Implementing intercultural pedagogy in the teaching of English at Primary schools 

Anya Ojiugo Lilian - Colégio do Sardão


A exposição a outras culturas desde a infância é muito importante. Há crescimento e enriquecimento na horizontes culturais dos alunos que se deparam com diferentes culturas e interagem com elas. Tendo isto em consideração, este artigo visa illustrar algumas actividades didáticas em que algumas abordagens interculturais (Chlopek, 2008) e plurilingues (Cenoz & Gorter, 2013) foram implementados durante a prática educativa supervisionada do Mestrado em Ensino do Inglês no 1º Ciclo do Ensino Básico. Abordagens desta natureza ofereceram aos alunos a oportunidade de analisar criticamente e comparar culturas e línguas bem como criar projetos relacionados com este campo. 

Os resultados da análise e interpretação de dados, baseados nas observações de práticas, questionários e análise documental (Walker, 1985) deste estudo de caso, mostram que a abordagen intercultural é uma abordagen relevante no ensino do inglês no 1º Ciclo do Ensino Básico. Na verdade, os alunos foram envolvidos nas tarefas que lhes colocaram desafios, preparando-os como cidadãos para um mundo pluricultural e plurilingue (Cruz, & Orange, 2016).  Além disso, depois de serem expostos as diferentes culturas, verificou-se que os alunos foram capazes de desenvolver a sua consciência intercultural, que consequentemente os ajudou a desenvolver respeito pelo Outro e respetivas culturas (Concelho Nacional de Educação, 2013). 

Palavras-chave: competência plurilingue, abordagem intercultural, cidadania e educação


Exposure to other cultures right from early childhood is very crucial. There is growth and richness in the cultural horizons of pupils who come across different cultures and interact with them. Bearing this in mind, this article aims at illustrating some didactic activities in which some intercultural (Chlopek, 2008) and plurilingual (Cenoz & Gorter, 2013) approaches were made during the internship of the Master of Arts in Teaching English at 1st Cycle of Basic Education. Approaches of this kind offered pupils the opportunity to critically analyse, compare cultures and languages as well as create some project related to this field. 

Results from data analysis and interpretation based on observations, questionnaires, and documentary analysis (Walker, 1985) in this case study show that intercultural approach is a relevant approach in the teaching of English at primary schools. In fact, pupils were engaged in tasks which posed them challenges, by training them to become citizens of a pluricultural and plurilingual world (Cruz, & Orange, 2016). Moreover, evidences show that having had the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures, pupils were able to create intercultural awareness in them, which consequently helped them to develop respect for the other and their respective cultures (Concelho Nacional de Educação, 2013).

Keywords: plurilingual skill, intercultural approach, citizenship and education


Intercultural and plurilingual pedagogical approaches during the English lessons at primary schools promote pupil’s cultural world view. These approaches lead pupils to acquire plurilingual and intercultural competence that favour communication with the other and the understanding of the culture of the other. Consequently, these lead them to build their own proper identities (Concelho Nacional de Educação, 2013). A teacher who teaches English cannot forget these realities. 

This article is divided into three parts. The first part explores the concept of culture and its composition. It discusses the importance of intercultural pedagogy in the teaching of English language in the primary school. The second part deals with language and cultural varieties in the teaching of English language at the primary level. Part three involves a comparative study between the culture and languages of UK, Portugal and Nigeria. It illustrates some of the practical examples in which intercultural and plurilingual approaches were made. 

This article focuses on the fourth grade where English language is a compulsory curriculum subject. Nigeria has many cultures but for the purposes of this work, Nigerian culture implies Igbo culture. 

This case study took place in Colégio do Sardão, within the academic year 2016-2017. 21 pupils were involved in this study of whom 14 were boys and 7 were girls. These pupils fall within the ages 8-10 and they belong to a 4th grade group.


Before proceeding to what intercultural pedagogy is all about, let us attend to the question: What is culture? What are the elements of culture? Culture is the way of life of a particular group of people that is transmitted from generation to generation (Hofstede, 1997). Culture includes language, food, dressing, behaviour, religion, values, and music, to mention but a few (Farooq, 2011). The prefix inter means between. The word “intercultural” means between cultures. Pedagogy is the art, science, or profession of teaching. Therefore, intercultural pedagogy implies interaction between cultures in the process of teaching and learning. Conjoining all these definitions, one can argue that intercultural pedagogy is the inclusion of other or different cultures in the teaching process. 

Bearing in mind the above definition, it is essential to have an idea of other cultures because the world is so interconnected today that there is the need for openness to embrace other cultures in our day to day life. This is vividly expressed in the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue issued by Council of Europe (2008), which advocates that intercultural approach provides a leading standard for managing cultural diversity. Furthermore, Aguado (2003), in her book, Pedagogía Intercultural, acknowledges that school is a cultural environment where acculturation takes place. Acculturation of this sort occurs when there is exposure to other cultures during English lessons through the implementation of intercultural pedagogy. In addition, Byram et al. (2002) infers that language teaching in the intercultural dimension helps pupils to acquire the linguistic competence required to communicate in correct and appropriate ways (both in written and spoken forms). The effective way of teaching any language in the intercultural dimension is through the use of intercultural pedagogy. Therefore, intercultural pedagogy is important for helping pupils develop their intercultural competence.

Intercultural relation or engagement promotes globalisations which in turn influences intercultural relation. Due to the interconnectedness of the world today, there is interculturation or constant interaction within and between cultures. Some words in a particular language and culture tend to be accepted and widely used in other languages. For example, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, E-mail, Hotdog, and Abstract are English words that are used in this form without translation in any other language, in which they are being used. This is as a result of the influence of English culture in other cultures.  

The teaching and learning of English language should not be reduced to the teaching of phonology, morphology, vocabulary, and syntax. Some contemporary models argue that learning a language include the vital component of cultural knowledge and awareness (Bachman, 1990; Council of Europe, 2001), i.e., learning a language demands knowing something about the culture of that language. The English teacher in the primary school should always be conscious of this fact, while planning his or her English language lessons, in order to succeed in exposing pupils to the different cultures that exist within the language they are learning. 

Knowledge of other languages and cultures broadens the cultural world view of pupils. Our world being a global village has raised the need for exposure to the different languages and cultures. One who has knowledge of other languages and cultures in our world becomes more aware of global diversities, since he or she does not restrict himself or herself to only one culture (his or her culture alone). Interaction between cultures promotes globalisation. It facilitates migration, job opportunities, movement of goods and services, and international trade. It is indispensable to talk about language and cultural varieties, without referring to globalisation since the world today is so interconnected. Globalisation is the interaction and integration among people, companies, and government of various countries (Levin Institute, 2016). 

International trade, investment, and information technology are some of the factors induced by globalisation and inter-culturation. Due to globalisation, there has been growth in international trade over the past decades. This growth offers consumers all over the world the chance for a wider choice of goods and services other than depending solely on the domestically made goods and services. Increase in international trade has brought about economic growth all over the world, thus, increasing income, providing more job opportunities, reducing prices and increasing workers’ earning power. Therefore, pupils should be prepared to be aware of the direction the modern world is taking by exposing them to varieties of languages and cultures, thereby training them to be global citizens. 

Also, several analysts, who belong to Levin Institute (idem), argue that international investment is a powerful force that can bring the world to a closer economic integration. Investment which is also another factor induced by globalisation and intercultural relation is of great benefit because it can bring changes to production methods through transfers of knowledge, technology and management techniques, which may consequently result to more change other than the mere trading of goods. In recent times, foreign investment has grown more rapidly than international trade or world economic production. Therefore, the rate at which foreign direct investment is growing is as a result of globalisation and intercultural connectedness. This development is fast growing, so pupils should be aware of the dynamics of the world and prepare for it. This can be achieved through effective implementation of the intercultural pedagogical approach in the teaching of English in the primary school.

Furthermore, information technology is also another factor that globalisation has influenced a lot. Information technology is everywhere and has great impact on how people live their life. 

In every corner of the world, even along the street or in a café people are seen talking, texting, or surfing the internet on their cell phones, laptops or tablet PCs. The improved capacity of people to communicate and process information in a digital form today has really modified the economies and societies of many countries in the world. Therefore, information technology is really a driving factor in the process of globalisation. It brought about the new use of resources to improve recent products and ideas all over countries and cultures independent of the geographical region. Since information technology provides efficient and effective means for exchange of information, it could then be concluded that it stimulates global and cultural integration. Information technology in the present situation facilitates intercultural relation or connectedness in the teaching of English in the primary school. For instance, through video conferencing, pupils interact and communicate with their colleagues from other cultures without dislocating themselves, just as pupils in Colégio do Sardão had the opportunity to interact with their colleagues from Nigeria through video conferencing during my internship.

Globalisation speeds up the change of technology. A new technological innovation is created daily in our world today. As it could be seen in the above stated ideas, globalisation has effects on the environment, on culture, on political systems, on economic development and prosperity, and on human physical well-being in societies around the world. Globalisation and its after effects is part of our day-to-day experience and that is why there are many ways of sharing cultures and reflecting critically about diversity. Bearing this in mind, intercultural studies or language and cultural varieties should be included across subjects, especially in the teaching of English language at primary schools.

Moreover, a communication without the appropriate cultural content leads to misunderstanding and miscommunication (Chlopek, 2008). Thus, the need to have knowledge of the culture of a language is obvious. It is clear that the involvement of other cultures in the teaching of any language is very important. Therefore, it is not enough to restrict the English classes only to British culture, American culture or Portuguese culture while teaching English in Portugal. Consequently, the exposure of pupils to cultures of other English speaking countries will be of great advantage. Intercultural pedagogy promotes intercultural awareness (Rollings-Carter, 2010) and it should not be neglected in the teaching of English language in the primary school.


Intercultural pedagogy has been emphasised in this article. Now, the practical aspects of all these emphasis based on my internship experience will be illustrated here through a comparative study beginning from the UK and Portuguese languages and cultures to a Nigerian language and culture. 

English being a compulsory subject for the 3rd and 4th grade in Portugal enhances the fact that pupils should be taught this language in order to prepare them to open up or embrace other cultures, apart from UK and USA cultures. The cultures of other English speaking countries like Nigeria[1] for example, should not be neglected. The opportunity to have a personal experience of implementing intercultural pedagogy in the teaching of English at the primary level has helped me integrate some Nigerian languages and cultures in the treatment of related topics, thereby exposing pupils to Nigerian linguistic and cultural varieties.

Therefore, during English classes in the primary school, other languages should not be isolated, after all monotony kills interest. Since diversity is the flow of life, other languages could be introduced in the English classes in Portugal. Languages such as Portuguese, the mother tongue of pupils, Igbo language if the teacher is a Nigerian and speaks Igbo could be integrated. By so doing, pupils will end up having knowledge of how a specific word in English could be addressed in other languages. For instance, while dealing with the topic my home and my neighbourhood during my internship, pupils were exposed to a specific phenomenon from the Igbo language, i.e., there is only one word, ụlọ, to designate these three words - Home/ House/ and Building

In this context, pupils also got to know how to pronounce the word bank, one of the buildings in the neighbourhood in various languages in order to promote plurilingualism (Santos & Andrade, 2003): bank in English, banco in Portuguese, ụlego in Igbo language. In addition, the idea of implementing plurilingual approach in the teaching of English language in the primary school is highly supported since it helps pupils to have knowledge of other languages and cultures. This facilitates a better understanding of the other as well as build their own personal identities (Concelho  Nacional de educação, 2013)

Pupils were also engaged in the project of constructing one of the images of the buildings in their neighbourhood using cardboard paper. They had the opportunity of presenting one after the other the buildings they constructed as well as state their respective functions. Additionally, pupils had the opportunity to compare and contrast images of buildings in my neighbourhood from Nigeria (Figure 1) with images of buildings in their neighbourhood from Portugal and in their course book. 

Figure 1 - Images of buildings in my neighbourhood from Nigeria

This type of approach made  them discover that there may be some differences between these buildings according to countries, just as they identified that there are inbuilt boxes at the fore front of the image of post office in Nigeria. The reason being that in some areas in Nigeria, the postman does not move from house to house to distribute letters rather he keeps it in the inbuilt boxes according to the names of the owners. Then, from time to time, the owners go to the post, open their respective mail boxes and collect their letters. It is advisable to expose pupils to cultural differences of this sort. This type of approach helps to increase their adaptability rate in any country they may find themselves in future since within the English classes, they have already had some knowledge of some cultural differences existent in some of these countries. Therefore, we agree with Jervis’ words (2006, p. 4): “Culture is furthermore adaptive, which harkens back to how cultures - and subcultures - are formed. Modes of behavior, social institutions, and technologies all foster our adaptation to the particular niche of the ecological world we inhabit”.

When the topic Food is great was treated, pupils got to know some typical food products in Nigeria.  They got to know that breakfast in Nigeria is not only bread, butter, fried eggs, tea or coffee but other heavy food items like: rice and stew; porridge beans and yam; beans and pap; fried plantain, porridge beans and plantain; fried egg with tomato, onions, accompanied with bread and tea; Akara and pap; jellof rice; yam and stew (Figure 2). These could also be eaten during breakfast.

Figure 2 - What could be breakfast in Nigeria

The idea of the breakfast being heavy is derived from the fact that one has stayed for several hours without food. So the intention is really to break the fast. By exposing pupils to these different breakfasts in Nigeria, they will be aware of the cultural differences that exist between breakfasts in UK, Portugal, and Nigeria. Thus, creating intercultural awareness in them and in turn they develop respect for the other and the culture of the other (Rollings-Carter, 2010).

In addition, pupils also had an idea of what a Nigerian lunch looks like. Lunch in Nigeria could be garri and soup, pounded yam and soup, as we can see in Figure 3.

Figure 3 - What could be


Dinner in Nigeria could be any of the food mentioned in breakfast and lunch. Under this same topic, pupils also had the opportunity to have knowledge of common fruits and vegetables in Nigeria. Fruits such as guava, cashew[2], avocado pear, sour sop, pawpaw, and mango (Figure 4).

Figure 4 - Common fruits in Nigeria


Pupils were also exposed to some Nigerian vegetables such as fluted pumpkin, water leaf, bitter leaf, and scent leaf as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5 - Common vegetables in Nigeria


Additionally, when referring to bank under the topic, my home and my neighbourhood as demanded in Metas curriculares de Inglês (Bravo et al., 2015) for the fourth grade, it would not be enough if pupils were only exposed to pound, the British currency, dollar, American currency and euro, Portuguese/ European currency. The teacher can go further by exposing pupils to other currencies used in other English speaking countries like rand, the South African currency just as I did with naira, the Nigerian currency (Figure 6).

Figure 6 - Currencies


In this way, pupils are offered the opportunity to compare and contrast the cultural similarities and difference that exist between these cultures - UK, USA, Portugal, South Africa, and Nigeria, thus creating an intercultural awareness (Language Learning Portal, 2014).

The world today is a global village, therefore the introduction of various languages and cultures in an English class is an excellent way of preparing pupils to integrate very well in the globalised world in which they live. This way they can adapt to any situation in which they find themselves in any part of the world. This type of approach also broadens the horizon of pupils thereby helping them to develop a wider world view and as a result know more than they have to know by discovering what they might not have come across, if restricted to only one culture (the Portuguese culture, in this case). The introduction of various languages and cultures in the teaching of English in the primary school helps pupils to develop the capacity for constructive analysis in analysing the cultural perspective of one another. Additionally, it helps pupils to value their tradition and thereby resolve epistemological crisis, i.e., a conflict which may arise among people about an idea within and between traditions (Lutz, 2004).

Exposure to other languages and cultures in the English classes helps to prepare pupils for future studies. There may be the need for a pupil to study in other countries apart from the country of origin. If such a pupil already had an idea of other cultures during the English classes, then the adaptability rate will be higher as compared with other pupils who do not have that opportunity. Therefore, knowledge of other languages and cultures favours migration and it is also needed in our future career and profession. Moreover, it paves way for increased possibilities of job opportunities. With the knowledge of other languages and cultures, one can easily accept to work in other parts of the world apart from the

country of origin. In order to work in a foreign country, there is really the need for the person to have at least an average knowledge of the culture of the country where he or she is going to work.  

Interaction between cultures facilitates movement of goods and services from one country to the other. This also encourages international trade. Exchange of goods and services may occur between Portugal and Nigeria, for instance if there is a good intercultural relation between these two countries. Intercultural relation promotes international trade, as well as facilitates movement of goods and services from one country to the other. Considering all these benefits embodied in intercultural approach or pedagogy during the language lessons, it should then be highly implemented while teaching English language at primary schools.



Having presented above some of the didactic interventions made in this case study during my internship, it would be necessary to state that the case study assumed a qualitative methodology. It is obvious that investigation offers the teacher the opportunity for reflection on his or her professional practices thereby helping him or her to discover where to improve on his or her practices. Vieira (2017), during the PEEP’17 conference at Escola Superior de Educação do Instituto Politécnico do Porto (ESE/IPP) mentioned that action research is what teachers do as their investigation. According to her, action research has three stages: designing the project, developing the project and reporting the project.

The data collection tools used in this action research were: observation grids, questionnaires and documentary analysis. Analysing data collected from the observation grids, results show that pupils were always willing and motivated to learn and discover further each time the intercultural approach is made. Evidence of this attitude is seen in pupils reaction and question after a video conference with their colleagues in Nigeria: “Teacher, quando podemos ir a Nigéria para interagir cara a cara com esses alunos em vez de apenas conversar com eles através do Skype?”. In fact, observation is a technique that could be used in action research. Even, Boehm and Weinberg (1977) advocate the use of observation as a technique to investigate some class room situations. Not only this, Bento et al., (2005) also acknowledge that observation is a method of evaluation by excellence at primary schools.

Questionnaire was another data collection technique used in this case study. Walker (1985) will say that questionnaire is “a formalised and stylised interview or interview by proxy” (p.91). Its form is somewhat similar to a face-to-face interview though the interviewer is not present rather presents a structured transcript without responses. Questionnaire takes the form of interviewing-bynumbers or painting-by-numbers. As seen by Browning et al., (w.d.), questionnaires can be used to investigate some conditions or situations in the area of education. The idea of using questionnaires in this action research was to investigate on how effective and essential the intercultural pedagogy could be in the teaching of English language at primary schools. Results from data collected from different language teachers who responded to these questionnaires show that most of the teachers recognise intercultural pedagogy as an essential approach to language teaching. The only problem is that most of them still restrict themselves to UK and USA cultural and linguistic varieties and leave aside other English speaking countries like Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Australia, Canada, to mention a few. It is advisable that the English teachers should become more generous in involving languages and cultures of other English speaking countries during English lessons since such act widens the cultural horizons of pupils. 

Documentary analysis were made on some of the course books for 4th grade, Metas Curriculares de Inglês for 4th grade (Bravo et al., 2015), and the unit and lesson plans made by me. Here, results show that in most of the course books there is effort to include activities that demands intercultural pedagogy but still there are restrictions on the selection of countries, which does not contribute to the study of other linguistic and cultural varieties of the English language scope. UK and USA linguistic and cultural varieties are always at lead. Normally, course books affect the way teachers focus on topics while teaching. This means that if the topics in the course books are sequentially followed, the languages and cultures of other English speaking countries, which were not referred to in the course, will never be made reference to. Therefore, efforts should be made to involve languages and cultures of more countries other than UK and USA, in order not to limit the intercultural pedagogy and the knowledge of pupils only to UK and USA languages and cultures.

Under the intercultural domain in Metas Curriculares de Inglês for 4th grade (Bravo et al., 2015), the objectives stated for the topics my home and my neighbourhood and food is great were as follows respectively: desenvolver o conhecimento do seu mundo e do mundo do outro; identificar comidas e bebidas; identificar os espaços à nossa volta.

Looking at these objectives in both topics, it only limits one to mere identification of spaces around us, and also an ordinary identification of food and drinks. In situations like this, the intercultural pedagogy is highly recommended. The English teacher should not just focus on what was stated in Metas (idem) alone, but can go to the extent of comparing spaces around us in Portugal or with spaces in other English speaking countries. The same thing applies to the objective identifying foods and drinks. Efforts should be made by the English teacher to create room for pupils to be exposed to different foods and drinks of other countries.

Regarding the unit and lessons plans analised in this case study, it was vivid that there was room for the implementation of intercultural pedagogy as seen in some of the examples under the subheading: From the UK and Portuguese Languages and Cultures to a Nigerian Language and Culture: Practical interventions. Pupils were exposed to some linguistic and cultural varieties other than UK and USA. Approaches of this kind have always left pupils motivated to learn and discover more about cultures of other countries. On this note, intercultural pedagogy has proved itself essential in the teaching of English at primary schools. Therefore, it should not be neglected. 


In our discussion, it has been observed that particular attention should be paid to intercultural pedagogy in the teaching of English language at primary schools because it prepares pupils to accept and value their culture and the cultures of others as well as the virtues implied in those cultures. Awareness of other cultures enhances a better understanding of one’s culture thereby making one value where one belongs to. Scarino & Liddicoat (2009, p. 33) refer that “Intercultural language learning involves developing with learners an understanding of their own language(s) and culture(s) in relation to an additional language and culture”. Therefore, the intercultural pedagogy should be applied in the teaching of English at primary schools so as to enable pupils to get exposed to other cultures. 

Exposure to other cultures through the implementation of the intercultural pedagogy, in the English classes, helps pupils to acquire some knowledge about the cultures they are contacting with in the classroom. This type of knowledge about other cultures can help them to handle epistemological crisis within and between cultures as well as develop the capacity to question the why in any culture, i.e., the ability to question what they do not understand about any culture. Uncertainty leads to crisis in a culture hence, pupils need to be prepared with the tools to confront cultural shocks and to be able to discover the rationality within and between cultures, including their own culture. This will help them understand the reasons why one acts differently from the other.

Intercultural pedagogy helps pupils appreciate tradition, i.e., successive traditions because without traditions they will lose their identity (Zalewski & Enloe, 1994). It also helps pupils value the community to which they belong for whether one likes it or not, one is what his or her communities and environments make of him or her. In other words, it helps one define and recognise his or her identity. Boucher (2008, p. 378), citing Frost notes that: 

We live our life in the social institutions which are constitutive of our identity. Who we are is bound up with what we do and who we do it with. Intercultural pedagogy helps pupils to respect themselves, value their culture, their community, their identity, and the identity of others. This reaffirms Frost’s idea that (…) Identity determines how you are treated, what is expected of you, what you expect of yourself, what jobs are available to you…

Worthy of note is the idea that intercultural pedagogy in primary school helps in building trust and construction of social relationships, since erosion of trust destroys social relationship and society. At the same time, pupils come to the realisation that they have a narrative that is bounded by history, a history that is also part of the tradition of the community or people that they belong to. Knowing their history is realising that they are part of the larger narrative, history and tradition, i.e., the individual has his history and narrative that is part of the larger whole – the community and its culture just as tradition has a narrative. Knowing his or her history is coming to know his or her identity. Hence, intercultural pedagogy does not only help pupils to identify or come to discover cultural diversity and identities but also helps them to identify their own cultural dynamics, as well as identify the good practices within their culture that help them acquire the virtues in their culture.

Involving other cultures in the English lessons is not an easy task. It occupies time since extra researches about these cultures are required. Most of the time one may research, and would not come out with the exact information he or she expected. Extra financial expenses are involved because to organise a video conference between pupils and counterparts from other countries, some amount of money would be spent in making international calls in order to get in touch with the other teacher and schedule things with him or her. Some difficulties are involved while trying to implement intercultural pedagogy in the different lessons. It demands extra effort, but it is not because of comfort that the English teacher will place aside this type of cultural enriching approach.

Cultures should not be rejected. In fact, one needs to go back to it and see where one begun, where one is and where one wants to go or what one wants to achieve. Igbo people of Nigerian origin have an adage that if one forgets something and goes back to pick it, he commits no crime. It might seem late to include intercultural pedagogy in the primary school English curriculum but I do not think it is too late. Further engagement into different cultures will help upcoming ones to appreciate their culture and to progress in their endeavour. Intercultural pedagogy helps pupils appreciate and embrace the globalised world in which we live. Therefore, there is the need to help pupils to have knowledge of other cultures in order to help them fit in well in our globalised world embedded with different cultures. 


[1] Nigeria is cited because it is one of the English speaking countries in the world with the population of 193 million habitants. I am a Nigerian and I undertook the Masters degree – Mestrado em Ensino de Inglês no 1° Ciclo do Ensino Básico, in Portugal at P.PORTO-ESE.

[2] Apart from the cashew nut which is the upper part of the fruit, the lower part is a juicy, succulent part of the fruit that is eaten fresh in Nigeria.



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