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Cardiff-Japanese Online Lecture Series: 'We Japanese are more polite than others': intercultural communication and stereotypes

Calendar Wednesday, 28 April 2021
Calendar 13:00-14:00

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The third virtual event in the Cardiff-Japanese Lecture Series, this time with Professor Michael Handford (Cardiff University). This series of events explores sociocultural aspects of Japanese language learning and is supported by the Japan Foundation, London.

Do stereotypes help or hinder intercultural communication? This is an important question for language learners and professionals alike. Rather than being a useful cultural guide, I will argue that firmly-held stereotypes (whether about our in-groups or out-groups – Bar-Tal, 1997) can be deeply problematic. By definition, they involve evaluation, encouraging us to frame people as inherently different. They can lead us to otherise the out-group while boosting the in-group.  After critically reviewing some of the vast literature on stereotyping and intercultural communication, I will then discuss a case study (Handford, 2020). Between 2007 and 2015, I worked as a communication consultant at several Japanese multinationals, alongside Prof Hiro Tanaka. We were tasked with training the employees to be effective international and intercultural communicators. The trainees were predominantly Japanese engineers, but increasingly included other nationalities. During the needs-analysis and through the training, we unearthed a range of national stereotypes that we encouraged the trainees to critically consider in terms of their professional intercultural goals. I will then consider some reasons for the prevalence of certain stereotypes (Handford, in press), drawing on the research on Nihonjinron, the dominant identity narrative in Japanese society (Befu, 2002; Sugimoto, 2015), before reflecting on the implications for intercultural learning and teaching.

Michael Handford is Chair of Applied Linguistics at Cardiff University, when he is Director of Internationalisation for the School of English, Communication and Philosophy, and Director of Research for the Centre of Language and Communication Research. From 2005-2016 he worked at The University of Tokyo as Professor of International Education. He has published on discourse in professional settings, cultural identities at work, stereotyping at work, conflict in workplace interactions, essentialism and intercultural communication, the application of corpus tools in discourse analysis and intercultural communication, English as a Lingua Franca, and language learning.

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