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Perceptions, awareness and perceived effects of home culture on intercultural communication: Perspectives of university students in China

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The widespread use of English has brought into the dominance of Anglophone cultures in intercultural communication (IC). For this reason, it is important to investigate how En-glish language learners' perceptions and awareness of home culture
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  Perceptions, awareness and perceived effects of home cultureon intercultural communication: Perspectives of universitystudents in China  Jiajia Liu, Fan (Gabriel) Fang * English Language Center, Shantou University, Guangdong, China a r t i c l e i n f o  Article history: Received 20 November 2015Received in revised form 28 March 2017Accepted 20 April 2017Available online 2 May 2017 Keywords: Intercultural communicationHome cultureAwarenessPerceptionELTChina a b s t r a c t The widespread use of English has brought into the dominance of Anglophone cultures inintercultural communication (IC). For this reason, it is important to investigate how En-glish language learners' perceptions and awareness of home culture in fl uence the socialpractice of intercultural communication. Conceptualizing home culture as a key topic in IC,this study used questionnaires and interviews to investigate Chinese university students'perceptions and awareness of their own culture and the perceived effects of home cultureon IC. Anchored in descriptive statistics and qualitative content analysis, the  fi ndings showthat: 1) the majority of students had a rather super fi cial understanding of their homeculture; and 2) most students reported that perceptions and awareness of home cultureplay critical roles in negotiating with speakers of other backgrounds. This suggests thathome culture should be regarded as a resource to challenge the dominance of Anglophonecultures in English language teaching classrooms. It also calls for an integration of homeculture and other cultures into the English language curriculum, material developmentand pedagogical practice. ©  2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. 1. Introduction The global spreadof English has facilitated its use for intercultural communication (IC), and in recent years, IC has becomean important topic in English language teaching (ELT) because language learners are expected to communicate in Englishwith people of different lingua-cultural backgrounds (Baker, 2012; Nieto, 2010; Widodo, Wood,  &  Gupta, 2017). Despite thedif  fi culty to provide a widely agreed-upon de fi nition of IC, this paper adopts the perspective of sociolinguistics and multi-lingualismwhichviewsIC “ asasocialpracticeratherthananobjectandof  fl uidityandchange ” (Baker,2015,p.27).Theuseof English in various lingua-cultural contexts as a social practice challenges us as teacher educators and practitioners to ponderhow intercultural components, in particular, home culture, can be integrated into English language classrooms (HandoyoWidodo, personal communication).The global prominence of English has led to rise not only in its  intra national use in traditional inner- and outer-circlecontexts (Kachru, 1992), but also, more widely, in its  inter  national use as a medium of communication ( Jenkins, 2007;Seidlhofer, 2011). As a result, the number of non-native English speakers has surpassed that of native English speakers, *  Corresponding author. E-mail address:  ffang@stu.edu.cn (F.(G. Fang). Contents lists available at ScienceDirect System journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/system http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2017.04.0030346-251X/ ©  2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. System 67 (2017) 25 e 37  making English no longer solely the property of its native speakers (Graddol, 2006; Seidlhofer, 2011; Widdowson,1994). Thedevelopment of English as a lingua franca (ELF) ( Jenkins, 2007, 2014; Seidlhofer, 2011) has drawn attention to approaches toteaching this international language and the various ways in which people from various lingua-cultures use it in IC (Baker,2012, 2015; Corbett, 2003; Fang, 2011, 2017). In today's globalized world, the fact that English is being used as a linguafranca byincreasing numbers of non-nativespeakers in multicultural contexts prompts the question of whether Anglophonecultures should serve as the sole norm in teaching cultures in the ELT classroom (Baker, 2015; Canagarajah, 2005;Kumaravadivelu, 2006; Wen, 2016).In addition, questions arise concerning the signi fi cance of home culture, or as McKay's (2002) term, the  “ source culture, ” and how or whether it should be acknowledged in the ELT  fi eld (Guo  &  Beckett, 2007; Knutson, 2006; Soria  &  Troisi, 2014).Against this backdrop, Fang (2011) suggests that teachers need to develop their cultural awareness and understanding of cultural diversity, which will help students gain a sense of intercultural awareness and learn to re fl ect on their own culturesduring the English learning process (see also, Gu, 2016). Similarly, in their study, Guo and Beckett (2007) voice concern that the idolization of   “ Anglocentric culture in the name of authenticity ”  (p. 124) has marginalized local Chinese culture. Theypoint out the importance of implementing critical multiculturalism and multilingualism to reclaim local languages andcultures within ELT.To extend this scholarship, this study recognizes that the concept of culture is not  fi xed against the backdrop of global-ization and that home culture is a highlycomplexconceptencompassing a constantlychanging setof beliefs, ideas, thoughts,andvalues.Traditionally,inEnglishclassroomsthecorrelationofEnglishandtheEnglish-speakingwesterncultureshasbeentaken for granted. However, the new thinking about culture has challenged this simplistic region- and nation-boundedunderstanding of culture (Baker, 2011, 2015; Holliday, 2009; Risager, 2007). In particular, in ELT, the view of culture isoftenorientedtowardAnglophonecultures(Canagarajah,2005;Kramsch,2014;Nault,2006),while “ thedynamicandliminalnature of much intercultural communication ”  (Baker, 2011, p. 198) is often neglected. The next section explores the newthinkingaboutcultureinrelationtoICtochallengetheover-simplisticcorrelationoflanguageandcultureinELT,withafocuson the Chinese context. 2. Literature review   2.1. Home culture and IC in ELT  Culture plays a central role in effective communication because it notonly represents the sum total of shared experiencesbut also shapes the life experiences of the individuals who occupy a particular culture as members of that community(Guilherme,2002;Nieto,2010;Tang,2006).EchoingthestatusquooftheglobaluseofEnglish,thispaperde fi nes culture froma poststructuralist approach conceptualizing it  “ as a complex social system, as opposed to natural system, that emergesthrough individuals' joint participation in the world giving rise to sets of shared knowledge, beliefs, values, attitudes andpractices ” (Baker,2015,p.71).Inthisway,cultureisperceivednotmerelyasacognitiveconcept(asknowledge,itcannotonlybe cognitive e but must also involve social practice), but, rather, from a critical perspective that challenges an essentialist setofculturalmeanings(Baker,2012;Guilherme,2002;Piller,2011).Thus,cultureisviewedasadiscourse,practice,andideologyin which IC is as a process tightly bound to identity negotiation and construction (Baker, 2015; Liddicoat, 2015; Ren, Chen,  & Lin,2016).WhendiscussingtheconceptofhomecultureandresearchingICwithintheChinesecontext, home culture referstoChinese culture, understood to be  fl uid and dynamic. However, some researchers report that Chinese students share manycoreconceptsrelatedto Chinese culture and viewthese as partof theirownidentities (Gao,2010; Gu, 2010; Lo Bianco,Orton, &  Gao, 2009).Languageinstructionhaslongemphasizedthecrucial,inherentrelationshipbetweenlanguageandculture(Corbett,2003;Kramsch, 1993, 2009; Liddicoat, 2015), and cultural instruction occurs within language teaching classrooms (Baker, 2012;Byram, 1997; Risager, 2007). It might seem unquestionable that speci fi c languages are generally associated with target cul-tures, but when English is used as a global language, the term  target culture  cannot be applied to the majority of Englishlanguage learners (or language users, from an ELF perspective). Cultural globalization requires that learners of English gainexposure to more cultures than the culture of traditional Anglophone countries to be successful in international commu-nication with people from different lingua-cultural backgrounds. The ideology of   native speakerism  in the ELT  fi eld hasresulted in the problematic, monolithic, unilateral view de fi ning culture as representative only of Anglophone countries(Holliday, 2006, 2011; Kubota, 2016), but toa largeextentELT has  “ privileg[ed] native speakers and marginaliz[ed]nonnativespeakers in matters related to language use, language learning, and language teaching ”  (Kumaravadivelu, 2016, p. 71).The complexity of the nature and politics of IC has led scholars, such as Baker (2015), Piller (2011), and Kramsch (1993, 2009), to explore the relationship between IC and ideology, to critically re-examine cultural practices, and to re-addressthe concept of intercultural awareness against the backdrop of globalization. For example, Kramsch (2009) introduced theterm  the multilingual subject  , arguing that language learners need to develop a cultural position from which they cancomfortably mediate between theirown culture and thatof the target language as symbolic competence that is multiple andsubject tochange. This requiresa negotiationprocess, which helps learners shuttle between home culture and othercultureson IC. This is relevant to the discussion of home cultures situated in China.  J. Liu, F.(G. Fang / System 67 (2017) 25 e  37  26   2.2. The interplay of home culture and IC in the Chinese context  Although ELF has no target culture, people naturally mediate between cultures in IC. Therefore, we argue that homeculture is a keyelement in the mediationprocess. Forexample, X. Hu (2005) investigated teachers' preferred cultural contentinEnglishclassesandfoundthatteacherspreferredAmericanEnglishbutviewedAmerican,British,andtheirownculturesasequallyimportant.Similarly,X.Hu(2005)arguedthat “ coursesshouldbedevelopedthatillustrateacontexttowhichChineselearnerscanrelateandinwhichnotonly westerncustomsandvaluesarere fl ectedbutalsotheirownandthoseofothernon-English cultures ”  (p. 36). Holmes (2006), who studied how Chinese undergraduate students attending a New Zealand uni-versity coped with their language learning and communication experiences, concluded that Chinese students' rules of IC didnot correspond with the standards of effective communication in the context of a New Zealand classroom. However, Holmes(2006) also maintained that  “ some Chinese students appeared to be engaging in critical self-re fl ection, and evaluatingappropriate and effective communication strategies to engage in boundary crossing ”  (p. 29).Other researchers focused on studying linguistic imperialism and challenging the hegemony of English (Phillipson,1992).For example, Guo and Beckett (2007) argued that the spread of English as a global language has promoted Anglophonecultures in China as many people believe in  “ the superiority of Anglo culture and the inferiority of their own culture ”  (Guo  & Beckett, 2007, p. 124). In addition, they pointed out the disadvantages of the monolingualism of using only English in theclassroom. They called for a policy shift to develop a critical perspective  “ for the reclamation of local languages andknowledge through critical multiculturalism and multilingualism ”  (Guo  &  Beckett, 2007, p. 126) and urged validating theusefulness of the Chinese variety of English in IC. Although Guo and Beckett (2007) considered only one of the multifacetedaspects of English as a global language e linguistic imperialism e their study pointed to the signi fi cance of home culture inELT. Wen (2016), from an ELF perspective, discusses the dilemma of balancing the teaching of native speakers' cultures, ELFlearners' home culture and the other ELF learners' cultures. She voices the importance to promote students' positive andcritical awareness in the process of English learning and that  “ ELF instruction needs to devote more time to developinglearners' intercultural pragmatic awareness, strategies and skills ”  (p.173).As seen, although it has been argued that Anglophone cultures should no longer dominate language classrooms, bothpolicy makers and language practitioners maystill lack critical intercultural awareness in ELT practices (Fang, 2011; Holliday,2009;Lei & Hu,2014).Forexample,manyELTtextbooksfocussolelyonAnglophonecultures(seediscussionse.g.,Gray,2010;Ren  &  Han, 2016; Shin, Eslami,  &  Chen, 2011; Xiong  &  Qian, 2012), resulting in rather restricted language teaching practicesand limited introduction of Anglophone cultures into the classroom by language teachers and students ( Jenkins, 2014;Kumaravadivelu, 2006, 2016). Although McKay (2002) points to the signi fi cance of students' own cultures as an indicativeof the establishment of a sphere of interculturality in the process of language learning, research on how the perceptions of one's home culture may in fl uence IC is lacking. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to investigate students' per-ceptions and awareness of their home culture and the perceived effects of home culture on IC. Through investigating per-ceptions and awareness of home culture and its perceived effects, this study further addressed the issue of languages andcultures across local and global communities.Regarding the key terms of the study,  perception  ( renzhi :  认 知 ) and  awareness  (  yishi :  意 识 ) were used. In this study,  perception  refers to one's knowledge and understanding focusing more on the cognitive know-what (Garrett, Coupland,  & Williams, 2003) because students might be able to understand some cultural concepts or knowledge.  Awareness  refers tohaving or showing realization or knowledgewhich has deeper know-howand even know-why because students can explainand illustrate these cultural aspects in intercultural encounters. Perception and awareness are linked, and critical languageand cultural awareness can act as powerful tools related to behavioral elements, challenging deeply-rooted language ide-ologies and teaching practices (Fairclough, 1992; Fishbein  &  Ajzen, 1975; Van der Walt, 2000). Accordingly, two researchquestions (RQ) were formulated:   To what extent are Chinese university students aware of home culture, and how do they perceive it in IC?   What possible effects do Chinese university students perceive home culture to have on their understanding of IC? 3. Methodology  The study was conducted at a university in southeast China, whose English curriculum promotes English pro fi ciency,autonomy, sustainability, intercultural competence, and critical thinking skills as its principal objectives. After entering theuniversity, students are required to take an English placement test and complete at least four levels of integrated Englishcourses to be awarded a bachelor degree. The Level 3 English course focuses on cultural teaching and IC. For this reason,studentstakingthiscoursewererecruitedtoparticipateinthisstudy.Thiscourseaimstoequipstudentstobeabletoidentifyand apply intercultural communication concepts and to discuss common generalizations concerning western and Chinesecultures.  J. Liu, F.(G. Fang / System 67 (2017) 25 e  37   27   3.1. Participants Alltheparticipantswere fi rstandsecondyearuniversitystudentswhosehomelanguagesmayvaryfromregionalChinesedialects, although they can all use Putonghua with high pro fi ciency and share it as a lingua franca in daily communications.They had studied English for at least six years. Most participants did not have study-abroad experience but did have expe-rience communicating with people from other cultural backgrounds, especially with international teachers and exchangestudents working and studying at their university.  3.2. Data collection This study employed both a Chinese-English questionnaire and face-to-face interviews as research methods. Thisapproach enabled investigating the RQs in depth and triangulating the data to better address the complexity of the per-ceptions and awareness of home culture on IC studied.  3.2.1. The questionnaire Inapilotstudy,tenstudentswereaskedtocompletethequestionnairetotestthevalidityandreliabilityofquestionitems.Two colleagues were also invited to share further comments on the question items before the questionnaire was  fi nalized.Based on thefeedback, werevised somewording andadded Chinese examplesin question 7toexplainwhatwemeantin theoptions(seeAppendix1).Thequestionnaire askedparticipantsabouttheirperceptionsandawarenessofChinesecultureandthe perceived effects of home culture on IC. An aim of the RQs was to gain a preliminary overview of howstudents perceivedthe concept of Chinese culture while developing intercultural awareness when learning English. To ensure validity, thequestionnaire,whichhadclosed-endedquestions,wasadministeredanonymously,andthestudentsweregivenexplanationsof the research background and why they had been asked to participate (D € ornyei, 2007). The researchers distributed 168copies of the questionnaire and received 160 completed copies.  3.2.2. The interview Interviewing is a mediation of understanding discourse  “ manifested through language, [and] consists of a system of beliefs, attitudes, and values that exist within particular social and cultural practices ”  (Danielewicz, 2001, p. 11). Therefore,interviews were conducted to triangulate the data obtained from the questionnaires and support the validity of the ques-tionnaire responses. During the recruitment process, the  fi rst author contacted the students who had completed the ques-tionnaire either face-to-face or by email to explain the research purpose in more detail. Through cluster sampling, eightstudents enrolling in the Level 3 English course agreed to participate in face-to-face interviews (see Table 1 for a pro fi le of interview participants). They were informed of the main topics before the interviews, which were conducted by both re-searchers using the same list of probing questions (see Appendix 2).The students were asked about their perceptions of Chinese culture, the role of home culture in IC, and ways to increasetheir awareness of Chinese culture. In the interviews, students were asked  “ what, ” “ why, ”  and  “ how ”  questions to elicit morespeci fi c details and opinions. The interviews were conducted over a one-week period, and each lasted approximately30 e 40 min, with the shortest lastingonly 20 min. To ensurethat the students understood the conceptsof culture and togainmorespeci fi c,validinformation,theinterviewswereconductedinPutonghuaandtranscribedverbatim.Putonghuawasusedin the interviews to enable students to respond to the interview questions in more depth (Mann, 2011).  3.3. Data analysis The responses were manuallyentered into SurveyMonkeytofacilitate data analysis. Descriptive statistics was adopted foranalyzingthequestionnairedata.Theanalysiswasmainlytolookforgeneralpatternsinordertohelp ‘ summarize fi ndingsby  Table 1 Pro fi le of interview participants.Interviewees Major Gender HometownS1 International Business Female GuangdongS2 Finance Male JiangxiS3 Journalism Male JiangsuS4 Finance Male JiangsuS5 Law Female GuangxiS6 Finance Female GuangdongS7 International Business Female SichuanS8 Journalism Female Jiangsu  J. Liu, F.(G. Fang / System 67 (2017) 25 e  37  28  describing general tendencies in the data and the overall spread of the scores ’  (D € ornyei, 2007, p. 213). Given the small samplesize and the simple research design, the analysis focused on the percentage of respondents' reported tendencies fora generalpicture before exploring deeper into the speci fi cs of this study (D € ornyei, 2007; Garrett et al., 2003).Qualitative content analysis (QCA) was adopted when analyzing the interview data (Schreier, 2012). All the interviewdata were input into NVivo software for coding purposes. After the transcription process, the researchers read thetranscripts from the NVivo software and listened to the recordings to develop possible themes for analysis. After re-listening to the recordings and re-reading and annotating the transcripts, main themes such as  home culture ,  intercul-tural communication ,  culture teaching  ,  perceptions ,  awareness , and  perceived effects  were generated as nodes with the helpof Nvivo. By looking at these emergent themes, the data of each theme were attentively interpreted (see section 4.2) toanswer the RQs. 4. Findings 4.1. Questionnaire results Toaddressthe fi rstresearchquestion(RQ),weanalyzedquestionnairequestions(QQ)1 e 3, 7,and8,whileweinvestigatedQQs 4 e 6 to answer RQ2 (see Appendix 1 for more detail).The  fi rst three QQs aim to determine the respondents' knowledge and understanding of their home culture (QQs 1 e 3).Among the responses of 160 students in QQ1, 73 (45.6%) reported that they had a general understanding of Chinese culture,and74(46.3%)respondedthattheywerefamiliarwithsomeaspectsofChineseculture.Asmallnumber(N ¼ 10,6.3%)arguedto have a thorough understanding of Chinese culture (see Table 2). For QQ2 addressing the respondents' willingness tointroduce theirhome culturewhen communicating with people from other cultures, most students (N  ¼  148, 92.5%) showeda positive attitude; only 11 (6.9%) demonstrated indifference toward doing so (see Table 3).However, among the verywilling and willing responses (N  ¼  148) to QQ3 asking what aspects of Chinese culturestudentsmight bewilling to introduce, 75 (50.6%) indicated that theywould introduce food, 44 (29.7%) festivals, 45 (30.4%) history, 30(20.2%) customs, and 21 (14.1%) tradition, without giving more speci fi c details. Only a few considered introducing deepertopics, such as values, beliefs, and communication styles (see Fig. 1).QQs 4 e 6 investigated the effects that the participants perceived home culture to have on IC. The results for QQ4 showthat the majority of students perceived that their knowledge and understanding of Chinese culture would greatly (N  ¼  18,11.3%) or to some degree (N  ¼  92, 57.5%) help them understand other cultures. However, a small portion (N  ¼  27, 16.9%)believed that their knowledge and understanding of Chinese culture would somewhat limit their understanding of othercultures, while one student thought that home culture would greatly limit understanding of other cultures. Similarly,  Table 2 Students' description of knowledge and understanding of Chinese culture.To what degree do you describe your knowledge and understanding of Chinese culture?Answer Options Response Count Response PercentI have a thorough understanding. 10 6.3%I have a general understanding. 73 45.6%I know some aspects of Chinese culture. 74 46.3%I know little about Chinese culture. 3 1.9%I don ’ t know about Chinese culture at all. 0 0.0%  Table 3 Willingness to introduce Chinese culture.When you have a chance to talk to a foreigner, to what degree are you willing to introduce Chinese culture to him/her?Answer Options Response Count Response PercentVery willing 73 45.6%Willing 75 46.9%Indifferent 11 6.9%Not very willing 1 0.6%Not willing at all 0 0.0%  J. Liu, F.(G. Fang / System 67 (2017) 25 e  37   29
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