Exploring perceived communicative competence in upper-level L1 and L2 interactions in higher education

Heejung Kwon, Purdue University


The present study explores how university-level second language learners of English prepare themselves for professional worlds in English-speaking environments in a North American context. I specifically look at how upper-level L2 students (second language learners) identify their needs and negotiate miscommunications and preconceived notions of L2 learners in various communicative events in the process of developing communicative competence (Canale & Swain, 1980; Hymes, 1972) and planning for their future careers. I also investigate how L1 English speakers (native speakers of English) form perceptions of L2 English speakers and negotiate miscommunications and misunderstandings while engaging in collaborative projects. Using ethnographic approaches that adopt narrative inquiry and a survey, I explore how both L1 and L2 students form initial perceptions of one another and negotiate complexities in intercultural communication. The results show that L2 students in this study are highly motivated but tend to have some level of anxiety when interacting and collaborating with L1 students due to the perceptions of their language abilities even though most of them plan to seek career opportunities in English-speaking environments. L1 students in this study showed some level of empathy towards L2 students; however, they also expressed anxiety in identifying and understanding L2 students’ needs or feelings when encountered miscommunication in interactions. Based on the results, I discuss how English can be perceived and instructed in globalized workplaces and ways to redefine communication skills in professional settings. Although intercultural competence (Deardorff, 2006) is being heavily emphasized in contemporary workplaces and higher education settings, it needs to go beyond recognizing differences between cultures. Successful intercultural communication involves an active engagement in communication, a better understanding of communicative events as situated actions, linguistic and cultural identities as a negotiated process, empathy, and collaborative effort to achieve shared communicative goals.




Silva, Purdue University.

Subject Area

English as a Second Language|Higher education

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