Toward an Intercultural Ethics of "Original Difficulty" in ESL Curriculum: A Hermeneutic Inquiry

  • Author / Creator
    Siyaka, Rekiyat Omeneke
  • Global occurrences in recent times have highlighted the degeneration of conversation and relationships at all levels, and the ways that education might disrupt such harmful grammars of engagement have been explored by scholars writing in the field of intercultural communicative competence and language teaching. However, discussions about the applications of intercultural communication in language teaching contexts are often entrenched in the language of models, competence, and evaluation—approaches which are often inattentive to how “you” and “I” make up the “we” from which our shared existence emerges (Smith, 2003). This study inquires into the complexities and possibilities of teaching intercultural communication within a task-based ESL curriculum framework. It contends that meaningful language-learning may benefit from fuller considerations of ethical and relational understandings of the self in relation to others. Theoretically informed by hermeneutics and African wisdom, this study is guided by the question of our ethical obligations to others, and it theorizes a relational ethics of intercultural communication for ESL curriculum and instruction that begins with an onto-epistemological shift in our current understanding of what it means to learn and teach a language. It introduces a curriculum for intercultural learning that prepares students to engage ethically in a shared, intercultural world and considers the discursive elements of identity that shape intercultural encounters.
    Following a 3-year-long biweekly conversation with instructors on the topic of intercultural communication in a Canadian post-secondary setting, this study was conducted as a first step toward curriculum re-envisioning in the research context. Five ESL instructors participated in the study, and data were collected over a 2-month timespan through semi-structured individual and focus group interviews and interpreted using a hermeneutic paradigm. Grounded in Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics and African wisdom traditions, this research draws on hermeneutic inquiry, “the practice and theory of interpretation” (Chesla, 1995), as a means of developing an understanding of the challenges and possibilities of teaching intercultural communication alongside this study’s participants. As both a theoretical framework and a strategy for doing research, hermeneutics is concerned with the interpretation and understanding of the interconnected human condition and the many ways that understanding presents itself (Gadamer, 1976). Hermeneutic interpretation considers how the concepts of place, dialogue, and belonging shape how we come to know. This understanding informed both the interviewing and the curriculum re-envisioning in this study. Interpretation therefore unfolded in dialogue with participants in order to come to a relational and referential understanding of what it means to engage in intercultural communication in ESL pedagogy and curricula. I deploy a hermeneutic understanding of language as a worldview to interpret the ways in which coming to know a new language is also about coming to know a way of entering a new world (Aoki, 1999).
    Findings from the study align with the recent understanding in the language teaching field that intercultural communication is shaped by discursive elements of identity. Research participants identified race, religion, gender, and sexuality as aspects of identity that required more explicit attention in current ESL curricula and instruction. They also cited time constraints, expectations to cover course content, concerns about creating uncomfortable classroom environments, a lack of intercultural objectives, and inadequate curricular materials as some challenges of teaching intercultural communication in ESL classrooms. The findings lead to my discussion of ways in which the field may reimagine concepts of time, language, and language tasks so as to be more ethically responsive to cultural plurality and the commonalities and differences in our shared world.
    The study contributes to existing English language teaching scholarship by revealing limitations of task-based learning and communicative competence. It further introduces an alternative relational framework for thinking about the goals of an intercultural curriculum of language learning in higher education settings. This curriculum points to the need to engage with students’ lived experiences and addresses the lack of teachers’ voices in the literature by legitimizing the wisdom in the lived stories of instructors who dwell within the landscape of ESL instruction (Aoki, 1991/2005). The significance of this study lies in its potential to shape what is possible within language teaching and learning, in-service teacher training, and curriculum development.
    Keywords: ESL, intercultural communication, hermeneutics, language teaching

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2022
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.