Member Login

Reset Password



Vol 27, No. 1 (September 2009)

[article | discuss (0) | print article]

The Impact of Student Beliefs on the Effectiveness of Video in Developing Cross-Cultural Competence

Kristen Campbell Wilcox
University of Albany

This action-research project was designed to assess how the use of video as a central instructional component impacts features of cross-cultural competence among adult ESL students. The study was conducted in a college-level intensive English language program in North America. Findings suggest that students' deeply embedded beliefs and values regarding their roles, expected behaviors, and what counts as language learning (i.e., grammar) influences the effectiveness of video-based instruction in developing cross-cultural competence.



Video, Cross-cultural Competence, English as a Foreign Language (EFL), English as a Second Language (ESL)


Over the last several decades research on how second languages (SL) and foreign languages (FL) are learned has pointed to the intertwined and interdependent relationships among social, cultural, and cognitive aspects of language in the ways individuals make meaning (Phillips, 1998; Vygotsky, 1986). Researchers in turn have attempted to define language in terms of "competencies" that go beyond grammatical competence (Atkinson, 2002; Mitchell & Vidal, 2001; Zuengler & Miller, 2006).

Defining language competencies in the vague milieu of "culture" became a focus for some language researchers toward the end of the 20th century with the term "communicative competence," originally introduced by Hymes in 1966, emerging as a layer on top of grammatical competence (2000). Communicative competence has since been framed as incorporating "sociocultural rules" defined by such organizations as the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) in its Proficiency Guidelines-Speaking (1999). As Herron, Dubreil, Cole, and Corrie (2000) explain, "While the first goal emphasizes standards for communication, the second goal stresses the importance of learning about both cultural practices and products" (p. 397). Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) also includes "culture" in its ESL Standards for Pre-K-12 Students: "To use English in socially and culturally appropriate ways" (TESOL, 1997). As these examples suggest, defining what culture is and how one might achieve "competency" in culture has not only been a daunting task, but also an important broadening of how language teaching and learning could be conceptualized. In the definition of cross-cultural competence provided in the TESOL Standards: "The ability to function according to the cultural rules of more than one cultural system; ability to respond in culturally sensitive and appropriate ways according to the cultural demands of a given situation" (p. 154), competence includes developing understandings of cultural practices and products in addition to building awareness of both native and nonnative cultural perspectives, beliefs, and values.

0x01 graphic


As SL and FL teachers are guided (via professional standards) to incorporate culture in their instruction, it is imperative that questions on the effective use of technologies that provide rich contexts for the exploration of cultural aspects of language (e.g., video) and the impact that the use of these technologies have on the development of cross-cultural competence be investigated.


SL and FL research has, at the beginning of the 21st century, entered a new era as streams of thinking about language competencies have changed and become more clearly focused on the sociocultural aspects of language. Bialystok (1998) argued that second language researchers had remained relatively confined to traditional methods of linguistics research but have, in recent years, entered what she calls "adulthood." At this stage, researchers are relying on more interdisciplinary approaches drawing on psychology and anthropology for frameworks that might capture the complex relationships of language, cognition, and culture.

To this end, ethnographic studies examining sociocultural aspects of language learning have become increasingly popular in a variety of journals on SL and FL education (Cazden, 1994; Harden, 2000; Byram, 1997; Hough, 1997; Platt & Brooks, 2002; Dörnyei & Kormos, 2000). However, classroom-based action research on how technologies that have the potential to both entertain and provide rich contexts for focusing instruction on culture (e.g., video) are rare.

Salaberry's (2001) review of research into the use of technology for second language learning and teaching revealed a surge of research on the use of video in SL and FL classrooms over the past two decades. His review included a study by Hanley and Herron (1995) investigating students' retention of information in foreign language videos using two advance organizer conditions and Borras and Lafayette's (1994) study addressing the potential usefulness of subtitles for increasing learners' oral communicative performance. Borras and Lafayette found that "allowing fifth semester college students of French the possibility of seeing and controlling subtitles may increase their performance on video-based oral communicative practice tasks with multimedia courseware" (p. 71). Although these studies shed an encouraging light on video-based instructional design in developing particular language skills, they do not look specifically at the ways in which video can develop cross-cultural competence.

Herron, Cole, Corrie, and Dubreil (1999) investigated the effectiveness of a video-based curriculum in teaching culture in a French classroom. Their study, relying on a pre-/posttest design focused students' learning of cultural practices and products as defined in ACTFL's (2006) Standards for Foreign Language Learning. The video used in this study was described as a "scripted, yet authentic" mystery story on film including 52 lessons (p. 521). The researchers found that introductory level French students were able to improve their understanding of culture through the use of a video-based curriculum. Another study, Kitajima and Lyman-Hager (1998), examined the effects of 1-minute silent video clips on students' cultural awareness. They used think-aloud protocols to reveal what cultural information students noticed as they viewed the video clips. The researchers asserted that their pilot study "demonstrated that silent video enhances students' discovery processes of culturally unique phenomenon in the target language society" (p. 44). Yet another study, Herron et al. (2000), provided more evidence that video-based design can help students learn cultural information. In this study, 50 students viewed "eight targeted videos as part of their multimedia-based curriculum" (p. 395). A pre-/posttest design assessed students' long-term gains in overall cultural knowledge and in the learning of little "c" culture (practices) and big "C" culture


(products) as defined in the ACTFL Standards. Dubreil (2002) explored the effectiveness of video and the internet to enhance culture learning. Dubreil addressed the effect of advance organizers on students' retention and comprehension of culture presented in videos and on the internet and found a significant gain in cultural knowledge. Dubreil's more recent publications point to ways that perceptions of classroom roles and behaviors impact the effectiveness of video in the teaching and learning of cross-cultural competence (2004, 2006).


In response to the need for classroom-based action research on the effectiveness of the use of video in developing cross-cultural competence, this author implemented a small project guided by the broad question: How do students perceive the effectiveness of video-based instruction in their language study? The theoretical underpinnings of this study were rooted in a sociocognitive framework and based on the following beliefs about language learning:

1. culture and language are coconstructed (Bruner, 1996),

2. understandings of one culture and language form the foundations for learning about and through other cultures and languages (Ausubel, 1963), and

3. learning about and through more than one language and culture impacts cognition (Vygotsky, 1978).

The course examples and student responses described here came out of a course, originally designed for low-intermediate-level Brazilian students in an EFL university setting, that the author taught in an intensive ESL program in a U.S. community college. The impetus for the design of these course components was based on the need to integrate culture and language instruction to enhance students' cross-cultural competence, which was lacking in both the original course design and most of the materials typically used in such courses.

The semester-long (15-week) course centered on the theme of the Klondike Gold Rush utilizing the Disney movie White Fang and a variety of related texts (e.g., poetry, newspaper articles, and short stories). This theme and the Disney video were chosen for several reasons.

1. The main character travels far from home, encounters trials, and must learn new ways of surviving; a theme that resonates with many SL and FL students.

2. The complexity of language and cultural detail is appropriate to the needs of high-beginning to low-intermediate language learners.

3. The theme is historically and culturally rich.

4. The language is varied from standard to non-standard with some idiomatic expressions.

5. The video is based on a classic in American literature (White Fang), providing a kind of advance organizer to future readings by Jack London and other popular American writers such as Gary Paulsen.

At the beginning of the course, the instructor provided a rationale for the use of the video as an entry into language learning by explaining the importance of cultural context in understanding the language. The sample exercise below, which emerges from an excerpt of the video, provides explicit instruction in making and replying to requests, paying attention to indirect requests, and cooperating in the production of coherent speech in role plays.


Most importantly, it focuses attention on building cross-cultural competencies such as making explicit students' cultural perspectives, beliefs, and values (in bold italics in the exercise).

0x01 graphic


0x01 graphic

Clinch it!

You and a partner will role play. One partner will look at the Role Play A page and the other at the Role Play B page. (Think about how you might respond to these situations in your native language during this exercise.)

Role Play A

Role-Play 1:

A: You just won a Klondike vacation for two. You will be traveling on a dog sled. It will be a great adventure, but it will also be very cold and tiring. You will call your friend to convince him/her to come with you.

Role Play 2:

A: You are a receptionist at a hotel in Alaska. A guest is calling to ask for help. Politely respond.

Role Play 3:

A: You are going out to a restaurant and a movie with your boyfriend or girlfriend tonight. Your best friend asks you to join him/her at a party. You don't want to hurt your friend's feelings, but you want to go out with your boyfriend or girlfriend.


Role Play B

Role Play 1:

B: Your friend is calling you to convince you to go on a crazy dog-sled vacation in the Klondike. You don't like cold weather, dogs, or tiring vacations. You need to give a good excuse not to go and not hurt your friend's feelings.

Role Play 2:

B: You just arrived at a hotel in Alaska. Your room is cold, dirty, and the shower isn't working. You need to call the receptionist for help without being insulting.

Role Play 3:

B: You are invited to go to a party, but you won't know many people there. You ask your best friend if he/she can go with you. You really don't want to go alone, so you want to convince your friend to go with you.

Reflection: You were asked to think about how you might respond to these situations in your native language during this exercise. How might your responses in English be different than in your native language? Explain.


The data presented here were taken from nine beginning-level Japanese students in the U.S. intensive ESL Program. The author asked the students to write reflective statements on the use of video in this course and then analyzed their statements for patterns relating to the research question of how students perceive the effectiveness of video-based instruction in their language study. The students' responses indicate a certain amount of tension between the engaging nature of video in terms of entertainment and contextualization and their expectations regarding emphasis on grammatical aspects of language and their role as students in a classroom.

In the following reflective statements, some students underscored several advantages of the use of video in terms of depth of understanding of the video's content and its entertainment value. They associated these factors with creating more of a motivation to engage in language practice activities and a sense of being respected as a learner.

I liked study with watching video and really understanding content of movie.

In this class I learned many words and vocabulary. I think the all classes could be like you class because is interesting and funny.

I'm very interested to learned with Ms. Kristen's class. I felt I respectable class for the first time in America. I learned a lot of things in class, and also confidence. ... Your class teached a wide and I really think about become owing to myself.

However, other students expressed a disconnect between their expectations (to study grammar and use grammar books) and the video-based class.

We didn't much grammar as I thought. We can do more grammar using a grammar book and solving problem.


I like the way you present the class. I find that interesting, through a movie you are encourage to learn expression, more words in different segements. I would like to have more time to discuss about some grammar structures.

These reflections provide a view into some of the struggles students experience when classroom materials and interactions shift in a video-based course intended to enhance not only grammatical competence, but also cross-cultural competence. The author always explained the purpose of the learning activities as being not solely focused on grammar or vocabulary, but also on how cultural perspectives, beliefs, and values impact how we understand each other. Nevertheless, some students perceived "real" language learning as grammar and vocabulary learning that is to be done through fill-in-the-blank exercises in traditional textbooks. In addition, some students perceived their role as language learners as taking notes, completing exercises, passing quizzes and tests, and listening to the teacher lecture about language rules. These students viewed video as an essentially nonacademic activity.

Many of the students discussed here, along with others taught using similar video materials, felt some degree of dissonance between their experience of traditional grammar-translation courses and a course in which video, rooted in an expanded view of communicative competence, was used to incorporate cross-cultural competence as an instructional goal. Some perceived student-teacher relationships reminiscent of the audiolingual approach--teacher as the language rule informer and student as the repeater--as more valuable than teacher as organizer of materials and activities and student as inquisitor and reflector (a dialogic activity structure) (Rogoff, 1990; Tharp, Estrada, Dalton, & Yamauchi, 2000). The student responses draw attention to important, yet often taken for granted, beliefs regarding classroom roles and behaviors that impact the potential effectiveness of using video for developing cross-cultural competence.


As this action research study indicates, there is much more to be learned about the effective use of video to enhance cross-cultural competence in the SL and FL classrooms. However, as this study shows--and the other studies reviewed here- also show--the use of video for SL and FL instruction has the potential to enhance students' awareness of cultural aspects of language in ways that other media do not. Implications include the following:

1. Cultural assumptions and beliefs around classroom behavior and roles, when explicitly examined by students and teachers, has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of video-based design in the development of cross-cultural competence.

2. Video materials should be varied in both form and perspective, and objectives for the use of video in terms of developing cross-cultural competence should be clearly explained and supported in the classroom.

3. Reflective practices based on cross-cultural content in a video, both self-regulated (journal writing) and social (group discussions) should be encouraged and maintained as an integral part of the SL or FL program



Video provides learners with rich contexts to reflect on native and target language cultural practices, products, and perspectives. The use of video in developing cross-cultural competence is a worthwhile direction for further empirical research. Videos are increasingly being used by SL and FL teachers, but oftentimes with little understanding as to their effective use in developing cross-cultural competence. As suggested by this research, developing cross-cultural competence through the medium of video-based instruction has constraints, but it also includes many possibilities. As video clips in YouTube and other websites gain in world-wide popularity, continuing research on how to effectively utilize video to enhance cross-cultural competence can be of great use to SL and FL teachers.


American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). (2006). Standards for foreign language learning in the 21st century (3rd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Author

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). (1999). Proficiency Guidelines-Speaking. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved July 19, 2009, from

Atkinson, D. (2002). Toward a sociocognitive approach to second language acquisition. The Modern Language Journal, 86, 525-545.

Ausubel, D. (1963). The psychology of meaningful verbal learning. New York: Grune & Stratton.

Bialystok, E. (1998). Coming of age in applied linguistics. Language Learning, 48, 497-519.

Borras, I., & Lafayette, R. C. (1994). Effects of multimedia courseware subtitling on the speaking performance of college students of French. Modern Language Journal, 78, 61-76.

Bruner, J. (1996). The culture of education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Byram, M. (1997). Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Cazden, C. (1994). Language, cognition, and ESL literacy. TESOL Quarterly, 28, 172-179.

Dörnyei, Z., & Kormos, J. (2000). The role of individual and social variables in oral task performance. Language Teaching Research, 4, 275-300.

Dubreil, S. (2002). An empirical investigation on using video and the Internet to teach culture in the intermediate-level foreign language classroom. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Emory University, Atlanta, GA.

Dubreil, S. (2004). When students become directors: Redefining the role of the learner in the foreign language classroom. In L. Lomicka & J. Cooke-Plagwitz (Eds.), Best practices for using technology to teach and learn culture in the foreign language classroom (pp. 129-137). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Dubreil, S. (2006). Gaining perspectives on culture through CALL. In L. Ducate & N. Arnold (Eds.), Calling on CALL: From theory and research to new directions in foreign language teaching (pp. 237-268). San Marcos, TX: CALICO.

Hanley, J., & Herron, C. A. (1995). A comparison study of two advance organizers for introducing beginning foreign language students. Modern Language Journal, 79, 387-396.

Harden, T. (2000). The limits of understanding. In P. Lutzeier (Ed.), The notion of intercultural understanding in the context of German as a foreign language (pp. 103-124). Oxford: Peter Lang.


Herron, C., Cole, S. P., Corrie, C., & Dubreil, S. (1999). The effectiveness of a video-based curriculum in teaching culture. Modern Language Journal, 83, 518-534.

Herron, C., Dubreil, S., Cole, S., & Corrie, C. (2000). Using instructional video to teach culture to beginning foreign language students. CALICO Journal, 17, 395-427. Retrieved July 19, 2009, from

Hough, D. A. (1997, October). Learning culture: Practicing change. A critical approach to learning and teaching culture in the EFL classroom in Japan. Paper presented at the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Japan Association for Language Teaching, Hamamatsu, Japan.

Hymes, D. (2000). The emergence of sociolinguistics: A response to Samarin. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4, 312-316.

Kitajima, R., & Lyman-Hager, M. A. (1998). Theory-driven use of digital video in foreign language instruction. CALICO Journal, 16, 37-48. Retrieved July 19, 2009, from

Mitchell, C. B., & Vidal, K. E. (2001). Weighing the ways of the flow: Twentieth century language instruction. Modern Language Journal, 85, 26-38.

Phillips, J. K. (1998). Media for the message: Technology's role in the standards. CALICO Journal, 16, 25-36. Retrieved July 19, 2009, from

Platt, E., & Brooks, F. (2002). Task engagement: A turning point in foreign language development. Language Learning, 52, 365-400.

Rogoff, B. (1990). Apprenticeship in thinking: Cognitive development in social context. New York: Oxford university press.

Salaberry, M. R. (2001). The use of technology for second language learning and teaching: A retrospective. Modern Language Journal, 85, 39-53.

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). (1997). ESL standards for Pre-K-12 students. Alexandria, VA: Author.

Tharp, R. G., Estrada, P., Dalton, S. S., & Yamauchi, L. A. (2000). Teaching transformed: Achieving excellence, fairness, inclusion, and harmony. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1986). Thought and language. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Zuengler, J., & Miller, E. R. (2006). Cognitive and sociocultural perspectives: Two parallel SLA worlds? TESOL Quarterly, 40, 35-58.



Kristen Campbell Wilcox is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Educational Theory and Practice Department of the University at Albany. She has taught English as a second and foreign language from the Kindergarten through doctoral levels in the United States and Puerto Rico in addition to coordinating second and foreign language programs in Brazilian K-12 I schools. Her areas of research interest are in the use of qualitative methods at the intersection of language, culture, and cognition in multicultural educational contexts.


Kristen Campbell Wilcox, Ph.D.

University at Albany

Education Building, ED115A

1400 Washington Ave.

Albany, NY 12222