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towards near-native level of foreign language proficiency

We strongly recommend starting the course by explicitly focusing on the significance

of SCC and SLC. It is of paramount important for the target audience to understand that in acquiring a

new foreign language, ,building socio-cultural and sociolinguistic competence is as essential as

acquiring structural, functional, and discourse control. Experience has shown that even advanced

learners’ communicative behaviors, may deviate from accepted language use conventions and that

these deviations may cause cross-cultural misunderstanding. Without socio-cultural and

sociolinguistic competencies “superior level” students cannot reach the “near-native distinguished

level” of foreign language proficiency and cannot communicate with native-speakers as equals. (In an

introduction to his Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, E.D. Hirsch Jr. wrote: “Reading and writing are

not simply acts of decoding and encoding but rather acts of communication The literal words we

speak and read and write are just the tip of the iceberg in communication. An active understanding of

the written word requires far more than the ability to call out words from a page or the possession of

basic vocabulary, syntax, grammar and inferencing techniques. We have learned that successful

reading also requires knowledge of shared, taken-for-granted information that is not set down on the

page.”)

It is therefore recommended, to start the course with some vivid examples of cross-cultural

misunderstanding that occurred as the result of insufficient SCC and SLC. These examples should

demonstrate not only the relevance of the two competencies but also the interconnectedness of

language, culture, and society6. By developing SCC and SLC competencies, students also learn more

about the culture and society of the target language which is the second and probably even more

important argument for focusing on these competencies.

6 In the Russian Socio-cultural and Sociolinguistic Workbooks we provide many examples demonstrating these two points. One of them is the true Cold War era story when a translator’s ignorance of a Russian idiomatic expression used by then Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, caused serious consternation in the White House.

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