Scholarly article on topic 'Business Simulation as a Means of Developing Intercultural Competence'

Business Simulation as a Means of Developing Intercultural Competence Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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{"Business simulation" / role-playing / "intercultural competence" / "socio-cultural knowledge" / "foreign language teaching"}

Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Elena I. Polyakova

Abstract In the age of globalization, there is a sharp need to bring intercultural components to communicative skills in foreign language teaching at universities. This research aimed to find out about role-playing and business simulation effectiveness in acquiring intercultural knowledge, skills and attitudes. The participants were second-year students of People's Friendship University of Russia. Methods such as interviews, observations, and testing were applied. The results show that business simulations can increase intercultural competence, strengthen communicative components and help in acquiring the socio-cultural knowledge and skills necessary for effective cross-cultural communication when studying a foreign language.

Academic research paper on topic "Business Simulation as a Means of Developing Intercultural Competence"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 236 (2016) 289 - 294

International Conference on Communication in Multicultural Society, CMSC 2015, 6-8 December

2015, Moscow, Russian Federation

Business simulation as a means of developing intercultural


Elena I. Polyakova*

National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute), Kashirskoe shosse 31, Moscow 115409, Russian



In the age of globalization, there is a sharp need to bring intercultural components to communicative skills in foreign language teaching at universities. This research aimed to find out about role-playing and business simulation effectiveness in acquiring intercultural knowledge, skills and attitudes. The participants were second-year students of People's Friendship University of Russia. Methods such as interviews, observations, and testing were applied. The results show that business simulations can increase intercultural competence, strengthen communicative components and help in acquiring the socio-cultural knowledge and skills necessary for effective cross-cultural communication when studying a foreign language.

© 2016Publishedby ElsevierLtd. This isanopenaccess article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute). Keywords: Business simulation; role-playing; intercultural competence; socio-cultural knowledge; foreign language teaching

1. Introduction

Globalization and the process of integration at both national and multicultural levels have affected all spheres of life, including political, social, economic, and educational spheres. Various nations and ethnic groups are becoming more involved in intercultural communication. Acquiring intercultural competence is an important issue, especially in large cities and in megalopolises where high school students with different cultural, ethnic, religious, and moral

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +7-495-340-2314. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2016 Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute). doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.12.031

principles are educated and interact with one another. Additionally, managers of many large companies and firms currently seek employees who have the ability to establish long-term contacts with foreign business partners and also to make decisions at cross-cultural levels. Therefore, young specialists must appreciate and understand how to build effective business relationships with their colleagues and customers in other countries. To deal successfully with representatives of other cultures professionals need to recognize the psychological and linguacultural aspects of intercultural communication. Understanding both aspects is important for developing strong socio-cultural knowledge and skills.

Increasing demands to interact at multicultural levels indicate that acquisition of only linguistic knowledge will not guarantee national and international perception of the world. Many Russian and foreign scientists and researchers have noted this point. Feng, Byram, and Fleming (2009) believe that the successful integration of culture and language teaching can contribute significantly to general humanistic knowledge, and that global understanding ought to be a mandatory component of basic education. Pillar (2013) remarks that the goal of English language teaching in an increasingly global world has changed from a narrow focus on linguistic competence to an intercultural communicative competence. Tomalin and Nicks (2007, p. 67) note that for people working in business and administration "the use of English is mostly about ensuring the communication flow works successfully, and this immediately brings in the cultural dimension, as different business communities views on what constitutes effective communication can vary greatly". According to Kramsch (2013, p. 245), "in an age of global information technologies and global market foreign language study is challenged to reconcile the local and the global, its national premise and its transnational entailments". Hadley (2001, p. 345) believes that "language and cultural issues should be taught inseparably in order to cope with the multicultural world whose understanding ensures our secure and peaceful existence, and economic well-being".

Importantly, Catana (2014, p. 344) stresses that "since motivation plays an important part in a successful English language course focusing on cross-cultural communication issues, we should attach a major importance to increasing the students' capacity to reflect on different cross-cultural instances of communication and behaviour, to make comparisons between different types of communicative approaches".

New approaches have recently emerged in Russian universities. These approaches are oriented towards teaching cultural issues in an English language course to develop students' cross-cultural awareness and communicative competence. Many Russian researchers and teachers note that valuing of ethnic and cultural diversity must continue to be a high priority in education as Russian students learn to live in an increasingly interdependent world (Vereschagin and Kostomarov, 2005; Khaleeva, 1999). A number of scientific papers have explored the psychological and didactical aspects of intercultural communication (Zymnyaya, 1987; Ter-Minasova, 2007; Samokhina, 2005).

The theoretical and methodological foundations of our research were based on the theory of cognitive activity (Vergasov, 1987); the theory of building students' cognitive interests (Schukina, 1988); the psychological aspects of intercultural differences (Passov, 1988; Zimnyaya, 1987); role-playing pedagogy (Verbitsky, 1991; Pidkasisty and Khaidarov, 1996); and the theory and technology of classwork and self-study integration (Kazarenkov, 2003).

2. Methods and methodology

Role-playing and business simulations have been used for many years and in different countries. For some practitioners, role-playing is a means of improving the acquisition of vocabulary and grammar structures (Grender, 1993; Livingstone, 1998). Others have noted that students communicate, express their feelings, enrich their vocabulary and appraise their existing knowledge through role-playing (Baudains & Baudains, 1990; Revell, 1989; Jones, 2001). According to Donahue and Parsons (1982), business simulations help support the acquisition of the intercultural skills necessary for overcoming misunderstandings in a multicultural business society. Magos and Politi (2008, p.101) note that role-play "offers a more pleasant language-leaning experience, creating a safe environment where learners are relaxed, creative and inventive".

The objective of our research was to explore whether business simulations and role-play were effective for students' developing intercultural competence as well as communicative skills.

Before starting our pedagogical experiment we developed relationships with the students of experimental groups to estimate their level of English proficiency and their willingness and readiness to participate in the experiment. For

our next step, we selected teaching techniques and forms of organizing classroom processes that would enable and support the development of new attitudes and skills in the students. Next, we established and developed the content of our work and identified the specific types of materials needed to allow students to explore and analyse the materials rather than to simply learn information in a transactional manner.

We worked with Ch. Johnson's "Intelligent Business Pre-Intermediate Coursebook" for all groups of students. Each unit of the textbook had a central theme, as well as supporting grammar and vocabulary exercises and activities developed around the chapter's central theme. Topics covered in the text included not only general business areas but also issues associated with the changing and evolving business world (such as working in a multinational environment, office etiquette and motivation, key business concepts and developments, and how business works in different cultures). There are certain advantages to working with authentic modern textbooks such as the one chosen for this study. For example, this textbook contains a great deal of material addressing cultural information and intercultural knowledge. The textbook also includes helpful pictures, photos, headings, signs, advertisements, letters, charts and graphs. In connection with our work to study and develop intercultural skills, we started with the themes described in the textbook. We then encouraged learners to ask additional questions to make comparisons with their own cultures, to share their unique opinions, and to express their feelings.

Several role-play activities were successfully implemented in the experimental and control groups. These activities included: explanations of job and company activities; discussions on mobile phone etiquette and telephone conversations with foreign business partners; discussions addressing office communications and writing e-mails to a colleague abroad; and organization of a business lunch with foreign partners. The students performed both speaking and writing tasks for the units offered by the textbook and learned how key language, spoken and written, was used in real contexts. At the end of each unit, 'a dilemma' (a problem-solving activity which consolidated and recycled what had been learned) was presented. These activities involved understanding, discussing and writing. All of these tasks contributed the development of communicative skills and intercultural competence. Thus, students from both experimental and control groups had a valuable opportunity to develop their intercultural competence while studying with the textbook.

The experimental groups, unlike the control groups, had dedicated teaching time devoted to developing intercultural competence. At the first step of our research, we determined the directions teachers would take when working with the students from these groups. The directions were: to examine students on intercultural competence as well as linguistic competence; to enable them to understand and accept people from other cultures as individuals with other distinctive perspectives, values and behaviours, to accept differences in our multinational societies and to be open towards, curious about and tolerant of other people's beliefs and values. Because intercultural speakers need to be able to see both how misunderstandings can arise as well as how to resolve them, intercultural speakers need to develop both comparing and interpreting. We sought to teach students the skills necessary for comparing and interpreting.

To achieve our research objectives, we used business simulations and role-playing in experimental groups. The students were asked to find authentic materials and videos from the internet, reference books and other sources. The students were tasked with identifying materials that presented different views about business cultures as well as norms of verbal and non-verbal behaviours in other countries. In the classroom we sought to develop group communication and group work skills. We involved students to learn more about their opinions and feelings on various cultural phenomena. To be an important and active part of a multicultural business society students have to understand the society's various rules and act in accordance with these rules. Thus, our business games imitated a real-world business process or situation that could occur in a multinational business environment. The games were all scripted and required imitation. Each game involved some type of role and some type of play, sometimes with improvisation.

In connection with their preparations for business simulations, the students were tasked with learning more about the business etiquette of English-speaking countries. For example, before conducting a business game titled "Doing Business with British Partners", students had to find answers to questions such as: What are the business expectations in both a British and Russian context?, How is a business organized?, What are the differences in the working day and holidays of the countries?, How are teams organized?, How do teams work together?, How are decisions made and communicated?, And what level of management makes decisions? It is important to note that

humour permeates every aspect of English life and culture. Humour also plays a certain role in business relationships. As Fox notes (2004, p. 61), "while there may indeed be something distinctive about English humour, the real 'defining characteristic' is the value we put on humour, the central importance of humour in English culture and social interactions... and most English conversations will involve at least some degree of banter, teasing, irony, understatement, humorous self-deprecation, mockery or just silliness". To address this important point, the students were asked to prepare and gather some jokes and anecdotes. The students then discussed whether these jokes would be understood and how the jokes might be evaluated by the students' British partners.

The following describes some additional examples of the business simulations played in our experimental groups.

"Working Routine". Situation: 'Discuss working conditions and daily routines; interview people from different international firms talking about situations in their workplaces'. Students represented companies from Britain, the USA, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Russia. Students were tasked with bringing a video about their respective companies. Students had to describe the structure of the company, the working day, and associated responsibilities.

"Priority Hierarchy". Situation: 'Your job satisfaction: discussing pay and annual increases, colleagues, promotion, extra advantages with your colleagues from Great Britain and the USA'. Each student had to find information that addressed how employers in these countries motivate their staff to work more productively.

"Are You a Workaholic?" Situation: 'Working in a multinational company: advantages and disadvantages. Stress at work'. Students discussed the facilities at their companies that promoted and supported good health. For example, students considered whether a company provided swimming pools or fitness centres for staff use, massages for employees, or organized sports competitions for all company staff.

"What Do You Produce?" Situation: 'Advertising goods, searching for new customers and new markets in different countries'. Some students were representatives of a British company. This company decided to export its goods to South America, and the students had to find information describing how business is done in South American countries. Other students were representatives of firms in Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico.

"Scheduling a Visit". Situation: 'Preparing for a business trip abroad; booking the flight; choosing accommodation'. Some students represented a Russian company. These students were asked to prepare for a business trip to Germany. Other students played the roles of Germans and behaved like Germans during the meeting.

"Setting Up a Brunch". Situation: 'Choosing a country to set up a branch. A company meeting'. Three countries (Australia, China and Canada) were selected as prospective business partners. Students discussed and researched the three options.

To prepare for the business simulations students had to find many materials about other countries. The students used their research during role-playing. Students had to answer the question: How do you adapt your presentations, meetings, and negotiations to foreign business communities? Students also have to study conventions of greeting and leave taking, as well as conventions regarding gift-giving and hospitality. For example, Japanese bow rather than shake hands. During the role-playing, each student had to behave as if he or she was a British, American, German, Brazilian, Argentinean or Mexican employee. Some of the character roles were serious and reserved, while others were emotional or expressive. Each student is different, with different needs, difficulties and talents. All our students were free to choose a role based on individual interests and preferences. Students performed remarkably well in their roles. They were encouraged to be active and take initiative in spontaneous situations that arose during their performances.

3. Results

The experiment was conducted at People's Friendship University of Russia in Moscow over the course of the 2014-2015 academic year. Methods such as observation, interviews, testing, and comparative analysis were applied. Participants for this pedagogical experiment were second-year students studying at the Faculty of Economics. To conduct our research, we established two experimental and two control groups. There were 12 students in each group. Group №1 (experimental) and Group №3 (control) included students studying in the "Finance and Credit" specialization. Group №3 (experimental) and Group №4 (control) included students studying in the "Accounting and Auditing" specialization.

During the experimental period (this period coincided with the academic year), the students in the control groups were engaged in their usual classes (including business English) as well as home assignments within the curriculum. The students in the experimental groups were assigned, in addition to the standard assignments within their curriculum, many additional interculturally oriented tasks. All groups had English classes twice a week, with 2 academic hours devoted to each class.

At the beginning of September, 2014, before beginning the experiment, we assessed students' prior knowledge and skills. We called this stage 'Level 1'. During Level 1, all students from the experimental and control groups had certain socio-cultural knowledge and skills gained from secondary school and in the first year at university. The students were asked to complete a test that primarily included factual questions about Great Britain. The test covered Great Britain's history, geography, traditions, customs, food, national public holidays, well-known scientists, politicians, popular musicians and actors, famous places of interest, as well as national character and national stereotypes.

We calculated the number of correct answers of all students in each group and then defined the percentage of correct answers in each group as the average result for each group. The test results at the beginning of experimental period were approximately the same in all groups. That is, the students in the four groups had nearly the same level of intercultural knowledge: 36%; 29%; 32%; 34%.

The second assessment ('Level 2') was performed at the end of the first semester, in December, 2014. The second test included questions based on the materials covered in Units 1-8 of the textbook. We also asked all students to write an essay and describe what intercultural knowledge and skills they had learned, what was understandable and what was difficult. Additionally, they were asked to express how, in their view, their intercultural competence changed. We noted that intercultural competence of students in the experimental groups during the first semester developed to a greater extent than the intercultural competence of students in the control groups.

The third assessment ('Level 3') was administered at the end of the experimental period, in late May, 2015. The Level 3 test included different questions based on the materials from Units 9-15 of the textbook. The Level 3 test also covered material learned during the academic year. We again asked each student to write an essay to share self-assessment of his or her learning process and progress in acquiring intercultural knowledge.

It was challenging to assess how students changed their attitudes and/or became more tolerant of differences. We used methods such as observing to address changes in attitude and tolerance of differences. During our research, we constantly observed our process and student progress in developing intercultural competence in the experimental groups compared with the control groups.

The results of the testing are as follows.

Level 1. Group №1: 36%; Group №2: 29%; Group №3: 32%; Group №4: 34%.

Level2. Group №1: 48%; Group №2: 45%; Group №3: 40%; Group №4: 46%.

Level 3. Group №1: 79%; Group №2: 73%; Group №3: 51%; Group №4: 54%.

In the experimental groups, the results changed from 36% to 79% and from 29% to 73% during the academic year. In the control groups, the results changed from 32% to 51% and from 34% to 54%.

The control groups did not have dedicated teaching time devoted to developing intercultural competence and, at the end of the experimental period, showed limited intercultural competence. Groups that had dedicated teaching time devoted to developing intercultural competence showed much higher levels at the end of experimental period.

4. Conclusion

Our research results suggest that business simulations are an effective means of developing intercultural competence. The use of interactive technologies in studying a foreign language helps increase students' motivation and interest to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for effective communication and mutual understanding when interacting with people representing other cultures.

Interestingly, at the end of the experimental period the students from the experimental groups manifested their readiness, willingness, and creativity to acquire more experience in intercultural communication. These students were able to use their cultural knowledge for interaction with people of other nationalities. They also became

empathetic and tolerant towards others. Role-playing and business simulations helped increase students' motivation, engagement, creativity, and confidence.

Based on our findings, we recommend that our colleagues (foreign language teachers at colleges, universities, and language schools) use interactive learning technologies such as business simulations and role-playing to build and develop learners' intercultural competence.


Thank you so much to my colleagues from the Faculty of Economics, my English language teachers, and Professor V.I. Kazarenkov, for helping conduct the research and collect and analyze the results. Thank you very much to my referees for spending time reading my article, and for your valuable notes, advice and recommendations.


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