The Challenge of Assessing Cultural Understanding in the Context of Foreign Language Instruction


  • Renate A. Schulz

    1. University of Arizona
    2. Renate A. Schulz (PhD, The Ohio State University) is Professor of German Studies and Faculty Member of the Interdisciplinary PhD Program in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.
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Abstract: Numerous publications, including the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century (National Standards, 1999), emphasize the importance of cultural understanding in the development of intercultural competence in foreign language learning. However, there is no agreement on how culture should be defined operationally in the context of the foreign language curriculum in terms of concrete instructional objectives, and there is even less consensus on whether or how it should be formally assessed. This article reviews the literature relating to goals and objectives for the teaching of culture and suggests five fundamental objectives to serve as a foundation for the development of cross-cultural understanding and intercultural competence. Portfolio assessment is proposed to evaluate students' emerging awareness, and a template for such a portfolio is provided.