Exploring Intercultural Communication Themes in English classes

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Movies can be an engaging and authentic way to improve language and cultural awareness in English language classes. Movies can also promote greater interest in learning English (Choi, 2013; Inage, Lawn, & Lawn, 2013; Kusumarasdyati, 2004; Shieh, 2015). Kim (2003) emphasized that movies in English language classes can increase learner interest in studying the language, improve cultural awareness, demonstrate practical use of the language, and make learning more enjoyable. Previous research has shown the benefits of using movies in classes that center on intercultural communication (e.g. Champoux, 1999; Mallinger & Rossy, 2003; Pegrum, 2008; Roell, 2010; Summerfield, 1993; Varner & Beamer, 2005; Verluyten, 2007). Furthermore, movies can help foster greater understanding of other cultures and people (Choi, 2013; Seo, 2010; Yoon, 2010; Zhang, 2013).

By examining movies with intercultural communication themes, students can explore cultural differences and see authentic examples of how people from different cultures interact (Cardon, 2010; Tidwell, 2001). Movies can also elicit a greater interest in intercultural communication. Additionally, various themes in the movies can be used in class discussions, roleplays, and other engaging activities (Pandey & Archichvili, 2015). Movies also present various viewpoints of different characters that can be analyzed from a cultural standpoint (Ayikoru & Park, 2011). There are various benefits to using movies in English language classes, especially in terms of improving intercultural communication skills and awareness of other cultures. This paper explores intercultural communication concepts in the movie Outsourced.

Outsourced, released in 2006 in the United States, is a romantic comedy directed by John Jeffcoat and written by George Wing and John Jeffcoat. The movie examines cultural differences between India and the United States and centers on three primary characters. The main character Todd, a call center manager, has been told that his Seattle based company will be outsourcing to India. He must go to India to train the new employees at the Indian based call center. The movie focuses on his experiences adapting to life in India. Puro, Todd’s replacement, is the manager of the call center in India, and Todd has various interactions with him throughout the movie. Asha is one of the call center employees who eventually develops a romantic relationship with Todd. The movie chronicles Todd’s experiences adapting to life in India, which begins with many frustrations and shocking cultural experiences and culminates with deeper understanding and acceptance of the new culture.

The movie Outsourced was chosen for this class because students can recognize the familiarity of American culture since Hollywood films are dominant in South Korea. Participating in discussions and class activities about a completely unfamiliar country or culture may be quite challenging if the students do not have sufficient background knowledge. However, the instructor also wanted the students to be exposed to a culture that they are less familiar with. Even though Indian culture and Bollywood are quite popular around the world, the students indicated that they are not very knowledgeable about Indian culture. The students also specified that they want to learn more about less familiar English-speaking countries. Dominant English speaking countries including the United States and Great Britain, are commonly discussed in language and culture courses. It is important to highlight other cultures that use English (Baker, 2012; Holliday, 2009; Nault, 2006; Rubdy, 2009).

The instructor wanted the students to be able to contrast Indian and American culture as portrayed through the movie. In addition, the instructor wanted to explain intercultural communication concepts (language differences, high versus low context culture, individualism and collectivism, ethnocentrism, and culture shock) shown in the movie that had previously been discussed in the course. Other key elements of culture including uncertainty tolerance and uncertainty avoidance and power distance were discussed in the course but not until after the movie activity had already been completed. Therefore, these topics were not discussed in relation to the movie. Outsourced is also a valuable tool to learn about differences in the English language (Indian and American English). Furthermore, the instructor wanted the students to participate in an authentic intercultural communication activity that is engaging and memorable. Since travel and first-hand experiences are costly and out of reach for many university students, movies can play an important role in learning about other cultures. Finally, many of the students were double majoring in English and business. The movie includes various business themes pertaining to globalization, the human side of business, and of course the concept of outsourcing (Bisoux, 2009).

Movies with intercultural themes have been studied as components of intercultural training sessions and classes (e.g. Littrell & Salas, 2005; Littrell, Salas, Hess, Paley, & Riedel, 2006; Mallinger & Rossy, 2003; Pandey, 2011, 2012; Smith, Shrestha, & Evans, 2010; Tidwell, 2001; Varner & Beamer, 2005; Verluyten, 2007). Prominent examples include studies by Mallinger and Rossy (2003) on Gung Ho, Tidwell (2001) on The Joy Luck Club and Fools Rush In, Smith et al. (2010) on Crash, Cardon (2010) on Slumdog Millionaire, and Pandey (2011) on My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The movie Outsourced has been examined in other studies (e.g. Adibah, 2017; Briam, 2010; Chao, 2013; Liang, 2009; Pandey, 2011, 2012; Pandey & Ardichvili, 2015; Yang, 2013) that focus on intercultural communication, cultural competency, business principles, and cultural differences or how the movie can be used for practical class activities.

Research conducted on students’ perceptions of cultural themes in the movies tends to focus on students in the U.S. and in India who are already very familiar with one of the major cultures depicted in the movie. Yang’s (2013) study examined Taiwanese perceptions of Indian English based on the movie, but the study centered on language solely rather than broader cultural elements. Chao’s (2013) study of EFL students in Taiwan involved a diary study of nine movies with intercultural themes and did not focus on Outsourced specifically. This study expands on the body of literature by concentrating on the intercultural communication themes South Korean English language learners in university can identify in the movie as well as how they perceive these themes. Additionally, the study seeks to explore how these learners view the effectiveness of using the movie Outsourced as a resource for improving their understanding of intercultural communication. Obtaining more qualitative data on the students’ perceptions can help instructors develop future movie activities that are centered more on students’ learning needs and opinions. Thus, the research questions used to guide this study include:

  1. What examples of differences in language, high versus low context culture, individualism and collectivism, ethnocentrism, and culture shock from the movie Outsourced do English language learners in South Korean universities identify?
  2.  How do English language learners in South Korean universities perceive these intercultural communication themes portrayed in the movie Outsourced?
  3.  How do these learners view the effectiveness of using the movie Outsourced to learn about intercultural communication themes?

Literature Review

Effectiveness of Using Movies to Learn Intercultural Communication Concepts

According to Chao (2013), intercultural learning can be defined as the “process of searching for, observing and interpreting the attitudes and behaviours of people from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds in target contexts, rather than addressing only ethnic, national or international differences” (p. 249). Students’ perceptions of using movies to learn intercultural communication concepts have generally been favorable. There are many benefits of using movies to increase awareness of other cultures and to improve intercultural communication skills. Roell (2010) discusses several primary benefits including enjoyment, storytelling, exposure to authentic English, improving reading skills through subtitles, and making emotional connections with viewers (Roell, 2010). In addition, movies can be a valuable tool for improving intercultural awareness by showing “how different dialects, forms of address, customs, taboos, and other cultural elements influence interaction among different groups” (Roell, 2010, p. 2). There are various movies that can be incorporated into class lessons that portray intercultural themes including intercultural awareness, stereotypes, historical events, language differences, and other elements of culture (Chao, 2013). By learning more about intercultural communication through movies, students can be more cognizant of the world around them and interact more effectively with people from different cultures.

In Pandey’s (2011) study, students discussed various positive elements of the movies Outsourced and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which helped to improve their understanding of intercultural communication. Some of the notable responses include: “The learning through movies was very helpful as we could see and understand scenario [sic] more effectively” (as cited in Pandey, 2011, p. 329). Another memorable quote was, “Through the movies, I came to understand that before visiting any new country or place with a different cultural background, one should have [sic] general idea of that culture, so that culture shock can be avoided” (as cited in Pandey, 2011, p. 329). Pandey (2011) indicated that not all of the students shared such positive views of the films as learning tools, but none of the students stated that they were dissatisfied with the experience. Through movies with intercultural themes, students can visually explore other places that they have not seen in real life, listen to different languages, and increase exposure to various English accents (Chao, 2013). These movies can enhance their understanding of other cultures and intercultural communication concepts while improving English language proficiency.

 Examining Intercultural Communication Themes in the Movie Outsourced

The movie Outsourced has been examined in several studies (Adibah, 2017; Briam, 2010; Chao, 2013; Liang, 2009; Pandey, 2011, 2012; Pandey & Ardichvili, 2015; Yang, 2013) to teach intercultural communication principles, cultural themes, business topics, and general cultural differences or to provide guidelines for how the movie can be used in the classroom. This study focuses on five intercultural communication themes including language differences between Indian and American English, high-context and low-context cultures, individualism and collectivism, ethnocentrism, and culture shock.

Language Differences

Language and culture are largely interrelated (Cushner, McClelland, & Safford, 2012; Li & Wang, 2015). Students can be exposed to various cultural elements in movies while also examining language differences. The movie Outsourced provides examples of differences between American and Indian English. Briam (2010) provides a framework for how to use Outsourced to teach intercultural communication classes. In her article, she includes examples from the movie which depict different aspects of culture. Briam (2010) mentions that when Todd meets his Indian counterparts he is referred to as “Mr. Toad.” His name is constantly mispronounced. When Puro discusses his fiancé, Bhagyashree Sasamunde, Todd replies with “Baggy who?” Puro also discusses the Indian festival Holi, which is a festival of color and seasonal changes. Todd says, “Holy what?” Various language misunderstandings appear in the film. Briam (2010) also discusses how the slang words, “redneck,” “kitsch,” and “schmuck,” that Todd uses are unfamiliar to the Indian staff. In addition, a language misunderstanding arises in the call center when an Indian call center representative tells an American woman on the phone inquiring about school supplies that she may need some “rubbers,” not knowing that the term refers to condoms in the U.S. In Yang’s (2013)

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Exploring Intercultural Communication Themes in English classes. (2022, Jan 31). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/exploring-intercultural-communication-themes-in-english-classes/

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