Increasing multiculturalism in all societies is one of the consequences of globalization. People encounter, globally and locally, other people with different world views, values, communication ways and habits on a more frequent base than ever before. These encounters are further facilitated by the development of technology. Multiculturalism and intercultural interactions are, at best, a possibility for dialogue and creativity. They can, however, become a problem or threat if conflicts are not foreseen and there is no intercultural awareness, knowledge and skills to deal with intercultural challenges. Intercultural interactions offer possibilities for reaching out, understanding and making relationships. They can also easily lead to misunderstandings and breaking relationships. Therefore, cultural literacy is a significant element which plays an important role in the age of globalization.
The notion of literacy
Literacy, in the traditional sense, is considered as possessing the ability to read and write, or the ability to use language to read, write, listen, and speak. In modern contexts, the word refers to the ability to communicate and take an active part in a particular society (Street, 2003; Freebody, 2007). In addition, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has defined "Literacy" as “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts” (UNESCO, 2011, p. 1). The meaning of literacy continues to evolve as the technologies that drive it continue to expand. To be literate today requires more than just being able to read and write, but also requires the flexible and sustainable mastery of a repertoire of practices with the texts of traditional and new communications technologies toward literate thought and recognition of it in societal norms” (Freebody, 2000).
Furthermore, literacy is seen as an important weapon because it is a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development, a human right, and educational opportunities depend heavily on literacy (UNESCO, 2011). Literacy is also considered as an essential stick since basic education equips pupils with literacy skills for life and further learning. Therefore, literate parents are more likely to send their children to school; literate people are better able to access continuing educational opportunities; and literate societies are better geared to meet pressing development (UNESCO, 2011; Street, 2003).
The concept of cultural literacy
Freebody (2007) and Salo-Lee (2007) argue that cultural literacy has many names in research literature: intercultural competence, intercultural awareness, intercultural sensitivity, intercultural adaptation, and intercultural effectiveness. The core of cultural literacy consists, however, of cultural awareness, knowledge, motivation and skills. For the purposes of this paper, it is preferred to use the concept of cultural literacy for intercultural competence as an important aim of discussion.
Culture can be considered from many different perspectives. In this paper, culture is understood broadly to include history, socio-economical factors and values which influence communication and behaviour, that is, what people say and do and how people perceive each others’ intentions and how they interpret the messages conveyed in the interaction (Salo-Lee, 2007; Freebody, 2007). Communication can be looked at from various perspectives. In the humanities and social sciences the focus is on meaning and meaning sharing. Human communication is social interaction which is affected by people themselves, their feelings, communication contexts and culture (Rosen, 2000; Nakamura, 2002). Cultural and language communication, albeit verbal and non verbal, is an essential tool for integration into a society since communication requires knowledge of a language (The New London Group, 1996; Smith et al, 2005).
Cultural literacy is defined as a process of understanding and valuing the importance of individual histories, values, and beliefs as it involves the ability to interact and share certain values, beliefs, and norms at various levels (Spring, 2008). Cultural literacy also refers to comprehension culture and its relevancy to literacy since this will only truly occur if it's relevant and presented in meaningful contexts (Street, 2003). Therefore, cultural literacy is an understanding of how people are connected through a developing global culture by constructing a unique cultural experience into organizational values and norms (Gross, 2011).
However, Salo-Lee (2007, p. 6) defines cultural literacy as “the ability to read, understand and find the significance of diverse cultures and to be able to evaluate, compare and decode the varied cultures that are interwoven in a place” since it enables people to do something sensitively and effectively in a world of differences”. Cultural literacy also refers to “the ability to converse fluently with each other informal and formal content that creates and forms a dominant culture” (Fleming, 2008, p 4). Hence, in the age of globalization, cultural literate is the capacity to develop global culture and integrate into a single global culture by creating an environment where subcultures can be collaborated.