The importance of the development of students’ sociocultural competence at the Kazakh-American Free University
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011
Author: Yezhitskaya Svetlana, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
The beginning of the 21st century is characterized by the impetuous
development of economic, political, and cultural relations and perspectives.
Globalization creates a world in which an increasing number of people are
moving all over the world for overseas work or studies.
A major challenge that expatriate workers and students face in the
increasingly globalized world is how to function successfully in a new cultural
environment, in a country with different values, sociocultural rules, and norms
of behavior Hence, one of the main features of a successful person nowadays is
the skills in intercultural communication.
Culture learning is more than getting over culture shock or getting
used to life in a new country. It is the process of personal growth and
transformation. I should emphasize the role of sociocultural competence for
achieving proficiency in a foreign language. Defective knowledge of the target
culture, especially of the cultural implications embedded in the target language,
very frequently causes breakdowns in communication. Just as there are strategies
for being a good language learner, there are also characteristics that promote
successful culture learning. Generally speaking, a good learner of culture believes
that he/she is beginning a journey from a “monocultural point to a larger world
view in which he/she develops new perspectives, learns new mental, emotional,
and behavioral responses. In short, that person learns to build intercultural
bridges and in the end becomes a new cultural person.
Sociocultural competence helps not only to survive but achieve
success in an increasingly interdependent global society.
Below we provide a review of literature on approaches that have been
used for socio-cultural competence development and draw conclusions for KAFU.
is Sociocultural Competence?
Sociocultural competence has become a significant part of foreign
language teaching. There are a number of different theories of sociocultural
competence, which mostly reveal the interdependence of culture and language and
draw some implications for language teaching. Each of these theories has
provided professionals in the field with valuable tools and paved the way
towards a culture-based pedagogy.
Sociocultural competence can be defined as the students’ ability to
accomplish proper cross-cultural communication (Sut, 2003). Juan C (2006)
describes a person with some degree of sociocultural competence as someone, who
is able to see relationships between different cultures - and is able to
mediate, that is interpret each in terms of the other, either for themselves or
for other people. It is also someone who has a critical or analytical
understanding of their own and other cultures, someone who is conscious of
their own perspective, of the way in which their thinking is culturally
determined, rather than believing that their understanding and perspective is
natural. In the approach of Z.I. Nikitenko and O.M. Osianova (2005)
sociocultural competence is represented in knowledge of the language
(non-equivalent and normal vocabulary), knowledge of national culture, and the
norms of behavior.
We will define sociocultural competence as the ability to behave
appropriately in the specific situations, to choose the appropriate form of
social etiquette, to decode the social code of the partner, to use different
vocabulary, to understand the meanings of the words in the definite context,
According to the Common European Framework (2005), sociocultural
competence involves five elements:
- Attitudes: curiosity and openness, readiness to suspend disbelief
about other cultures and belief about one's own.
- Knowledge: of social groups and their products and practices in
one's own and in one's interlocutor's country, and of the general processes of
societal and individual interaction.
- Skills of interpreting and relating: ability to interpret a
document or event from another culture, to explain it and to relate it to
documents from one's own.
- Skills of discovery and interaction: ability to acquire new
knowledge of culture and cultural practices and the ability to operate
knowledge, attitudes, and skills under the constraints of real-time communication
- Critical cultural awareness/political education: an ability to
evaluate critically and on the basis of explicit criteria perspectives,
practices and products in one's own and other cultures and countries.
Sociocultural competence is comprised of the following attitudes and
- observing, identifying and recognizing
- comparing and contrasting
- negotiating meaning
- dealing with or tolerating ambiguity
- effectively interpreting messages
- limiting the possibility of misinterpretation
- defending one's own point of view while acknowledging the
legitimacy of others
- accepting difference
Achieving sociocultural competence requires that one lowers his/her
defenses, takes risks, and practices behaviors that may feel unfamiliar and
uncomfortable. It requires a flexible mind, an open heart, and a willingness to
accept alternative perspectives.
to develop students’ sociocultural competence?
Nowadays a great attention is given to sociocultural component in
teaching a foreign language which is a requirement for the appropriate use of a
foreign language in specific cultural situations. Marianne Celce Murcia (2008) points that culture should be taught as a process. She describes in detail an
interactive process that relates target and native languages, cultures, and
perceptions. The process incorporates the following eight basic stages, the
first five of which are primarily teacher-associated and the final three are
1. Identification of a cultural theme
2. Presentation of cultural phenomena
3. Dialogue (target/native cultures)
4. Transition to language learning
5. Language learning
6. Verification of perceptions (target/native culture)
7. Cultural awareness
8. Evaluation of language and cultural proficiency.
She proposes organizing instruction around four basic categories:
- Convention, which provides students with information about the
common everyday behavior of people;
- Connotation, which helps students develop their skills to recognize
that the meaning of a word is determined by each individual's frame of
- Conditioning, which helps students develop observational and
interpretive skills and understand that the actions of individuals reflect an
already established cultural frame of reference;
- Comprehension, which helps students develop the skills of analysis
and hypothesis formation, thereby recognizing that the behavior of one person
does not necessarily reflect the behavior of society as a whole.
Chen & Starosta (1998) suggests the following models of
intercultural trainings: cognitive (intellectual, classroom) model,
self-awareness and cultural awareness models, simulation model, and interactional
The cognitive (intellectual, classroom) training promotes understanding
of cultural differences and similarities. It helps participants to get more
information about a culture. As the emphasis is laid on cognitive understanding
of customs, values, people, geography, and habits of a specific culture, the
normally applied methods of teaching are lectures, films, readings, and
different kinds of presentations.
This model, however, has its limitations. It only teaches
participants "what to learn" but not "how to learn",
teaches them to gain knowledge of a culture without knowing how to perform and
to adapt behaviorally to it. Overall, this model cannot guarantee success at
living or working in a new culture.
The self-awareness training helps participants identify attitudes,
opinions and biases embedded in their own culture that influence the way they
communicate. The emphasis in this model is laid on understanding oneself as a
cultural being. Working in groups the participants learn how their own
behaviors influence others and what psychological forces operate in groups.
The limitation of this model is its ethnocentric orientation.
Although self-awareness is important for being effective in intercultural
communication, its focus on the internalized processes of an individual cannot
adequately teach participants about factors involved in cultural interaction.
The cultural awareness training requires participants to understand
the aspects of culture that are universal and specific. It assumes that in
order to successfully interact with people of other cultures we have to understand
our own and others" cultural norms, customs and social systems. The
cultural awareness model aims to teach participants to overcome ethnocentrism,
to help them understand that our own cultural identity is only one possibility
among numerous others. This training model is very popular among Russian
educators as it is built on a strong theoretical base. Another strong point of
this model is that the participants can reach not only intellectual
understanding but also an affective tolerance of cultural differences in the
process of intercultural communication. This training model also has its
limitations. First, it may be difficult for the trainees to apply general knowledge
in dealing with a specific cultural task; second, in comparing their own culture
to others the participants may neglect similarities and exaggerate differences;
third, to become thoroughly aware of one's own culture as the base for
understanding others is a complex process and may take a long time.
The simulation training focuses on the affective and experiential
processes of training participants by involving them in an environment that
closely resembles a specific culture. The basic assumption of this model is
that it is very important for trainees to gain personal experience in living in
a place resembling the host culture, to develop a set of new behaviors and attitudes
that will enable them to better adjust to the foreign culture. The main
advantage of this model is a strong focus on the participant rather than on the
trainer. It is a trial-and-error process, through which participants acquire
intercultural communication skills.
However, there are also some limitations. First, it is difficult to
simulate overseas environment. Second, it is impossible to gain extensive
cultural knowledge through personal experience in a limited time. Most
frequently, the simulation model is used as a complementary part of the
classroom (cognitive) model.
The interactional training presupposes face-to-face interaction with
the host/ foreign nationals. Through the experiential learning process
participants are supposed to figure out the value systems and appropriate
behavioral patterns of the host culture. The model is commonly applied to the
intercultural workshop programs held on college campuses. As any other model,
interactional model also has its advantages (real life communication with
foreigners, authentic source of information) and disadvantages (encountering
cultural differences that may cause cultural misunderstanding or culture clash).
According to Zhanna Korotkikh an effective intercultural training
can increase the learner's capacity for intercultural awareness, intercultural
sensitivity, and intercultural competence, thus enabling him or her to function
effectively in intercultural context.
Applying a single model of intercultural training may not
sufficiently prepare participants to function properly and effectively in a new
cultural environment. Better results may be achieved through a combination of
several training models. A more effective outcome may be achieved by devising
specific training techniques: case studies, critical-incident case studies
based on real-life experience of the learners, simulations, role playing, team
projects, experiential learning, etc.
There are many opportunities for the students of KAFU to go global
and to get invaluable cultural experience. They participate in different
international programs that operate successfully at KAFU. These are
International Leadership program, Language and Culture program in the USA, grant programs for Education in the United States, Professional internship program in the USA, American Diploma program, distance education at American Universities, Visiting Foreign faculty
program, and Business and Culture program in the United States. Moreover, a lot
of students succeed in such international programs as CCUSA, Work and Travel,
Global Undergraduate Exchange program in Eurasia and Central Asia, AIESEC,
DAAD, and other.I consider that students of all linguistic and non-linguistic
majors at KAFU must be culturally armed in order to accomplish the dialogue of
cultures and avoid cultural shock when communicating with the representatives
of different cultures.
Paying attention to the sociocultural aspect in teaching would-be
interpreters is very important because translation is vital means of
accomplishing sociocultural communication. To reflect the meaning of the
sentence a translator must first decode the message and then convey its sociocultural
coloring correctly. The ability to interpret the information in a proper way
and to draw conclusions is the attribute of the translators’ sociocultural
Developing students’ sociocultural competence of non-linguistic
majors is of great importance too, because the specific feature of their future
work is based on communication with people. They must know the way of life,
patterns of behavior of people of different cultures. Being not socioculturally
competent, the students may fail in communication with the representatives of
There are many possibilities that KAFU students may use to increase
their sociocultural awareness, sensitivity and competence. Namely,
participation in Language Discussion clubs, e-mail correspondence with native
speakers, communication with people of different cultures at the lessons,
attending special course of Intercultural Communication. They all are means of
exploration of another culture.
The objectives of these activities are the following:
1) To manage the students’ activity through the use of sociocultural
component in the process of study
2) To expand students’ linguistic and country study knowledge, and
teach them how to apply sociocultural knowledge in practice, in verbal and
3) To develop students sociocultural competence using authentic
At the lessons the students take part in guided discussions,
role-plays, solving intercultural incidents, doing exercises on critical
thinking, presentations of projects. These techniques enable the students to:
- understand the concept of intercultural awareness;
- recognize the origins of their own cultural values, assumptions
and attitudes and the way in which their values affect their perception of
- identify causes of intercultural misunderstandings;
- explore how their perception of their own character, attitudes and
behavior might influence their cultural learning;
- recognize personal skills affecting their ability to adapt to
living and working abroad;
- develop attitudes and strategies which will help adapt to life in
a foreign country and operate autonomously in that country;
- observe, monitor and report on their own cultural learning;
- transfer their intercultural competence into their employability
Therefore, KAFU students should get sufficient knowledge and skills
in cross-cultural communication in order to adjust properly to a new culture or
multicultural environment, to be able to establish interpersonal relations
within the culturally different community, and to behave adequately in some
1. Common European Framework (2005). Acquiring
Sociocultural Competence www.lancs.ac.uk
2. Galskova N.D. (2000) Modern Methodic of Teaching
a Foreign Language. M.: Arkti-Glossa, 265 p.
3. Juan C Vegas Puente (2006) Different Views on
Sociocultural Competence..google. com/itselj.org
4. Kohls L.R. (2006) Developing Intercultural
Awareness. Yarmouth. 365p
5. P.Lantolf, James. (2000). Sociocultural Theory
and second Language Learninng. Oxford.
6. Marianne Celce – Murcia. (2008) Teaching English
as a Second or Foreign Language. Thomson Learning. 584 p.
7. Nikitenko Z.I. (.2005) The Problem of Teaching a
Cultural Component in the Content of Education in primary school. Foreign
8. Sysoev P.V. (2004) Cultural determination in the
system of multicultural education. Foreign languages. №4. С. 14 - 20.
9. Sut U.J. (2003) The opportunities of the usage of
the Internet as a means of development of students’ sociocultural competence in
teaching English. Foreign languages. № 2. P. 31 - 36.
10. Vorobyov V.V. (2009) Lingvocultural theory:
theory and methods М.: UDN. 332p.
11. Zhanna Korotkikh. Training For Effective
Intercultural Communication http://www. prof. msu. ru/ publ/ omsk2/ o32. htm
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011