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Advances in understanding the role of early English education in Portugal: Intercultural and citizenship education in action

by Sandie Mourão (Nova University, Portugal)


Language learning theories support learners’ engagement in communicating and interacting to negotiate cultural boundaries through the development of respect, tolerance and empathy, as well as the ability to communicate and co-operate, and to become flexible, open-minded and critical thinkers (Doyé 1999). Byram’s intercultural communicative competence model (1997) is considered one of the most concrete and coherent models – his fifth competence, savoir s’engager, highlights the political dimension of intercultural education and expands upon the civic action aspect of his model. It is believed that children are capable of developing all of the five ICC competences, however, teachers of young learners have been shown to be reticent about the affective and the pragmatic dimensions of ICC (Breka & Petravić 2015).

This paper presents data collected from Portugal during an Erasmus + project aimed at providing professional development associated with intercultural citizenship education through picturebooks in early English language education. It shares data which attempts to answer the question: What are the perceptions and practices of teachers of early English in Portugal, regarding ICC and citizenship education before and after attending a professional development (PD) course? The PD course involved formal trainer input and the development and trailing of practitioner-made resources in a supportive professional community. Using a mixed methods approach, data were collected from an online needs-analysis survey, a focus group, the teaching resources created during the PD course, and reflective records written after the PD course.

The survey results suggested that the respondents were fairly confident about including ICC and citizenship in their teaching. Nevertheless, actual described practices suggested a misunderstanding of concepts and learning objectives. The analyzed teaching resources provided evidence of an increased confidence to plan for ICC and civic action-taking, and the post-PD reflective records also demonstrated advances in attitude and belief towards the teacher’s role in their learners’ intercultural and citizenship education during and beyond English lessons. Conclusions highlight the relevance of combining active and collaborative participation in a professional community for effective advances in ensuring English is exploited for purposeful, significant activities in the real world.




Breka, Olinka / Petravić, Ana (2015). “Foreign Language Teachers and the Intercultural Dimension in Primary Education”. In: Croatian Journal of Education, 17(2) 27-41.


Byram, Michael (1997). Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.


Doyé, Peter (1999). The Intercultural Dimension. Foreign Language Education in the Primary SchoolBerlin: Cornelsen, Verlag.