Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Exploring Symbolic Competence: Constructing Meaning(s) and Stretching Cultural Imagination in an Intermediate College-Level French Class

  • Author(s): Étienne, Corinne
  • Vanbaelen, Sylvie
  • et al.

Published Web Location Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License

This study, conducted in a 300-level college French class with15 students, builds on previous research on symbolic competence (Kramsch, 2009, 2011).  Using a film scene and a “Semiotic Gap Activity,” we examine how students construct meaning. What do students prioritize? What do they bring from their past symbolic representations? Are they aware of their own perspectives?  What do they gain from the activity?


Students were divided into three groups.  Each group worked on only one component of the scene (soundtrack and script; subtitles; or scene without sound) and stretched its imagination to answer a questionnaire about the meaning of the scene compensating for the semiotic gap. Groups shared their findings before they viewed the original scene with all components present.  Finally, students responded to a Post-Viewing Questionnaire .


Data originated from answers to the questionnaires and instructor’s notes.  Findings showed students’ minute description of their component. However, when constructing meaning and filling the gap, they appealed to myths deeply rooted in their schema of French culture, which contradicted their actual observations. In doing so they often confidently positioned themselves as knowers of both cultures. We discuss pedagogical implications and make suggestions to continue developing students’ semiotic awareness and symbolic competence.

Main Content
Current View