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Tableaux vivants as vehicles for cultural exchange

Intercultural simulations, such as Barnga (Thiagarajan and Steinwachs, 1990), along with the use of critical incidents, have long been a mainstay of intercultural communication courses and have found their way into ESL and EFL classrooms (Schill and Apedaile, 2007). They have been used with a wide variety of individuals: business people, missionaries, Peace Corps volunteers, diplomats, not to mention university students studying intercultural communication, including EFL/ ESL students. These largely task-based simulations, often involving role play, are intended to make participants…

* more aware of their own cultural values.
* foster more positive attitudes toward the "other"
* identify and avoid stereotypes/ prejudice toward people of other cultures
* understand the sorts of problems that arise when communicating cross-culturally.
* navigate through culture shock smoothly and adjust to foreign host cultures with a minimum of tears and heartbreak.

The presenter will describe a cultural exchange project, in the spirit of the intercultural simulations described above, between universities and high schools in Japan and the United States in which classes in the respective settings were helped to gain insights into the cultures of the partner classes through an exchange of word associations and tableaux vivants--based on the same word prompts that were used for the word associations. [Words selected for the word associations can be negotiated by the teachers and students of partner classes. If the focus of the exchange is related to business, for example, the word prompts might include: honesty, trust, integrity, rich, work, success, justice, fairness, corrupt, cooperation.] Individuals in the partner classes offered written word/ phrase associations to the concepts before being grouped with peers in their class to negotiate the performance of each of the concepts through tableaux vivants.

A variety of web tools facilitated the project: Google Docs' "forms" and "spreadsheets" (to gather the word associations); word cloud creation websites (to visually represent the word associations); as well as online forums (for the two groups to exchange impressions and interpretations).

It was found that the exchange facilitated interesting insights and interpretations and allowed for the critical analysis of the concept of culture itself. The presenter will show some of the artifacts produced through a series of these exchanges and explain the application of the project to tandem language learning.


Joseph Dias    
English Depatment
Aoyama Gakuin University

Joseph Dias teaches Intercultural Communication and language teacher education courses to undergraduates and graduate students at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, Japan.


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