The Cornerstone of Language Classes

I’ve been a language teacher for 16 years now, and I will admit that two words that automatically come to mind when I think about language learning are ‘grammar’ and ‘vocabulary’.  I often share with my students that I was never very good at remembering vocabulary on quizzes.  I dreaded those quizzes; I still do when I am taking a course and there is vocabulary to memorize. Having said that, I also share the importance of broadening our vocabulary. Grammar on the other hand, when not being tested on it, I love! But should these two items take centre stage as we plan and teach our lessons? After much research by myself and others, I would say a firm ‘no’.

The centre of our lessons should be curiosity, discovery, and patience. Understanding a language goes beyond knowing how to conjugate verbs and identify random nouns, rather, it is understanding a people, valuing their perspective, and ideally, being able to interact with people from a different culture than one’s own.

In fact, this idea of being able to interact between cultures has been called ‘Intercultural Communicative Competency’ or ICC. A researcher by the name of Michael Byram is known as the originator of this theory in 1997, and it is his research on which many other researchers have based their studies.  In this theory, there are 5 ‘savoirs’.  You can often see and hear Byram being cited in podcasts, on websites, and in articles. See below for a list of these.

ICC is “the ability to navigate intercultural differences in order to communicate successfully and can be defined as a set of knowledge, skills and attitude which are considered essential for successful intercultural communication”. (Byram, 1997). ICC has been successfully used in both K-12 schools and post-secondary schools around the globe. I have personally been looking at my units for my high school Core French classes to see where I can put less emphasis on the grammar and vocabulary and more on the discovery and inquiry of other Francophone cultures. I’ve included below a well written article by Byram, Gribkova, and Starky (2002) which explains ICC well and gives examples to frequently asked questions about implementation in the classroom.

As always, please reach out should you have resources to suggest or questions about today’s blog topic.

Mme. Drew


Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Byram. M., Gribkova, B., & Starkey, H. (2002). Developing the Intercultural Dimension in Language Teaching: A Practical Introduction for Teachers. Strasbourg: Council in Europe

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