The intercultural dimension of English as a foreign language: a survey of teachers of English in primary education in Portugal

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


The intercultural dimension of foreign language (FL) learning aims to develop intercultural speakers, or mediators, who see others beyond a particular ascribed identity and instead as individuals with qualities to be discovered (Byram, Gribkova & Starkey, 2002: 9). This has resulted in the expansion of the basic aim of language education, a communicative competence, to include an intercultural competence (IC) (cf Byram 1997 /2021). No clear consensus exists with regard to a definition of IC, (Spitzberg & Changon, 2009), nevertheless, according to Driscoll & Simpson (2015) the most widely used and accepted framework referred to in primary FL education is Byram’s model (1997) of five savoirs which encompasses the knowledge, skills, behaviour and attitudes required to interact with the Other, to decenter and respect other cultures. Primary FL learning is considered to be judiciously positioned (Doyé, 1999) to cultivate attitudes of openness and curiosity towards others, as well as reinforce children’s knowledge and understanding of own cultures. European studies have shown that teachers’ beliefs about language learning and unquestioned teaching routines can hinder the successful inclusion of IC (LACE 2007; Sercu et al. 2005). Teachers are seen as confident in their knowledge of the target culture, but reticent about the affective and the pragmatic dimensions of IC (Breka & Petravić 2015; LACE 2007). This paper presents the initial results of an online survey developed with the objective of collecting the perceptions of teachers of English to children in primary education in Portugal (pre-school to grade 6) regarding IC. Open and closed questions were designed to collect information regarding the following parameters: EFL teaching objectives, practices and resources; personal beliefs about IC through EFL; approaches to IC in EFL including topics, practices, assessment and challenges. The survey was completed by 182 teachers and results suggest that the respondents are fairly confident about including the IC dimension in their teaching. Nevertheless, actual described practices suggest a misunderstanding of concepts and learning objectives. I will share some of the results, discuss the challenges I faced in designing the survey and make reference to a professional development course (in design) to overcome some of these misunderstandings.
Period4 Feb 2021
Event titleAdvanced Research Seminar: Challenges, solutions and synergies
Event typeSeminar
Conference number2
LocationLisbon, PortugalShow on map
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • interculturality
  • primary education
  • Foreign language learning
  • teachers of English