February 2013
ICIS Newsletter



What an exciting time as we fast approach TESOL’s Annual Convention! Because this is but one of many opportunities throughout the year to immerse ourselves in knowledge sharing, networking, learning, and re-energizing as we come together in collective pursuit of improving the quality of our language teaching and learning, it is my sincere hope that if you will not be able to make the trip this time, you will find a conference or symposium somewhere near you in the coming months in order to take advantage of the synergy that arises from such events.

In the last few days, I have returned from just such a weekend hosted at the University of Macau and sponsored in part by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. This particular conference impressed upon me not only the need for us to share generously and often from our abundant wealth of “big C” Cultural knowledge and experience, but from our “little c” cultural knowledge and experience as well. The tag line of this particular English language teaching conference was “Many Voices, One Vision,” and that is exactly who we are, as an interest section, whether we are teaching in the East or West, North or South; in primary, secondary, or tertiary institutions, we have a common vision to instil a culture of inquiry, openness, and acceptance among students.

In this issue of InterCom, the articles address meeting students’ needs by helping them express themselves and develop their identities through both written and spoken communication. The articles look at how their own skills and knowledge base are reflective of their cultures and educational background and the learning curve that comes with intercultural encounters, whether from reaching across the miles through technology or physically relocating to study in host-country immersion environments. Either way, as teachers, we can create opportunities and learning projects that support students’ discovery and language learning in a way that inspires and encourages them to embrace culture and language and the doors it opens to them.

We hope that you, too, will be inspired to create opportunities for intercultural communication and learning and will choose to share them with your membership in upcoming issues of InterCom. After all, we, too, represent “Many Voices, One Vision” and are only strengthened by voicing the ideas and experiences we learn from in all corners of this ever-shrinking world.


Dear ICIS Members and Friends,

I hope that all of you have had a productive start to 2013!

As TESOL 2013 in Dallas approaches, the ICIS leadership team is becoming increasingly excited about our upcoming convention sessions and events, and we hope that many of you will be able to find the time to attend some of the ICIS presentations or drop by our interest section booth to say hello. If you can’t make it to Dallas, we hope you will be able to join us on our community site in the next few weeks to talk about intercultural topics.

This year we had over 150 proposals submitted for the convention, and we were able to select 32 of them. Thank you to everyone who submitted proposals and to those who spent long hours reviewing them. Each year we rely on many of our members to review the submissions, and we greatly appreciate your hard work.

We are especially looking forward to our 2013 Academic Session, "Teacher Values, Beliefs and Identities in the ESOL Classroom,” featuring Alivino Fantini, Lynne Diaz-Rico, Carla Chamberlin-Quinlisk, and Bonny Norton discussing aspects of teacher intercultural awareness. This presentation will take place Friday, March 22, at 10 am.

In addition, ICIS is collaborating with the Second Language Writing and Social Responsibility Interest Sections to explore intercultural rhetoric and non-Western TESOL perspectives.

I would like to invite you to the ICIS Open Meeting (Thursday, March 21, 5–6:30 pm, Room D222 in the Dallas Convention Center) to discuss issues of importance to ICIS in the upcoming year. I sincerely hope you can join us to share your thoughts, opinions, and suggestions! As always, ICIS members will go out afterward to share a meal and relax. Everyone is welcome.

Please also visit us in the TESOL Center on the Exhibit Floor at the convention, where we will have an ICIS booth on Thursday, March 21, 11 am–1 pm, and Friday, March 22, 3–5 pm.

I’d like to close by welcoming the newly elected members to our leadership team. Our incoming chair, Laura Jacob, has been working diligently and enthusiastically throughout the past year, organizing projects and working with other interest sections to put together the InterSection sessions. Thank you, Laura! I would also like to congratulate Nasima Yamchi on being elected chair-elect. Nasima has been doing a wonderful job, along with Amy Alice Chastain, as co-editor of our ICIS newsletter for the past year. Thanks go to both of our editors for coordinating a difficult task. We have a new addition to our team, Lena Shvidko, who was recently elected to the position of secretary for our interest section. Welcome, Lena! Finally, I’d like to say thank you to Chris Spackman, our community manager, for continuing to work with ICIS for another year. Thanks, Chris!

For those of you who can join us in Dallas, we look forward to seeing you. For all ICIS members and friends, please join us in the ICIS online community or e-mail us with any suggestions/comments to help further advance ICIS’ work.



Donna Bain Butler, PhD

Michael Wei, PhD

Yalun Zhou, PhD

International students contribute more than $21 billion to the U.S. economy alone. Further, this revenue is expected to increase (Institute of International Education, 2012). According to ASEAN Matters for America, Asian students account for five out of the top six leading sources of international students in the United States (Siirila, 2010). Although more and more institutions of higher education in English-speaking countries are recruiting international students to their campuses, faculty and program administrators remain generally unaware of international students’ cultural backgrounds and linguistic needs when expected to write in second language (L2) academic English. Too often, L2 undergraduate students are sent to institutional intensive English language programs to remediate their English grammar. Similarly, L2 graduate students may be advised to seek editors who are not trained in English for academic purposes (EAP) or in L2 English composition. Faculty and international program directors may not know that nationality and culture play crucial roles in English language learning and language use (Anugkakul, 2011). They may be unaware of international students’ contrasting views of academic writing and the writing processes. As a result, L2 student learning may be assessed unfairly or inaccurately, or it may lead to culture shock with tragic ending.

To counteract uninformed practices in international education, and to improve intercultural communication with culturally diverse students and institutions, Gillett (1997) recommends that faculty and staff in higher education reconceptualize intercultural communication. This is necessary because (1) people from different cultures do things in different ways, (2) students experience learning and assessment differently from their professors, (3) higher education faculty and staff share sources of knowledge and information differently from international students, (4) pragmatics is cross-culturally different and difficult to understand, and (5) EAP specialists exist to inform programs and advise international student writers by explaining their language use issues as relating to something other than grammar. Echoing Gillett (1997), this study reveals how Chinese and Thai students, ranked number 1 and number 15, respectively, among U.S. international student populations on campus (Institute of International Education, 2012), inherit a wealth of academic writing culture in their home countries.

What Our Study Does

Our research purpose was to disclose cross-cultural issues related to writing with a view toward advancing writing proficiency for academic English writers. Specifically, the study reveals how Chinese and Thai students perceive or understand academic English writing regarding the following five questions:

  1. What are graduate writers' perceptions of their native academic culture?
  2. What are graduate writers' perceptions of academic English writing?
  3. What are graduate writers’ perceptions of strategies for academic English writing?
  4. What are graduate writers’ perceptions of composing for academic purposes?
  5. What are graduate writers’ metaphors for academic English writing?



Through a quantitative survey approach with 100 graduate student writers, our study explored key issues in writing that influence academic writing literacy for Chinese (n = 50) and Thai (n = 50) graduate students across disciplines. The purpose of our study was to describe (a) Chinese and Thai graduate students’ learning cultures of academic English writing and (b) their perspectives of writing processes as they relate to writing conventions in academic English. We used Bain Butler’s (2010) Academic English Writing Questionnaire to collect data.

For content validity, we consulted a variety of teachers, experts, the research literature, and target group members for relevance, representativeness, and exactness of wording. A validity check with our Thai and Chinese colleagues disclosed no objections about questions or results (personal communication, December 13, 2011). For reliability check, Cronbach’s Alpha was .885 for Thailand and .544 for China.

Our survey instrument allowed graduate student writers to (a) distinguish between academic cultures and (b) identify the strategies they use for composing academic English assignments and abstracts.


Abbreviated results are presented in order of the five research questions.

1. What are graduate writers' perceptions of their native academic culture?

Our study found different assumptions and expectations about who is primarily responsible for successful communication in an academic culture―the reader or the writer. Explicitness and directness appear to be sociocultural elements of academic style for the Chinese participants. In contrast, the Thai participants may prefer to let readers infer the meaning of their (Thai) writing. Although rhetorical preferences and style are known to vary from culture to culture and from language to language, they may also be influenced by academic English curriculum and writing instruction, as this study shows.

2. What are graduate writers' perceptions of academic English writing?

Most (72% or more) Chinese participants and most (66% or more) Thai participants agreed or strongly agreed that teaching students how to (a) write using authoritative (printed and electronic) sources and (b) make the shift from writer-centered drafting to reader-centered communication may be needed.

3. What are graduate writers’ perceptions of strategies for academic English writing?

Participants’ strategies for academic English writing are grouped into four categories: (1) writing process, (2) social interaction, (3) language use, and (4) writing from sources.

In terms of writing process, the Chinese participants may be more willing to revise ideas than the Thai participants are. Both revising and editing are components of the composing process that may be taught and learned.

The Thai academic writers employ social interaction more than the Chinese academic writers do. Social strategies were found important for Thai student respondents to communicate effectively with professors and classmates and to refine ideas.

The Thai participants re-use the language from source text more than the Chinese participants do, and the Thai participants correct language-related issues only after revising ideas, in contrast to the Chinese participants.

In terms of writing from sources, most (58%) Chinese participants disagree that they summarize information in English “simply” by reducing source text, whereas most Thai (78%) participants agree. The Chinese participants seem more likely to summarize information in English by selecting and reorganizing course text.

4. What are graduate writers’ perceptions of composing for academic purposes?

Competence-related constructs for composing were discerned by studying this question. Summary, paraphrase, and synthesis were found to help develop L2 academic writers’ purpose and knowledge for writing. Most (60%–68%) Chinese students and most (54%–86%) Thai students “agree” or “strongly agree” that they comprise levels of composing.

5. What are graduate writers’ metaphors for academic English writing?

Most (72% Thai and 56% Chinese) participants agree that they are like architects when they write in English, that is, they plan, draft, and then edit their own work. In addition, most (58% Thai and 55% Chinese) agree that they write like artists when revising their writing as they go along.


Cultural issues in writing were disclosed by this research, that is, six global categories within which varied perceptions for academic English writing arise:

  • the roles of research and inquiry
  • writer versus reader responsibility
  • the roles of revising and editing
  • student versus teacher roles
  • values of individualism versus collectivism
  • ownership of text and ideas

Each one can be found and understood from the writing research literature, and most have been acknowledged by the College Composition and Communication Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers (2009). The contribution of this study is that they are shown to exist in academic cultural context. Further, because some relate to Western notions of plagiarism and academic integrity, they are high-stakes issues for international students and degree-granting institutions.

English university program directors need to be aware of potential differences in academic culture and in academic English curricula if they are to act responsibly as educators. International students do not have homogeneous cultural backgrounds for academic English writing, and their interaction with university program content is not related simply to English grammar or to ethics.

In sum, competence in intercultural (versus monocultural) communication provides a basis for curriculum development, instruction, and assessment in international higher education. Both personnel in English-speaking countries and students seeking advanced degrees in these countries should be aware of developing their intercultural competence (proficiency). Language use cannot be separated from culture, and this study shows that it is not. International students bring with them diverse perceptions of academic English writing when they enter the English-speaking academy. EAP professionals can help with research-based tools to disclose (a) what students are taught in their home countries; (b) what students missed in terms of meeting the requirements for disciplinary writing; and (c) how EAP faculty, course designers, and disciplinary professors can collaborate to bridge the gap for both students and universities that place value on best practices for teaching, learning, and assessment. The questionnaire designed for this study is one such tool and will be used to collect data in other EAP writing cultures such as Arabic, Hindi, and Russian. The complete article for this study can be found in ESP Across Cultures (2013), volume 10.


Anugkakul, G. (2011). A comparative study in language learning strategies of Chinese and Thai students: A case study of Suan Suanandha Rajabhat University. European Journal of Social Sciences, 19(2), 163–174.

Bain Butler, D. (2010). How L2 legal writers use strategies for scholarly writing: A mixed methods study (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Maryland, College Park.

CCCC Committee on Second Language Writing. (2009). CCCC statement on second language writing and writers. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/secondlangwriting 

Gillett, A. (1997). Intercultural communication. ARELS Arena, 16, 22–23.Retrieved from http://www.uefap.com/articles/arena.htm

Institute of International Education. (2012). Open Doors 2012 “fast facts.” Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/en/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors

Siirila, A. (2010). New students data: China grows by 30%. Retrieved from http://www.asiamattersforamerica.org/new-students-data-china-grows-by-30

Donna Bain Butler, PhD, Adjunct Professor and Fulbright Specialist, Applied Linguistics/EFL, American University’s Washington College of Law, Washington, DC, USA

Michael Wei, PhD, Associate Professor and Director, TESOL Program, University of Missouri, Kansas City, USA

Yalun Zhou, PhD, Michigan State University, USA


The ultimate goal for English language learners (ELLs) is attaining command of the spoken and written language, both productively and receptively, to the extent that they are comfortable, self-assured, and empowered to communicate effectively with both native and other nonnative speakers of English. Canagarajah (2006), in his state-of-the-art assessment, sums up the needs of English language teaching and learning:

A proficient speaker of English today needs to shuttle between different communities, recognizing the systematic and legitimate status of different varieties of English. Rather than simply joining a speech community, then, we should teach students to shuttle between communities. To be really proficient in English in the postmodern world, one has to be multidialectal. (p. 26)

Current Study

Participants and informants

The study included 28 postgraduate non-English-major students enrolled full-time at Shantou University, in Guangdong Province, P.R. China. Many of these students were exposed to non-Chinese speakers of English for the first time upon entering the university and were therefore good candidates for such a study. An equal number of speakers of English from around the world were recruited, and participants committed to a minimum of three 30-minute interviews at times convenient during the 16-week semester for both student interviewers and informants.


Instruments used in the study were adapted from similar studies in different contexts, primarily those of Robinson-Stuart and Nocon (1996) and Bateman (2002, 2004), and gathered such information as demographics, previous language experience, and language and culture exposure. The postproject questionnaire also elicited information relevant to the ethnographic interview experience and what the participants gained from it and participation in the project as a whole.

Classroom instruction revolved around the introduction of concepts and practices such as ethnographic interviewing (Bateman, 2002, 2004; Robinson-Stuart & Nocon, 1996), composing narratives and exposure to English language users of different varieties and backgrounds (e.g., Belcher & Connor, 2001) to broaden the learners’ understanding and awareness of the vast diversity found in the broader English-speaking community.



The most profound results can be gleaned from the reflective narratives of the student interviewers themselves, which testify to the effectiveness and success of the ethnographic interview experience. The following are sample excerpts from the collected narrative accounts, in their original, unedited form. All names have been changed.

Lulu. I am like the person I interviewed in that we both love travels. Travel is a good way to learn new things, Naomi told me that when we get to know more about others' cultures, we'll have a better understanding of our own culture, I think this is the most profound thing I learned from the interview, and Naomi always enlighten me when we share ideas with each other. We have different background and she is more experienced than me, so I regard her as a Russian friend and a teacher also.

Naomi is a Russian, but she lives in Turkey now, so the cultures that she brought to me is the mixture between these two cultures. She seemed more prefer the Turks, because she told me the Turks are more friendly and helpful, on the contrary, the Russian are more serious and ruled, what interesting was when she back to her own country, she was more like a Turk. And Naomi thought it was the various climate and environment that lead to such difference. It also happens in our country, in China, from North to South, from East to West, where there have their own cultural character. So, In my opinion, lots of things are attributed to nature factors.

Though Naomi prefer me to regard her as a Russia than a teacher, I still want to thanks her for teaching me lots of things. It was very interesting when we had different opinions, Naomi is much more experienced than me, so she has the insight eyes to many things. I told her that I am not so spontaneous when I do some formal things, while she told me that she can feel my spontaneity from my photography works, I was so happy and excited to hear that, as if I gained some power from Naomi or myself. I realized we all can be more spontaneous when we do something we interested in, so we can do other things with such feeling, then we can be more confident and do better.

I think in our whole life, we are learning everyday, from nature to human society, from others to ourselves. When we know little, we think we know many, however, when we know more, will we realized that we need to learn more. From this culture project, I learned so many new things, which refreshed my mind and helped me to have a better understanding of myself.

Violet. I am like the person I interviewed in that we share opinions about the culture. I am so lucky that my partner is so nice to talk with me, and we really had a nice conversation. My partner, Ivey, is from Serbia. I still remember the first time I talk with Ivey. I was extremely nervous before we began the voice interview. I couldn’t do anything expect waiting in front of my computer. I worried about that I couldn’t express fluently, or couldn’t understand what she said. But the laugh of Ivey made me feel a little relaxed, and I tried to say something. Fortunately, Ivey always listen to me patiently, which let me feel so grateful.

During the interviews, we talked about the culture of Serbia, which includes life, coffee, food and so on. In my opinion, Serbia is a very comfortable country for people to live. Even though the history is not very long, but its culture still seems quiet distinctive. Then I also share some Chinese culture or my interesting experience with Ivey. I think this is a good way for us to know the two countries. When we were having a conversation, I paid attention to Ivey’s pronunciation and intonation, because I want to improve the level of my spoken English.

From this homework, the most important influence for me is the courage of speaking English. To be honest, I was afraid of talking with foreigners in the past time, because I didn’t know how to express myself clearly. When I spoke English, I had to prepare some drafts in advance. But now, I can speak English confidently.

Victor. I am like the person I interviewed in that we have the willing to open heart to communicate with each other. My interview partner is from Karachi, Pakistan, so, what my culture narrative content is about the Pakistan. As most Pakistanis believe in Islam, so this narrative is mostly about the Islamic culture. My attitude toward Islamic culture have through a process of change. At first, I know few about it. I still remember one novel I read which named A thousand splendid suns. This book is about the Islam women and the disaster that they have been enduring. Under the description, I recognize that the Islam culture have many taboos and bounds to women, like don’t allow woman go outside without her husband or brother’s company. The women wrapped themselves from head to toe within the traditional costume. So my initial impression toward this culture is it has many values that conflict with the modern value. But when I learned more about this, especially contact and chat with the people from this culture, my attitude start to change. Because I learned that this culture have also through a series of change toward more open, much freedom and the respect of people’s rights. I understand that every culture has its own tradition and should be respected. With my partner, I found that the man believe in the religion is very polite, humble and honest lovely. Within the contact, I think the Islamic culture has a splendid past and a bright future. As to Pakistan, I now learn that it is a country developing rapidly, not just poverty and conflict we heard from the news. This country has a brilliant history and promising tomorrow.


It was predicted that students would have limited awareness as to the depth and breadth of English spoken throughout the world prior to participation in this study due to a variety of influences and limitations in the scope of their education, access, and the images prevalent in the media and therefore would have varying preconceptions and attitudes, conscious or subconscious, toward language varieties and their associated cultures and peoples. Through participation in the ethnographic interview project, as in previous ethnographic interview studies in a foreign language context, the following positive outcomes were among those anticipated:

  • an enhanced desire to study English
  • an increased awareness of English varieties and the cultures represented
  • an improved, open dialogue and greater cultural understanding between Chinese ELLs and participating English speakers


Bateman, B. (2002). Promoting openness toward culture learning: Ethnographic interviews for students of Spanish. Modern Language Journal, 86, 318–331.

Bateman, B. (2004). Achieving affective and behavioral outcomes in culture learning: The case for ethnographic interviews. Foreign Language Annals, 37, 240–253.

Belcher, D., & Connor, U. (Eds.). (2001). Reflections on multiliterate lives. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Canagarajah, S. (2006). TESOL at forty: Where are the issues? TESOL Quarterly, 40, 9–34.

Robinson-Stuart, G., & Nocon, H. (1996). Second culture acquisition: Ethnography in the foreign language classroom. Modern Language Journal, 80, 431–449.

Amy Alice Chastain is the co-editor of InterCom and is currently a lecturer in the English Language Center at Shantou University and a consultant in the Center for Independent Language Learning. She will be presenting more about this project as part of a colloquium titled “Research in Action: Classroom Projects Based on Qualitative Research Methods,” March 21, 2013, at 1 pm at the TESOL Convention.