Systemic Functional Linguistics is about using language to negotiate meaning. One of the key meaning negotiation situations for language learners in schools and colleges is the experience of exchange visits to the countries where the language is spoken. Bound up with this is the students’ abilities to deal with intercultural communication and cultural differences. This paper synthesises the key findings of a small-scale case study investigating a one-week school exchange between pupils from Germany and Italy and their experience of ‘light-bulb moments’. Light-bulb moments are a positive, ethically more appropriate and target group-oriented re-conceptualisation of critical incidents, which focuses on recognition and understanding through encountering, understanding and managing difference. Thus, through an emic approach, this study explores the kind of light-bulb moments pupils experience during their stay abroad, how they influence pupils’ professional discourse exchanges and their Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) and what strategies pupils employ to deal with these situations. Qualitative data are gathered from all three stages of the study abroad experience. These show that light-bulb moments and the discourse strategies employed contribute to ICC in terms of inter/intra-linguistic, inter/intra-social or inter/intra-cultural aspects and open up opportunities for reflection and raising awareness. To deal with these situations, pupils develop ‘light-bulb moment strategies’, which tend to be non-verbal (more intra- than interpersonal) rather than verbal. Comparing the findings of light-bulb moments in this study with previous research on critical incidents provides evidence to reimagine the concept of ‘critical incidents’ and introduce the concept of ‘light-bulb moments’ for school exchanges instead. The same understandings can also be adapted to apply to business and professional discourse analysis of language use, content and lexis.
Thaler, Isabelle S. (2021). ‘Light-bulb moments’ in professional discourse during study abroad exchanges. Issues of Applied Linguistics, 42, 7-40.