In the first class of Intercultural Communication Skills, one of my French students asked me “Isn’t just knowing English enough?”. A great question, how can I raise awareness of the importance of culture on language use? Luckily a recent talk by David Crystal (need to register to view video) gave me some useful material to try to do just this.
Note the following is a lesson idea I have not yet used but hope to do so next class.
First* tell students in small groups: Read the following sentences, can you understand them?
1. It’s just not cricket, treating her like that.
2.The job isn’t all beer and skittles, you know.
3. [after a very bad joke] You’re not a writer for Xmas crackers, by any chance?
4. [after leaving a hotel] That made Fawlty Towers seem like paradise.
5. [after someone has complained about something] Oh, come on, disgusted of Tunbridge Wells!
6. His book refreshed the parts other books couldn’t reach.
7. It was like Clapham Junction in Oxford Street today.
8. His watch was more Petticoat lane than Bond Street.**
9. To drive or not to drive-that’s the question.
(Crystal, 2012; **Crystal, 2011)
Depending on student reactions one can spend as much or as little time as you want in going through the sentences.
Next show them the cartoon below, saying: The following is a conversation between a famous English language expert and their colleague from the Czech Republic. What has caused the breakdown in communication?
- adapted from Crystal (2011).
The explanation is that houses in that part of the Czech Republic are numbered differently than houses in the UK. They are numbered when they are built and registered. That is why the Czech person is surprised at the coincidence.
Be sure to check a related post on international communication.
* An alternative start could be to use the figures quoted by Crystal in his talk – 2000 million English speakers, 400 million of whom are ‘native’ speakers. That is every 4 out of 5 speakers of English will be ‘non-native’. That significant number is another point of awareness to raise regarding intercultural communication.
Crystal, D. (2011). The future of Englishes: going local, in Roberta Facchinetti, David Crystal and Barbara Seidlhofer (eds), From International to Local English – And Back Again (Bern: Lang), 17-25
Crystal, D. (2012). Plurilingualism, pluridialectism, pluriformity, plenary paper for the annual conference of TESOL Spain, Bilbao, 10 March 2012