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iCLT principle 6

iCLT emphasises intercultural communicative competence rather than native-speaker competence

Example 1 | Example 2 | Example 3 | Resources

Teaching in ways that develop learners’ intercultural communicative competence requires a view of learners as bicultural or multicultural.

Learners already know and use at least one language. If language learners are going to practise being bilingual (or multilingual) then learners’ other languages need to be allowed into the classroom.

Native speakers’ language use and grammatical accuracy used to be the norm against which the performance of non-native speakers was measured. This is no longer appropriate.

Learners start using the language they are learning, not as imperfect, monolingual, native speakers, but as speakers in their own right.

Within the iCLT approach, teachers have a view of “error” as developmental because learners are constructing their knowledge of the target language and culture from a range of sources.

Learners’ errors are important sources of information for teachers. They reveal what each learner needs to know in order to progress their learning and use of the language in different contexts.

Learners’ performance is assessed in term of their intercultural communicative competence. In that sense, “errors” may not matter if communication is successful.

The examples that follow illustrate these concepts.

Example 1: Unconscious habits

Michael, a year 11 learner of Spanish, is enjoying some time in Spain. He writes an email to his Spanish class in New Zealand in which he shares his experiences of the food. Michael writes:

  • “Las comidas en España son muy differentes de nosotros.” [Spanish food is very different from ours.]

When he writes: “differentes de nosotros”, he constructs his own version of Spanish.


Three aspects of this utterance give insights into the learning process of an English speaker:

  • Spanish speakers commonly use the expression “diferentes a las nuestras”. At this curriculum level, learners of Spanish often use the personal pronoun in contexts where a possessive pronoun would typically be used, as they are still developing their knowledge and use of these forms.
  • To communicate the same message in English, learners would say “different from us”. So Michael uses his knowledge of English to construct the same idea in Spanish, retaining the English structure: “differentes de nosotros.
  • Michael uses the English spelling “differentes” rather than the Spanish spelling “diferentes”. Learners often use the double consonant which is common in English but not so common in Spanish except for the double "r" and double "l".

The teacher talks to Michael about his approximations, and makes him aware that he is unconsciously applying his knowledge of linguistic practices in English to the written texts he is producing in Spanish.

The teacher and Michael agree that he will be more conscious of the processes he uses to produce written texts in Spanish in future so that he can reduce the amount of interference to reader fluency and meaning making.

Example 2: Making up words

Ben, a year 11 learner of Japanese, is unsure of how one would say the word “luge” when interacting with another speaker in Japanese. As he talks he hesitates, working out how he is going to manage to communicate what he wants to say, then decides to “Japanify” the word “luge”.

So he says リュージ [ryuuju]. He takes the English word “luge”, and uses the Japanese syllabary to make an approximation of the word.


Learning a language is learning to exercise both a social and a personal voice; it is both a process of socialisation into a given speech community and the acquisition of literacy as a means of expressing personal meanings.

When acquiring the language, learners have to construct their personal meanings at the boundaries between the native speaker’s meanings and their own everyday life.

Their attempts to express their personal meanings are not deviances – or errors – measured against native speaker forms and meanings. Their attempts have a communicative function, and need to be measured in terms of their ability to communicate successfully.

Example 3: Whose mother?

Paula, a native speaker of Tongan, invites Helen, a year 11 learner of Tongan, to go with him to the school social.

During their phone conversation, both Paula and Helen use the word mami to refer to Helen’s mother. The use of this word is typical of informal contexts in Tongan.

However, other words to refer to one’s own mother and someone else’s mother would be used in other contexts in Tongan to show different levels of formality and respect.


Teachers can draw students’ attention to the different ways of referring to members of their own families and members of others’ families in lea faka-Tonga in a range of contexts.

They can broaden the discussion to include investigating the naming practices that exist for family members in the languages that students know and use.

  • What similarities and differences do teachers and students notice?
  • What values are revealed in these practices?

The teacher can set tasks that enable the students to use their new learning when interacting with others in lea faka-Tonga in particular contexts.

For example, students talk about who is present at a family gathering. They work in groups. One student talks about their family members who were present at a particular gathering, and when and where it took place. The next student then reports the same event, changing the language to suit the context.

The others in the group make meaning from what they hear and provide their feedback to those who spoke.

Key resources

  • For specific languages including New Zealand Sign Language and te reo Māori, which are also taught as additional languages.
  • The teaching and learning guides for specific languages provide guidance for the design of teaching and learning programmes aligned to The New Zealand Curriculum.

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Last updated August 20, 2015