Ethnography is a very effective way to improve your intercultural competence. Intercultural competence is crucial to language learning. As well as developing linguistic skills such as vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar, during your language learning you are also trying learn how to interact with and relate to speakers of the target language in a way that allows you to “pass” as a native speaker. Carrying out ethnographic research gives you the ability to more deeply understand the culture of others and the ethnographic conversations and interactions conducted during research also feed into your speaking and definitely listening skills!
Intercultural competence means you’ll be able to quickly pick up on what others are talking about, contextualising the things they say (reading between the lines). You will also develop the ability to attentively listen, which allows you to pick up more of what’s going on around you.
Through self-reflection inherent to ethnographic research, you can begin to question your own “common sense” assumptions about everyday life, and the ways in which you construct your own meanings, values and attitudes.
Some of the intercultural skills developed thorough the personal and self-reflective learning that takes place through ethnographic study:
Through practicing ethnography, you are able to develop an understanding about your own world and about others’ local cultures, beliefs and practices. This will help you to communicate more effectively and understand how social relations are structured around what is meaningful to a particular group.
Through self-reflection inherent to ethnographic research, you can begin to question your own “common sense” assumptions about everyday life, and the ways in which you construct your own meanings, values and attitudes. This starts a process of recognising our different worlds as social constructs rather than ‘natural’, ‘normal’ or ‘universal’, as well as learning about the ways a particular group represents itself, both ‘in group’ and ‘out group’.
The ability to realise that the way you think things should be done, talked about or dealt with is not necessary always “correct” is a big step in overcoming culture shock and adapting to life in a new country, which in turn helps you to immerse yourself in your new linguistic world!