge, develop and explore ideas and meanings for communication. Holistically, the study attested to the importance and centrality of participation and engagement in a target language, with the main aim of motivating the participants to understand that there is no such thing as correctness in meaning or proficiency in a language, nor in understanding the world around them.