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Communicating Your Way Through Clashing Cultures: Tools and strategies for addressing Socially Acute Questions in the English language classroom


This article examines the handling of Socially Acute Questions (SAQs) in the English language classroom. SAQs have been described as complex and controversial issues that are considered acute in society, in research and professional domains, and in educational contexts. Although intercultural communicative competence (ICC) is being encouraged by our educational authorities, teachers feel at a loss as to how to achieve that learning outcome in their teaching-learning units (TLUs). Many of them have encountered problems and even conflict when trying to deal with SAQs. Even though they are struggling with a sense of frustration, they continue to consider that addressing such issues in their TLUs is key to 21st-century education. In this article, a customizable toolbox is proposed that second language (L2) teachers can draw from to foster and facilitate constructive intercultural dialogue when dealing with SAQs in their increasingly diverse English language classrooms. It starts off with a literature review providing perspectives on SAQs from transdisciplinarity, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), and the Pedagogy of Encounter. It continues with an introduction to safe spaces, brave spaces, and story circles, as well as an overview of relevant concepts from cross-cultural pragmatics. The methods section then gives a detailed action-research-driven account of a racist incident that occurred in the author’s intervention group, a conversation class at the language institute of Université catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain), Belgium. Drawing from the literature review as well as the case study, and in the absence of institutional support to handle SAQs appropriately, the article concludes with a proposal for a customizable SAQs toolbox, meeting the stakeholders’ (the L2 learners’ and teachers’) academic expectations as well as emotional needs. Little or no work has been done so far on how to deal with SAQs in tertiary education. The actionable roadmap proposed in this article tries to bridge that gap. Even though the case study focuses on racism in the English language classroom, the customizable toolbox can be adapted across languages, academic disciplines, and other forms of discrimination.


Socially Acute Questions, Social and Emotional Learning, Pedagogy of Encounter, intercultural dialogue, transdisciplinarity



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