К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2010
Автор: Шахматова Ольга Юрьевна
culture and developing intercultural skills have become fashionable phrases in
foreign and second language pedagogy in the last ten years. However, this is
hopefully not only a superficial and quickly passing fad since many language
teachers and researchers have established that the primary aim of second and
foreign language acquisition is to enable learners to communicate with people
coming from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds in a multicultural
world. Since there is an increasing need to be able to deal with cultural
diversity effectively and appropriately, students also need to acquire
intercultural communicative competence. Therefore, we can see that while teaching
linguistic skills, second and foreign language instructors should also
integrate a variety of cultural elements in their language lessons.
It is extremely difficult to
define what culture is. ‘Culture’ is believed to be one of the most complicated
words in the English language. A lot of time can be spent on trying to give a
precise definition of the word.
Byram refers to culture as:
‘the whole way of life of the foreign
country, including but not limited to its
production in the arts, philosophy and
“high culture” in general’.
Valette, however, highlights
the two major components of culture in the following broad sense:
‘One is anthropological or
sociological culture: the attitudes, customs, and daily activities of a people,
their way of thinking, their values, their frames of reference.
Since language is a direct
manifestation of this phase of culture, a society cannot be totally understood
or appreciated without a knowledge of its language. The other component of
culture is the history of civilisation. Traditionally representing the
“culture” element in foreign language teaching, it includes geography, history,
and achievements in the sciences, the social sciences and the arts.’
Hofstede sees culture as “the collective
programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or
category of people from another”. In his pyramid model, he differentiates three
levels of “the software of the mind”: universal, cultural and personal. The
iceberg analogy of culture compares the notion of culture to an iceberg only
the tip of which is visible (literature, food, architecture, landmarks, etc.),
whereas a very large part of the iceberg is difficult to see or grasp (beliefs,
values, attitudes, perceptions, etc.). The items in the invisible body of the
iceberg could include an endless list of notions from definitions of beauty or
respect to patterns of group decision-making, ideals governing child-raising,
as well as values relating to leadership, prestige, health, love, death and so
Clearly, culture covers a wide
territory. Its broadness is certainly an attraction but can also be considered
as a problem. However, it is worth making a list of the areas it includes:
literature, the arts in general, customs, habits and traditions, humans’
behavior, history, music, folklore, gestures, social relationship etc. These
are ingredients and it is difficult to give a whole picture of them. This can
be considered a problem deriving from the complicated nature of culture.
Extending the image of culture leads us to the view that culture is ‘unbounded’
and ‘not static’ (Nelson), which opens the scope even wider.
Intercultural Communicative Competence
Contact with other
languages and cultures provides an excellent opportunity to foster the
development of intercultural communicative competence (ICC, or intercultural competence,
for short). Once intercultural contact has begun, ICC development generally
evolves as an on-going and lengthy process, occasionally with periods of
regression or stagnation, but more commonly with positive results and no end
point. Different individuals bring differing goals and motivations to the
intercultural experience that result in varying levels of competence. Some wish
to achieve native-like behavior in the host culture; others may be content
simply to gain acceptance; and for still others, mere survival may be adequate.
more deeply one enters into a second language-culture (LC2), or "linguaculture",
the greater the effects on one's native linguaculture (LC1). As a result, individuals
often modify their initial perspectives of the world (or
"worldview"). A willingness to truly engage in the new culture during
a cross-cultural sojourn, promotes both transcendence and transformation of
one's original mode of perceiving, knowing, and expressing about the world and
interacting within it. Developing intercultural competencies aids this process.
But what exactly
is intercultural competence? Although this term is in wide use today, there is
no clear consensus about what it is. Some researchers stress global knowledge,
others emphasize sensitivity, and still others point to certain skills.
One definition of
ICC is that it is the complex of abilities needed to perform effectively and
appropriately when interacting with others who are linguistically and
culturally different from oneself.
The Importance of
Culture in Language Teaching
Linguists and anthropologists have long
recognized that the forms and uses of a given language reflect the cultural values
of the society in which the language is spoken. Linguistic competence alone is
not enough for learners of a language to be competent in that language
(Krasner). Language learners need to be aware, for example, of the culturally
appropriate ways to address people, express gratitude, make requests, and agree
or disagree with someone. They should know that behaviors and intonation
patterns that are appropriate in their own speech community may be perceived
differently by members of the target language speech community. They have to
understand that, in order for communication to be successful, language use must
be associated with other culturally appropriate behavior.
In many regards, culture is taught implicitly,
imbedded in the linguistic forms that students are learning. To make students
aware of the cultural features reflected in the language, teachers can make
those cultural features an explicit topic of discussion in relation to the
linguistic forms being studied. For example, when teaching subject pronouns and
verbal inflections in French, a teacher could help students understand when in
French it is appropriate to use an informal form of address (tu) rather than a formal form of address (vous)—a distinction that English does not have. An English
as a second language teacher could help students understand socially appropriate
communication, such as making requests that show respect; for example, “Hey
you, come here” may be a linguistically correct request, but it is not a
culturally appropriate way for a student to address a teacher. Students will
master a language only when they learn both its linguistic and cultural norms.
Teaching Culture Without
Cultural information should be presented in
a nonjudgmental fashion, in a way that does not place value or judgment on distinctions
between the students’ native culture and the culture explored in the classroom.
Kramsch describes the “third culture” of the language classroom—a neutral space
that learners can create and use to explore and reflect on their own and the
target culture and language.
Some teachers and researchers have found it
effective to present students with objects or ideas that are specific to the
culture of study but are unfamiliar to the students. The students are given
clues or background information about the objects and ideas so that they can
incorporate the new information into their own worldview. An example might be a
cooking utensil. Students would be told that the object is somehow used for
cooking, then they would either research or be informed about how the utensil
is used. This could lead into related discussion about foods eaten in the
target culture, the geography, growing seasons, and so forth. The students act
as anthropologists, exploring and understanding the target culture in relation
to their own. In this manner, students achieve a level of empathy, appreciating
that the way people do things in their culture has its own coherence.
It is also important to help students understand
that cultures are not monolithic. A variety of successful behaviors are
possible for any type of interaction in any particular culture. Teachers must
allow students to observe and explore cultural interactions from their own
perspectives to enable them to find their own voices in the second language
Intercultural competence and
the teacher. Finally, for many teachers, culture teaching and learning is a
relatively new and unfamiliar venture, especially in the framework of our model
of culture learning. The problem is compounded by a lack of concrete examples
of how to teach for intercultural competence and by teachers’ mistaken belief
that they need to be culture experts. Rather, we hope teachers will come to
share the view so perceptively expressed by Kane that, “By being the one
invested with the knowledge and authority, the teacher’s responsibility is to invite - and join - the students in challenging unexamined beliefs and
stereotypes”. Teachers can become guides and partners in a process of
culture learning and discovery with their students, rather than culture expert
upon whom their students exclusively rely for cultural knowledge.
How to go about incorporating intercultural communication?
very simple general guidelines for language teachers and teacher trainers:
- If you do have first-hand experiences
from other cultures, take every opportunity to tell your students about these
and elicit their reactions as well as their own similar experiences;
- If the course book you use contains
culturally-loaded texts (most of them do by definition), make sure you do not
only exploit these texts for grammatical analysis and vocabulary building;
- Even grammar practice and vocabulary
activities can be sources of cultural knowledge, means of intercultural skills
development or ways to form open and accepting attitudes if you do not fail to
add those two or three sentences that will help students understand the
cultural dimension better;
- When you give writing tasks and tests,
do not only assess your students’ knowledge of grammar rules and vocabulary
items but sometimes ask them to write (guided) reflective compositions about
their experiences in other countries or in their home town with people from
- Encourage your students to look things
up, be open, curious and non-judgmental, establish e-mail partnerships with
students in other countries, participate in simulations, role-plays and
ethnographic projects during language lessons (see concrete ideas below), and
go on study trips if possible.
The role of culture in foreign
language teaching materials: an evaluation from an intercultural perspective
Textbooks used in foreign
language (FL) instruction are primarily designed to facilitate language
learning, but they cannot simply do that since language learning is inseparable
from its cultural context. As Cunningsworth states, “A study of language solely
as an abstract system would not equip learners to use it in the real world”
(Cunningsworth). For that reason, it is usually expected that FL teaching
materials (TM) should include elements of the target language culture. Moreover,
many documents analysed by Byram highlight three general goals of FL
- the development of
communicative competence for use in situations the learners might expect to
- the development of an
awareness of the target language;
- the development of insight
into the foreign culture and positive attitudes toward foreign people.
But as Byram stresses, these
three aims should be integrated. The extent and ways of incorporating cultural
aspects in FL instruction vary in different TM, and therefore it is important
for the FL teacher to know what to look for in a particular language textbook
in order to decide if it is suitable for attaining the aforementioned goals.
Defining the cultural content
for FL classes
One of the most difficult
problems confronting FL teachers is the choice of adequate instructional
materials. What should students learn about a foreign culture to be able to function
in that culture? Different academics offer various suggestions concerning the
cultural content of FL TM. In order to answer the abovementioned question, it
is essential to examine some ways in which culture is reflected in FL
Patrick Moran offers four
categories where culture is identified as:
- knowing about, relating to
cultural information – facts about products, practices and perspectives of the
target culture as well as students’ own;
- knowing how, referring to
cultural practices in the everyday life of the people of the target culture;
- knowing why, constituting an
understanding of fundamental cultural perspectives – beliefs, values and
- knowing oneself, concerning
the individual learners’ self-awareness. In other words, students need to
understand themselves and their own culture as a means to comprehending the
target language culture.
Whereas the categorisation of
culture concentrates mainly on description, the treatment of the cultural
content in FL materials should also include analysis, comparison and contrast,
which is more in keeping with the comparative method suggested by many scholars
One of the aims of the FL
classroom is the development of the learners’ awareness of intercultural issues
and their ability to communicate effectively and appropriately in a variety of
situations and contexts, given the increasingly international nature of contemporary
life. In order for this to happen, learners need first to acquire knowledge
about the target language community and then they need to reflect on their own
culture in relation to other cultures (McKay). That is, in acquiring knowledge
about and reflecting on the target language culture, students need to be encouraged
not simply to observe similarities and differences between the two cultures,
but they should also analyse them from the viewpoint of the others and try to
establish a relationship between their own and other systems (Byram; McKay).
described as “sensitivity to the impact of culturally induced behaviour on
language use and communication” (Stempleski and Tomalin), comprises awareness
of students’ own culturally induced behavior, awareness of the culturally
induced behavior of the target language community, and ability to explain their
own cultural standpoint.
ICC, according to Byram,
requires certain attitudes, knowledge, and skills to be promoted, in addition
to linguistic, sociolinguistic and discourse competence. The attitudes refer to
curiosity and openness as well as “readiness to suspend disbelief about other
cultures and belief about one’s own (Byram). The acquired knowledge is of two
kinds: on the one hand, knowledge of social groups and their products and
practices in one’s own and in the foreign country, and, on the other hand,
knowledge of the general processes of individual and societal interaction
(Byram). Finally, the skills comprise those of interpreting and relating,
discovery and interaction as well as critical awareness/political education
(Byram). Byram also maintains that the FL classroom provides ample
opportunities for the acquisition of the abovementioned skills, knowledge and
attitudes, provided it proceeds under the guidance of a teacher.
The idea of teaching culture is nothing new to second language
teachers. In many cases, teaching culture has meant focusing a few lessons on
holidays, customary clothing, folk songs, and food. While these topics may be
useful, without a broader context or frame they offer little in the way of
enriching linguistic or social insight - especially if a goal of language
instruction is to enable students to function effectively in another language
and society. Understanding the cultural context of day-to-day conversational
conventions such as greetings, farewells, forms of address, thanking, making
requests, and giving or receiving compliments means more than just being able
to produce grammatical sentences. It means knowing what is appropriate to say
to whom, and in what situations, and it means understanding the beliefs and
values represented by the various forms and usages of the language.
Culture must be fully incorporated as a vital component of language
learning. Second language teachers should identify key cultural items in every
aspect of the language that they teach. Students can be successful in speaking
a second language only if cultural issues are an inherent part of the
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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2010