In this paper we present an empirical study of two different experimentations of the intercultural dimension of LOLIPOP. The first was carried out with a large group of 25 students studying Intercultural Management at MSc level at the Brest Business School (ESCBB),whereas the second involved a small group of 8 male students studying Intercultural Communication as an option at Telecom-Bretagne, a graduate engineering school.
Language portfolios have received a mixed reception in France, with some positive reactions (Wach, 2006; Blavignac, 2007) but many overwhelmingly negative ones. Various reasons are stated for this, including lack of adequate teacher training, fear of interference from the Ministry of Education and lack of understanding of the principles behind the portfolio, even by the Minister of Education himself. For Frath (2006), the portfolio builds on a Protestant ethic and is sometimes followed blindly, as if it were the sacred word from the Council of Europe. He considers that behind the good intentions of the humanist message of the portfolio lurks a coercive tool which can be used to manipulate and control, like Big Brother (Bibeau 2006). The biography is seen as particularly manipulative by French students. Many French teachers criticize the irony of imposing the use of a tool which is intended for autonomous, reflexive learning and which should remain the property of the learner –"Tu seras un démocrate polyglotte, sinon gare à toi!" (You will be a multilingual democrat, or else!) (Frath 2006). Others question the validity of the can-do statements and have reservations about the relevance of students assessing their own level. Indeed, the French school system does not encourage self-evaluation, the role of the omniscient teacher remaining prevalent. According to Wach (2006), a headmaster from Strasbourg who is pro-portfolio, self-evaluation is a revolutionary concept for the French.
Our initial experimentation of LOLIPOP at Telecom-Bretagne produced enthusiastic reactions from our Chinese and Spanish students, but resistance from the French ones (Morace & Gourvès-Hayward, 2007). Previous studies of experimentation at Dublin City University and Poznan Technological University also revealed cultural, disciplinary and gender differences, although it is difficult to separate these variables. For instance, there was significantly more enthusiastic take-up of the LOLIPOP tool by the multicultural, female-dominated group of Arts students in Ireland than the monocultural, male-dominated group of Engineering students in Poland (Bruen, Péchenart & Crosbie 2007; Gourvès-Hayward, Kennedy & Sudershan, 2007; Gourvès-Hayward, Péchénart & Simpson 2008).
In an attempt to counteract the culturally biased reticence possibly felt by some students, we explored this issue with our groups, basing our work on the following quote by a Japanese student from Dublin City University: "I had never assessed my language skills before this module. And I am Japanese, so in Japanese society, it is considered as good to be modest and underestimate ourselves. I had to assess myself in western way. If Japanese do self-assessment in Japan, I guess the result would be different." We also added the following question to the feedback questionnaire designed by the LOLIPOP team: "Work with a partner and compare your answers to this questionnaire. a) What were the differences and similarities between your reactions? b) To what extent do you think your answers might be influenced by your culture(s)? (education system, attitudes, individual/group orientation etc)"
Our aim was to encourage the students to stand back from their own cultural viewpoint as critical self-observers, one of the key elements of savoir-être as defined by Byram, Zarate et al (Byram & Zarate 1994 ; Byram 1997 ; Byram et al. 2002). After a brief presentation of the course design at each establishment, we will present and analyse our results. The paper will be given from three perspectives, that of two British female linguists who are founder members of LOLIPOP and a French male Intercultural Management specialist using LOLIPOP for the first time. We will discuss how cultural, institutional, disciplinary and gender differences may have an impact on attitudes to LOLIPOP and suggest ways of using the tool as an integral part of an Intercultural Communication or Management course.
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