Intercultural Language Teaching in Vietnamese Tertiary EFL Classes: A Participatory Action Research Study
In 2008, Vietnam introduced a new English language policy based on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), and subsequently in 2014 adopted a Vietnamese version of this, referred to as CEFR-V. In adopting the CEFR-V, English language education in Vietnam has taken on a conception of English language proficiency in which intercultural competence (IC) is thoroughly integrated. Nevertheless, despite the emphasis of IC in national language policy, little research has dealt with how teachers can adopt interculturally informed pedagogy in their daily classroom practice, and specifically professional development and learning can be harnessed to increase teachers’ capacity to adopt an intercultural stance in their teaching. This study aimed to redress this gap by investigating the process of adopting Intercultural Communicative Language Teaching (iCLT) practice in an English as a foreign language (EFL) course at a Vietnamese university. The research deployed an interpretive, qualitative, case study approach and Participatory Action Research (PAR) to explore the nature of the teaching of culture by three tertiary EFL teachers at a Vietnamese university, and by the students in their classes. The data were collected from classroom observations, teacher interviews, and pre-workshop-one and post-workshop-two focus groups with students. The research included two phases. The first phase of the study investigated the orientation to the teaching of culture in teaching materials and lessons taught by the teachers, and in their stated beliefs. Analysis of the three case study teachers showed that each of the teachers demonstrated both strengths and limitations regarding the teaching of culture in his/her stated perceptions and classroom practices. Cross-case analysis showed that the teaching of culture was intermittent and unplanned, and that the teachers held a static view of culture with little awareness of intercultural language teaching. Drawing on these findings, the second phase of the research sought to develop a more principled engagement with culture by involving the case study teachers in two workshop cycles in which the teachers were introduced to principles and practical examples of intercultural language teaching and then implemented the redesigned intercultural-oriented lessons in the classroom teaching. The results drawn from classroom observation and interview data showed a positive impact of the workshops on the teachers’ teaching practices, perceptions, and understanding of intercultural language teaching. The study contributes to the growing body of scholarship on intercultural language teaching by showing how Vietnamese EFL tertiary teachers shifted from a cultural to an intercultural orientation through participating in an action research project. Accordingly, this study confirms the value of in-situ professional development for teachers. The study also shows how teachers, working from a set of intercultural teaching principles, can adopt an intercultural stance in their teaching even while working with existing teaching materials that contain little in the way of intercultural teaching affordances.