A case study of the development of symbolic and intercultural competence among Chinese learners of English in the context of a Taiwanese university
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While there is ample literature that has discussed intercultural communication and intercultural competence of Chinese learners of English, ethnographic accounts and interactional analyses of development of learners' symbolic competence (SC) (Kramsch, 2006; Kramsch & Whiteside, 2008) in the classroom setting are scant. Examinations of intercultural interactions, evaluations of competence, and formulation of pedagogical recommendations have often relied on notions of intercultural development that divide self and other and adopt nationalist views of culture. In light of this, this study distinguishes itself particularly by acknowledging language learners as individuals with rich affections and memories and the agency to shape their own actions and identities rather than as passive knowledge receivers, and accordingly, aims to identify opportunities shaping development of English learners' SC in the English as a Foreign Language context. To achieve this purpose, a case study design provides an in-depth analysis of activity in one classroom and a focus on voices representing multiple perspectives within a specific bounded system. The themes emerging from the analysis support the central claim that the way that a language teacher shapes classroom discourse impacts opportunities for developing SC. In the classroom under study, activities which allowed students to perform their English language abilities and observe others' performance in English generated opportunities for developing SC in that learners both discovered and established their subjective positioning in relation to the English language. In addition, incorporation of digital media and introduction of certain topics enabled learners to raise awareness of and reflect on their positions in life and to reframe their perspectives on a range of subjects, all processes that constituted opportunities for developing SC. Moreover, a classroom atmosphere characterized by carnivalesque qualities and that included language play in interaction is identified as another opportunity for developing SC in that alternate realities were imagined and reframing moves became possible for learners. However, the data in this study indicated that cultural representations based solely in a teacher's personal perceptions and/or from narrow, essentialist or stereotypical views, as well as instruction that treats meanings as definite and pre-determined, curbed development of SC in that there was no space for students to be autonomous speakers in the interactions.