Developing Competencies for Life (through an Intercultural Approach).

Developing Competencies for Life (through an Intercultural Approach).

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The main objective in most of the schools in Mexico I’ve had the opportunity to work for is to certify their learners’ language level. Consequently, it was not necessarily focused on developing competencies for life. However, five years ago, I decided that my goal as a teacher was to prepare students for life through an intercultural approach to language teaching.

To accomplish this, I designed an EFL teaching-learning approach that would enable them to develop the necessary competencies to become functional in a foreign language in any socio-cultural setting. Most importantly, it can empower them through values to become responsible individuals concerned about their context and environment. 

Developing the approach.

I designed this model through an eclectic approach. Furthermore, we have implemented it on several levels, including elementary, middle school, high school, and undergraduate students. I incorporated diverse learning theories, methods, and strategies into the language teaching-learning process. Obviously, I grounded my framework on different research studies, previous school experiences, and the latest innovations.

Basically, the model exploits three core elements: a Constructivist Approach, a Competency-Based Approach, and a “Principled” Communicative Approach. The last one is “the creative integration of meaningful communication with relevant declarative input and the automatization of both linguistic rules and lexical items” (Dörnyei, 2009).

We develop these three concepts in class through different didactic strategies, particularly through the “Whole Brain Teaching” method (Biffle, 2013) and the systematic use of technology. 


Considering the aforementioned, this model follows the structure of a three-stage class. To clarify, the Whole Brain Teaching method acts as an attention-getter. Specifically, it triggers positive reinforcements and the development of emotional and multiple intelligences.

To characterize the teaching-learning process in this model, we should highlight various aspects. These range from collaborative activities, previous students’ knowledge, the focus on the process rather than results. Furthermore, life competencies, phenomenon-based learning, a learning phase, and an acquisition stage complete the framework.

First stage

I designed the first stage as a language acquisition phase. Thus, it focuses on a natural learning process, meaningful communication, and fluency. Most importantly, teachers establish a Daily Goal. They should focus this on developing Intercultural Communicative Competencies (ICC) and Life Competencies.

However, the linguistic aim should also be implicitly integrated into the Daily Goal; this is one of the most difficult challenges for a teacher.

The learning objective should establish the competence we aim to develop related to the linguistic aim. After establishing the Daily Goal, teachers should provide a 3-5 minute audio-visual resource to introduce the main topic. Furthermore, it is important to ask specific questions to obtain students’ interest and enable them to use the linguistic aim in context. You can design this speaking activity in pairs or groups.

Most importantly, teachers should plan this stage as an instrument to promote values, tolerance, and appreciation towards individual and cultural differences. Similarly, teachers should focus on conflict resolutions, environmental alternatives, among others. Finally, these things would eventually prepare students for life through an intercultural approach. 

Second stage

Learners go through a language learning phase in the second stage. Therefore, explicit formulaic language input, controlled activities, and the focus on form are essential in this part of the lesson sequence. Furthermore, this is the moment where you can exploit your textbooks. It’s important to mention that context should still play an important role. Hence, isolated grammar or vocabulary exercises/drilling would not be as useful.

This is the stage where we employ the “Conversational Shadowing” technique. Specifically, it denotes the act of listening and at the same time repeating, either completely or selectively, as immediately as possible. (Murphey, 2001). This strategy has been implemented with excellent results in Asia and the Middle East. Research shows that the systematic use of Conversational Shadowing improves various language areas. For example, these include listening skills, pronunciation, fluency, internalization of grammatical structures, intercultural understanding, sentence complexity, intrinsic motivation, and socialization (Wiltshier, 2007; Knutson, 2010; Watkins, 2012, Commander, 2012; Shiota, 2012; Azimi, 2013; Nekoueizadeh, 2013). 

Third stage

In the third stage, we focus on a phenomenon-based approach (problem, project, inquiry, task-based activity). Of course, you can design this activity in pairs, groups or stations.

Furthermore, we consider essential to relate the Daily Goal to the linguistic aim. Obviously, the evidence of learning includes various elements. Hence, these range from discussion/debates, presentations, role-play, representations, graphic organizers (timelines, mind maps, conceptual maps, comparative charts, etc.), essays, video recordings to conflict resolution activities, real-life scenario activities, among other strategies. Finally, at the end of the class, the teacher and the group should conclude and give some final comments.

Last but not least, technology is an essential element of the class and its three stages. Hence, we use apps such as Class Seesaw, Class Dojo, Cmap Tools, Popplet, Quick Voice, QR Reader, Prezi, and IMindMap. Finally, students can use these tools to create a digital portfolio, record themselves, create graphic organizers, create presentations, scan QR codes to access online material, among other things. 

The power of a Daily Goal. Practical example activity

As teachers, we have to deal, first and foremost, with creating the connection between the competencies for life we want to develop and the linguistic aim. Obviously, you should adapt the Daily Goal according to the group’s age, level, and interest. 

For example, let us imagine that our grammar focus is present perfect. I would establish the following goal for a group of high school or undergraduate students at an intermediate level: 

Daily Goal: Students will be able to discuss and identify similarities and differences between a successful community such as Vauban in Freiburg, Germany and their own. 

Detonating questions: What have they done to become the community they are? What has your community done to be where you are? What hasn’t been done? 

Evidence: Comparative Chart: Things that have or haven’t been done/created/established in each community. Video Recording: Explanation of the chart and discussion.

In conclusion, this model encompasses a variety of learning theories, methods, and strategies. Of course, it takes time, preparation, and practice to develop it efficiently in the classroom. However, once you master it, your students will prove more than their competence in learning a second or foreign language. Subsequently, they will also be able to face complex intercultural environments and situations. Furthermore, they will understand diverse worldwide views while developing values. Ultimately, they will be able to make a critical contribution towards a much needed social integration. 

Further reading on life skills.