Developing and Sustaining Intercultural Communicative Competence
by Teaching and Studying Graphic Narratives

Carola Hecke , Saturday 10.00-10.30

This paper investigates how ESL students (students who learn English as a second language) can develop intercultural communicative competence (ICC) with the help of graphic narratives. ICC has become the major teaching goal of ESL teaching, and current research on the benefits of dealing with literature in the ESL classroom (by German as well as by American scholars of literature and ESL teaching methodology) suggests that studying literary texts can help to achieve this objective. Yet the question arises in how far graphic narrative as one specific genre of literature is capable of serving the purpose of developing and sustaining ICC. This paper provides research based on a reading project currently running at the University of Göttingen in Germany.

The project, which involves university students and high school students, is based on the excellent English translation of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis (2003, Vintage). The decision to use this text (an English translation of a French graphic novel written by an Iranian writer about her experience with cultural diversity in Iran and Austria) was motivated by the multitude of facets of intercultural understanding that is addressed in, and can therefore be trained with, the help of the narrative: intercultural understanding on the level of interaction between the characters in the text and on the level of interaction of the students with the text as well as on the levels of culture and language. The text deals with growing up in a multicultural environment and depicts a series of personal experiences to which German students, living in an increasingly multicultural society themselves, can relate from different perspectives. The project investigates the applicability of what we call the ‘learning by teaching’ approach, according to which students benefit highly from instructing other students – in this case university students teaching high school students – by putting into practice what they have learned in their teaching methodology classes. The objective of the project is to develop and sustain the ICC of high school students while, at the same time, improving the ICC of university students as a result of their teaching experience. The reflection on ICC is geared to create an awareness of its implications, enable a process of self-monitoring, and ideally lead to a positive change of attitude towards cultural diversity and habits of intercultural communicative interaction. This paper outlines the methods of studying and teaching a graphic novel that fosters the development of ICC.

Carola Hecke is a Teaching Methodologist at Georg-August-University Goettingen. Her fields of interest are the use of pictures in ESL teaching and learning, comics in TESL, teaching and learning grammar, and intercultural learning. She is writing her doctoral thesis on the use of pictures in TESL.