August 2016
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Kendra Staley, Universidad del Norte, Barranquilla, Colombia

Introduction: Context and Methodology

Teaching intercultural communications (IC) is rewarding, albeit challenging, when working with English language learners (ELLs). While this course provides limitless topics to explore, it can also be rife with stereotypes. Using social media is beneficial in transforming misogyny, racism, classism, and stereotypes.

Activities mentioned in this article were created for an IC course at the Instituto de Idiomas at the Universidad del Norte (Uninorte) in Barranquilla, Colombia. This particular course is the capstone undergraduate English class with students exiting the program with a B2 proficiency level on the Common European Framework of Reference. In order to graduate, all ELLs are required to take English classes. This IC course combines language teaching, including all four skills; grammar; and vocabulary with content-based material. Students are typically 16–20 years of age, with many coming from wealthy families.

The use of social media is interwoven throughout this IC course in order to foster critical thinking, challenge perceptions, and engage interest. Activities are carefully scaffolded to ensure comprehension and active participation. First, learners read excerpts of authentic material as homework; second, they watch related videos. For both activities, students complete comprehension questions and participate in small group discussions. Third, additional homework is assigned with varied input synthesized from responses posted on class blogs related to these topics; students then are required to comment on each other’s blog posts to encourage online discussion. The class blogs promote learner autonomy and enable students to enhance course work with social media. (Refer to these class blogs for further information: 2013 and 2014.) Fourth, students create videos about aspects of Colombian culture they are most proud of, resulting in their actively claiming the English language as their own.

Theoretical Framework: Intercultural Communications, Social Media, and Language Ownership

The use of social media within IC courses gives students the means to deconstruct socially-created categories within their own communities as well as globally. In IC courses,

EFL students will benefit by gaining solid knowledge of the different world cultures, and they must also develop the ability to compare their native culture to other cultures, to evaluate critically and interpret the results of such comparisons, and to apply this knowledge successfully in both verbal and non-verbal communication… Intensive intercultural education seems to be a good way to teach students what tolerance, acceptance, understanding, and respect mean (Irimia, 2012, p. 326).

Clearly, as educators, we want our students to have these higher order thinking skills along with compassion and empathy. Social media offers a platform for students first to learn about other cultures and then to use this same platform to educate others about themselves. Essentially, the use of social media within IC courses encourages mutual understanding and respect across physical and virtual borders (Jia, 2015).

An important aspect of IC courses is questioning power dynamics and privilege (Abu Alyan, 2011). If learners come from a country with a history of colonization or imperialism, there can be resistance to learning that specific foreign language. While most of my students consider English useful as a global language, there is criticism of the United States’s economic and political influence throughout the Americas. A way to respond to this is to transform English language learning from an imperialistic force into a tool for ELLs to teach others about their own cultures and to learn about other countries—not just dominant countries (Cates, 2016). For example, within this course, students begin by analyzing misogyny in Somalia, racism in Latin America, classism in Kenya, and stereotypes in Korea; then, they compare these issues to their own cultural context: the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

Activities and Student Response

Learners analyze socially constructed categories like gender, race, and class, as well as stereotypes. To reflect on misogyny, for homework, on the class blog, students watch a Ted Talk, “Mother and Daughter Doctor-Heroes,” detailing the lives of three Somali doctors (a mother and her two daughters) in a refugee camp. Aside from describing the logistics of running the camp, school, and clinic, these women also address domestic violence, such as forbidding men to beat their wives, and talk about the strong role of women within the camp and society. Students respond to the video and comment on classmates’ posts.

In terms of race, many Colombians are multiracial, with European, African, and indigenous backgrounds. Many of my students claimed that being a multiracial country meant that they could not be racist against AfroColombians. With this in mind, I found Al Jazeera videos from their series Race and Racism in Latin America: “Skin Color in the Dominican Republic,” “Racism in Brazil: Diverse Society Struggles for Harmony,” and “Racism in Ecuador: Minority Community Feels Marginalized.” After viewing these in class and answering comprehension questions, about half the students admitted that there is racism against AfroLatinos, but claimed it is not as bad in Colombia. This reaction is natural, as we often want to protect our self-images by pointing out the faults of others.

For homework, students watched on our class blog “DiscriminACCION en Colombia,” about racism in Colombia. They then commented on this in their own blogs, where all students openly discussed racism in Colombia. This clearly shows the power of social media to broaden students’ viewpoints of their country while allowing them to express their own nuanced opinions. The whole point of encouraging learners to identify racism within their environment is to help them to consider ways to rectify the problem. If people refuse to admit to the existence of discrimination in any form, then it will never be reduced, let alone eliminated.

Because of the nature of privilege, wherein if you have it, you are oftentimes unaware of its far-reaching benefits, our students frequently overlook their own high socioeconomic statuses. To address this overlooked privilege, in class, students watch an Al Jazeera video, “The Reluctant Outlaw,” which describes the life of James Kariuki, a blogger and driver of a matatu, a small van functioning as public transportation, in Nairobi. (Peruse Kariuki’s  blog for further insight into the lives of matatu drivers.) After answering questions about social class and education for homework, students compare the negative stereotypes in Barranquilla of mototaxistas, or drivers who employ their motorcycles as small taxis, to Kenyan matatu drivers. For example, one student posted

I think that they are discriminated in very similar ways...The cops just accuse them of breaking the law just because they are Matatu drivers or mototaxistas. Most people think that they are thieves and disrespectful persons. In my case I used to think that due to the fact that in the south of the city you can see a lot of motorcycles violating traffic laws or with a lot of people on board…I think that a similar situation happens in Kenya. But that's not okay! We need to stop those stereotypes and start giving people opportunities to succeed. (Orozco, 2013)

Barranquilla is a stratified city with the wealthier classes residing in the north and the lower in the south, which Orozco (2013) refers to in her post. In fact, Colombia has six official strata, which are based on where a citizen lives. A person’s stratum affects every part of his or her life, from how much he or she pays for utilities to university course fees. Class is a defining factor in Colombia, much like race in the United States. Clearly, analyzing social class and stereotypes in another cultural context assists students in discussing classism within their own society.

Students examine stereotypes throughout the course and create videos about Colombian culture, which they post to their class blog. First, learners watch two videos: “Korean Stereotypes,” about stereotypes foreigners have of Koreans, and “Stereotypes about Foreigners in Korea,” about stereotypes Koreans have of foreigners. Those in the videos hold up signs that describe untrue stereotypes people have of them. In small groups, students make their own signs about stereotypes of Colombians that they disagree with. Then, in groups of threes, students create 6- to 8-minute videos on Colombian culture. They select their own topics, such as street vendors, music, public transportation, and graffiti. The medium of student-generated videos in English enables them to refute stereotypes of Colombia while connecting with the international community.


The integration of social media has been invaluable in challenging my students’ assumptions of others as well as educating the world about them. Hopefully, this teaching methodology will be useful to fellow educators when broaching challenging themes within IC classes.


Abu Alyan, A. (2011). Exploring teachers’ beliefs regarding the concepts of culture and intercultural communicative competence in EFL Palestinian university context: A case study (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses A&I. (Order No. 3461969)

Cates, K. (2016). Healing colonial pain: English as a bridge between Japan and Korea. In C. Hastings & L. Jacob (Eds.), Social justice in English language teaching (pp.67–82). Alexandria, VA: TESOL Press.

Irimia, M. L. (2012). Developing the intercultural dimension in language teaching. International Journal of Communication Research, 2(4), 325–331. Retrieved from

Jia, J. (2015). An action research on college English teaching aiming at improving students’ intercultural consciousness. English Language and Literature Studies, 5(1), 119–126.

Orozco, L. (2013, April 4). Loraine’s blog. Retrieved from

Kendra Staley earned her MA in TESOL from the University of Washington, Seattle. She is currently an English Language Fellow in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and has taught ESL/EFL for 10 years in the USA, Guatemala, China, Indonesia, and Colombia. Her teaching and research interests include curriculum development, intercultural communications, social justice within language teaching, and the use of social media in language acquisition.

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