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"The Culture Pack", by Derek Utley, published 2000 by York Associates, 120 pp. ISBN 1-900991-11-X

Published by York Associates, who, so their website tells us, "specialise in language, communication and intercultural training", ‘The Culture Pack’ is subtitled ‘Intercultural communication resources for trainers’. It is not specifically intended as a language teaching resource and as such is not aimed only at non-native speakers. Rather, it is designed to be used in business contexts by trainers working with those whose work is likely to bring them into contact with, in the broadest sense, what we might call alien cultures. I myself was drawn to it not so much from any personal involvement in Business English but rather from my more general interest in intercultural learning as an element of ELT, and I am happy to say that it seems to have a great deal to offer not only to business and Business English trainers (why are they trainers and not teachers like the rest of us?) but to a rather wider readership as well. So what is ‘The Culture Pack’?

Quite simply, it’s a spiral-bound A4 format photocopiable resource book, a collection of ideas and materials to be used flexibly rather than followed in linear fashion. As explicitly stated in the Introduction (p 6), "the materials follow no specific school of thought…they embrace and introduce a number of current approaches and theories on intercultural communication, and make them available for trainer and trainee to use as required."

The theories and approaches mentioned are sketched out in an excellent introduction by James R Chamberlain, of Germany’s Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University. Fifteen pages long, including bibliography, it is clearly-written and full of useful information. It also closely resembles a talk he gave at the 2001 IATEFL conference in Brighton, which I was fortunate enough to attend, the text of which you can find on the Web at his homepage:

 http://www.spz.fh-rhein-sieg.de/english/iatefl/getting_started_iatefl.html

After stating that "it is a long and arduous journey from the natural state of believing the way we do things at home is the only right way, to the learned state of accepting foreign ways as neither better nor worse, but just different" (p 8), Chamberlain then proceeds to provide us with some signposts for that journey, touching on such areas as characterisations of cultures, the nature of communication and its relationship with culture, the relationship of culture with behaviour, the practice of intercultural training, the relationship of culture with language, and training issues.

The bulk of the book is taken up by 81 photocopiable activities, each of which occupies one page, divided into ten sections: ‘defining culture’; ‘the intercultural challenge’; ‘types of culture’; no fewer than five on ‘profiling’ - stereotypes, national, corporate, team and individual cultures; ‘culture and communication’, and ‘intercultural assessment and development’. Despite the previously-mentioned lack of a unitary theoretical basis, the activities generally follow a similar methodological approach, the one recommended being an individual task followed by small group discussion and then full group discussion and feedback, with the trainer’s role more one of facilitator than fountain of knowledge. Although there are guidelines for trainers given in a section of notes at the back of the book, it is emphasised that there are no ‘right’ answers. There is considerable variety among the sections and activities. Some (eg ‘profiling corporate cultures’) have a clear business slant and I find it quite hard to imagine using them outside a business context, while others (eg ‘culture and communication’) might be used very profitably in almost any upper-secondary, tertiary, or adult education situation both in order to encourage communication and to achieve broader educational goals.

Clearly, explicit knowledge in the area this book deals with is going to be of major value to those doing business across frontiers. In a review of a quite different book published elsewhere Scott Thornbury makes the point that "no Brazilian manufacturing supremo ever failed to clinch an important deal with a Japanese shipping magnate because of a dodgy schwa" (Thornbury, 2001), but how many important deals have foundered on the rocks of cross-cultural misunderstandings? In the emergent Europe of the 21st century, though, many others besides business people, from tourists to shopkeepers, exchange students to restaurateurs, police officers to politicians, obviously stand to benefit. Indeed, I would go further and say that all of us do; cross-cultural differences can occur just as easily across a room or a street as across state frontiers, a truth reflected by the fact that half the sections in the book refer to profiling different cultural dimensions, only one of those national. Paige and Martin’s 1996 description of intercultural training, quoted by Chamberlain, "[it] challenges existing and preferred beliefs, values and patterns of behaviour. It is directed at promoting personal change [and] cognitive restructuring" might serve equally well as a definition of education. And, as recent events have shown us, the world is sorely in need of as much of that as it can get.

Being photocopiable, ‘The Culture Pack’ is not cheap; in Britain it sells for almost twenty pounds. Nor, not being intended only for language learners, does it have any language syllabus as such, although any competent teacher should easily be able to introduce specific language elements into many of the activities. However, it does have several points in its favour. It has a strong theoretical grounding, it contains a lot of potentially very stimulating - "many…are provocative, none is meant to be outrageous" (Introduction, p 6) - activities, it is open-ended, it is flexible, it is attractive, and it deals with issues of real and increasing importance in today’s globalised world. If your work touches on the realm of business, I’d suggest you have a good look at it; if not, there’s still plenty here for any teacher interested in communication and culture in the more general sense. Well worth investigating.

York Associates, Peasholme House, St Saviour’s Place, York YO1 7PJ
website:  http://www.york-associates.co.uk

Reference:

Thornbury, S (2001) Review of ‘The phonology of English as an International Language’ by Jennifer Jenkins, pub OUP 2001, IATEFL TTEd SIG Newsletter 1/2001, April

This review first appeared on CETEFL-L on November 8 2001

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