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The Process of Cross-cultural Understanding of Among Eighth Graders

1. Introduction
Publications of the Ministry of Education and board of education often state that one of the goals of learning English is to foster international understanding and the ability to communicate. English is a subject that is expected to promote cross-cultural understanding. However, it is not easy to provide opportunities for cross-cultural understanding within a limited time and curriculum. In addition, teachers are required to make challenging efforts to introduce cross-cultural content in an appropriate and meaningful context.
In this study, this researcher conducted an educational experiment in which on-line classes were introduced in English class. The on-line classes used cross-cultural resources that focused on people and human relations (Refer to: http://www.tamagawa.ac.jp/sisetu/kyouken/A1). The on-line classes allowed students to periodically access overseas sites themselves. In addition to exchanging e-mail and accessing foreign web-sites, the on-line classes were a forum to present student work, presentations, speeches, and other learning processes. Students were able to learn English through interactive relationships with people overseas. The experiment was conducted for ten months and this study defines the process of cross-cultural understanding among eighth graders by analyzing how the image those students had of English and different cultures changed during this time.
 
2. Purpose
This study seeks to analyze the views that students had of English and different cultures before and after taking the on-line classes in order to define the process of cross-cultural understanding among eighth graders.
 
3. Significance
To develop cross-cultural education, or so-called education for international understanding (kokusai-rikai kyouiku) in Japan, it is imperative to have the input of students and their point of view. Unless it incorporates their point of view, the curriculum developed for cross-cultural understanding may result in one that is merely self-satisfying for teachers and researchers. This study therefore aims to provide the views of students and suggest perspectives for the further study of cross-cultural education, multimedia assisted classes, and long-distance education.
 
4. Problem
This researcher teaches English to eighth graders at a private junior high school. Although the class ranks second out of four classes in the school, a school survey in April 1998 revealed that only a few students have positive associations regarding the word "English." In addition, the same survey indicated that students did not clearly understand what constituted cross-cultural factors in their immediate environment. The survey showed that student perception focused mainly on one aspect of English study, seeing it as a subject that tests grammar and memorized vocabularies. In order to change this distorted perception of English, it is necessary to move away from general English teaching that focuses on mastery of grammar and vocabulary. With these background factors in mind, on-line classes were used in this study to stimulate student motivation and interest.
 
5. Method
Thirty eighth-grade students of A1 Class at Tamagawa Gakuen took part in this study. In terms of student achievement, A1 Class ranks second out of four classes at the school. The research was conducted from April 1998 to February 1999. On-line classes were conducted periodically, at least once a term for five terms. This researcher conducted a brainstorming session before the on-line class was held and had the students answer a questionnaire after the class. The questions focused on student perceptions of English, different cultures, and cross-culture before and after the on-line class. Student responses were collected, compared, and analyzed by this researcher.
 
6. Scope
Due to the case-study nature of this study, it should be noted that the study was conducted in one private school in Tokyo and the findings may not be applicable to other schools. This study examined 30 junior high school students, namely, the eighth-grade students in this researcher's English class. In this respect, this study remains a qualitative research. A questionnaire format was used with the students and this may limit the overall reliability and validity of subsequent findings. This study will attempt to focus on student perception of English and different cultures in order to define the process of cross-cultural understanding among the eighth graders. Further research may identify other significant factors or a combination of factors that influence the cross-cultural understanding of students.
 
7. Findings
Student perceptions of English were found to be strongly influenced by the English class. Before the on-line classes, student perceptions of English reflected media influence and English was associated with a specific country (e.g., USA). Students generally associated the word "English" with the difficulties of learning English. However, after the on-line classes, students tended to make positive associations as indicated by such responses as "global language," " life-long friend," and "fun." Furthermore, the word "English" reminded students of other words related to people, and among them, "foreigner" was the predominant response. Their perceptions of different cultures also reflected information and issues in the media. Their distorted perceptions changed as they learned about various countries and regions while concentrating on people and human relationships. Before the on-line classes, 33% of the students gave no response to questions about different cultures. After six months, 53% thought of "foreign country" upon hearing the word "different culture." Ten months later, some students began to go beyond correlating "different culture" with "foreign country" and perceived that "different culture" exists among Japanese people. According to this study, student cross-cultural understanding underwent several stages. The first stage was indifference and unawareness of cultural differences. The second stage was cross-cultural recognition that is restricted to foreign countries. The third stage was discovery of cultural differences that exist among Japanese(Chart1, Chart2, Chart3).
 
8. Implications and recommendations
Generally speaking, the word "international understanding" is often confused with "cross-cultural understanding." This study recommends using "cross-cultural understanding" instead of "international understanding" when the learner has understood that different cultures are not necessarily the same as foreign countries or foreigners. Further research is needed to identify the stage that follows this understanding. It is also recommended to set goals of cross-cultural understanding for each elementary, junior, and high school level in accordance with child or youth development. In addition, it is important to incorporate on-line classes in the English curriculum, to develop a collaborative curriculum with other subjects, and to define the evaluation or assessment of cross-cultural understanding.
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