Exploring the Creative Interplay between Language Awareness,

Cultural Awareness and Meta-Awareness

in Intercultural Communication

William Littlewood

Language Centre

Hong Kong Baptist University

Kowloon Tong

Hong Kong

Tel: (852) 2339-7046

Fax: (852) 2339-7590

Email: blittle@hkbu.edu.hk

Cultural awareness is widely accepted as an essential component of communicative competence in multi-cultural settings. In addition to works which deal with this topic from a theoretical perspective, a number of books are available which attempt to help classroom learners develop an awareness of cultural factors and how they may influence communication. Examples will be given of how this cultural awareness, combined with language awareness, may facilitate successful communication. However, there are many situations in which interlocutors may be aware of relevant linguistic and cultural differences but remain unsure of the extent or manner in which these factors should influence interpretation. This may occur, for example, when a person does not know whether the other interlocutor is adopting the frame of reference of his or her own culture, or already accommodating to that of the other. It may also result when a person does not know to what extent the other interlocutor's frame of reference is grounded in culture-specific norms or influenced by more "global" (often more western-influenced) elements.  This second case is particularly likely to occur in situations of rapid cultural change, e.g. in many Asian countries.  Examples will be given (mainly from the presenter's own experience and that of a Hong Kong Chinese student studying in the UK) of situations in which language and cultural awareness alone cannot resolve the issue of interpretation. In addition to this "first-level" awareness, interlocutors need a second-level "meta-awareness" which alerts them to the limitations of the first level The implication is that intercultural communication depends on (a) adequate levels of general and specific language and cultural awareness, (b) adequate second-level meta-awareness which places language and cultural awareness into a broader communicative context and (c) a capacity to integrate all these types and levels of awareness into creative interpretative processes in interpersonal settings.