Everything changes in the world, in
different areas of human work. Each innovation brings a new progress that is
why the humankind develops itself. Being a teacher of the English language I
want to underline that there are also many innovations in teaching methodology,
which have an appreciable impact on its development. Speaking about second
language teaching we know it has its own concepts and principles. One of the
most important concepts is culture teaching.
The National Center for Cultural Competence
defines culture as “an integrated pattern of human behavior that includes
thoughts, communications, languages, practices, beliefs, values, customs,
rituals, manners of interacting and roles, relationships and expected behaviors
of a racial, ethnic, religious or social group; and the ability to transmit the
above to succeeding generations” (Goode, Sockalingam, Brown & Jones, 2000).
This means that language is not only the part of culture, but it also reflects
culture. Thus, the culture associated with a language cannot be learned in a
few lessons about celebrations, folk songs, or costumes of the area in which
the language is spoken. Culture is much broader concept that is connected with
many linguistic concepts taught in second language classes.
“Through initiatives such as the national
standards for foreign learning, language educators in the United States have
made it a priority to incorporate the study of culture into their classroom
curricula, through the study of other languages, students gain a knowledge and
understanding of the cultures that use that language; in fact, students
cannot truly master the language until they have also mastered the cultural
contexts in which the language occurs” (National Standards in Foreign Education
In this work I discuss the importance of
incorporating culture into second language teaching and recommend some
strategies for using cultural issues in the classes.
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, 1999). 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, 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 (Krasner, I. 1999). For example,
when teaching subject pronouns and verbal inflections in German, a teacher
could help American or English students understand when in German it is
appropriate to use an informal form of address (du) rather than a formal
form of address (Sie)—a distinction that English does not have. The Russian
and Kazakh languages also have this distinction; therefore it is easier for us
to understand this feature of the language and just to transmit it to the
learning one. An English as a second language teacher can 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.
The resources for remodeling the curriculum
to include culture have been brought together in the work papers of the
Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. The inherent,
interactive relation between language and culture patterns needs only to be
exploited by such devices as those Robert Lafayette summarizes. For him, these
must include discussing the culture wholly in its own language. Claire Kramsch
insists on the necessity of concepts for interpreting the facts of a culture. A
menu from a German restaurant, she observes, is indeed an authentic text, but
“the cultural authenticity of menus derives from their being imbedded in a host
of social and symbolic relations …”.
Almost all textbooks still fail to deal
with such relations, and Kramsch has analyzed the diverse reasons for this
failure. For one thing, concepts are controversial, while textbooks are
presumed to be authoritative repositories of literal truth. To bring about
culturally satisfying textbooks will require the combined efforts of
publishers, authors, and teachers (Kramsch, C. 1993).
Teachers and departments can spur progress
by telling publishers' representatives their criteria for selecting a book. For
example, the text should provide, in the foreign language, the means of
interpreting the anecdotes and statistics it presents. It should place cultural
manifestations in the context of their own value system, habits of thought, and
prevalent assumptions and not contrast isolated details with characteristics of
the student's home culture. It should place the whole in a multicultural
perspective. To show that the author avoids the “sin of dangerous incompleteness,”
against which Peter Patrikis warns in the lead chapter of the Northeast Conference
volume referred to above, the book should include a sociocultural index as well
as a grammatical index and lexicon. The study of grammar, vocabulary, and
culture should advance together, each contributing in its way to the cyclical
reentry of the central concepts (Northeast Conference on the Teaching of
Foreign Languages, 1988).
For a course in which some of the teaching
assistants have little experience, an instructor's manual should answer
questions about both the linguistic and the cultural topics of the lessons. If
it is agreed that the class should be conducted in the foreign language—the
only way to make it count toward developing communicative ability—then the
textbook, manual, and accompanying tapes should provide the expressions needed
for leading discussions. Audiotapes should help students understand the reading
matter and also give abundant auditory experience of the conversational
language needed in class. These functions can both be served, for example, by
having two anchorpersons discuss the cultural material, differing in viewpoint,
explaining to each other the difficult parts of an essay, and taking on
personal identities as their lives impinge on the sessions in the recording
The audiotapes should be integrated into
the presentation of the language and culture. Students therefore need to be
able to hear the tapes conveniently, either in a language laboratory or on
their own cassettes, so that they will be encouraged to listen to a tape more
than once. While audiotapes enable students to concentrate on listening
comprehension, only audiovisual materials can demonstrate overall behavior patterns.
These are consequently indispensable for modeling the rhythmic interaction
between native speakers of a language. A one- or two-minute clip can show
students the handicap they incur if they condition the foreign words to the gestured
components of their own language. If a clip of this sort is not provided with
the textbook, the instructor's manual should include it on a list of
recommended materials and equipment for the user to have on hand.
Lastly, the textbook should go beyond the
one foreign language and culture, equipping students with the tools of cultural
analysis and instilling a concern for an enlightened multicultural outlook
(Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 1988).
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 (1993) 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, and 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
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
speech community (Peterson, E. & Coltrane, B.).
activities and objectives should be carefully organized and incorporated into
lesson plans to enrich and inform the teaching content. Elizabeth Peterson and
Bronwyn Coltrane describe some useful ideas for presenting culture in the
Using authentic sources from the native
speech community helps to engage students in authentic cultural experiences.
Sources can include films, news broadcasts, and television shows; Web sites;
and photographs, magazines, newspapers, restaurant menus, travel brochures, and
other printed materials. Teachers can adapt their use of authentic materials to
suit the age and language proficiency level of the students. For example, even
beginning language students can watch and listen to video clips taken from a
television show in the target language and focus on such cultural conventions
as greetings. The teacher might supply students with a detailed translation or
give them a chart, diagram, or outline to complete while they listen to a
dialogue or watch a video. After the class has viewed the relevant segments,
the teacher can engage the students in discussion of the cultural norms
represented in the segments and what these norms might say about the values of
the culture. Discussion topics might include nonverbal behaviors (e.g., the
physical distance between speakers, gestures, eye contact, societal roles, and
how people in different social roles relate to each other). Students might
describe the behaviors they observe and discuss which of them are similar to
their native culture and which are not and determine strategies for effective
communication in the target language.
Discussion of common proverbs in the target
language could focus on how the proverbs are different from or similar to
proverbs in the students’ native language and how differences might underscore
historical and cultural background (Ciccarelli, 1996). Using proverbs as a way
to explore culture also provides a way to analyze the stereotypes about and
misperceptions of the culture, as well as a way for students to explore the
values that are often represented in the proverbs of their native culture.
In role - plays students can act out a
miscommunication that is based on cultural differences. For example, after
learning about ways of addressing different groups of people in the target
culture, such as people of the same age and older people, students could
role-play a situation in which an inappropriate greeting is used. Other
students observe the role-play and try to identify the reason for the
miscommunication. They then play the same situation using a culturally
appropriate form of address.
U.S. schools are more culturally and ethnically diverse
than they have ever been. Exchange students, immigrant students, or students
who speak the target language at home can be invited to the classroom as expert
sources. These students can share authentic insights into the home and cultural
life of native speakers of the language.
An effective way for students to learn
about the target language and culture is to send them into their own community
to find information. Students can carry out ethnographic interviews with native
speakers in the community, which they can record in notebooks or on audiotapes
or videotapes. Discussion activities could include oral family histories,
interviews with community professionals, and studies of social groups (Pino,
1997). It is important to note that activities involving the target-language
community require a great deal of time on the part of the teacher to help set
them up and to offer ongoing supervision.
Literary texts are often replete with
cultural information and evoke memorable reactions for readers. Texts that are
carefully selected for a given group of students and with specific goals in
mind can be very helpful in allowing students to acquire insight into a
culture. One study compared the level and quality of recollection when two
different groups of students learned about Côte D’Ivoire (Scott & Huntington, 2000). One group studied a
fact sheet and a second studied a poem about colonialism in Côte D’Ivoire. The researchers found that group that
studied the fact sheet retained very little information about the Côte D’Ivoire culture, whereas the group that read the
poem showed a capacity to empathize with the personal history of the Côte D’Ivoire people.
Film and television segments offer students
an opportunity to witness behaviors that are not obvious in texts. Film is
often one of the more current and comprehensive ways to encapsulate the look,
feel, and rhythm of a culture. Film also connects students with language and cultural
issues simultaneously (Stephens, 2001), such as depicting conversational timing
or turn-taking in conversation. At least one study showed that students
achieved significant gains in overall cultural knowledge after watching videos
from the target culture in the classroom (Herron, Cole, Corrie, & Dubreil,
Beginning instructors should have already
achieved “basic” cultural competence, and teaching assistants should be helped
to reach that level. All graduate students of a language, in fact, need this
cross-cultural background, whether for an international career or just for a
role of enlightened leadership in a community and in the national electorate.
Those who specialize in one region of a culture area or one in part of its population
will of course have to supplement the basic competence with further knowledge
and experience. New fields of research must be recognized as legitimate.
Examples are research that formulates the values, habits of thought, and
presuppositions manifested in a literary work as seen in the light of its
authentic cultural context, compared with the effect of a foreign context;
research that relates literature to other expressions of a culture, in the arts
or in social institutions; research that identifies the skills and knowledge
requisite for a given level of cultural competence; research that examines
students' difficulties in grasping a foreign cultural code well enough to
recognize it in concrete examples; research that determines whether students
have acquired the desired competence and attitudes.
Past research in such fields has sometimes
been flawed because the researcher lacked the prerequisite theoretical
background. Graduate education today needs to be flexible enough so that a good
student who is motivated to develop an interdisciplinary competence extending
into the arts or the social sciences can incorporate the necessary courses in
an acceptable degree program (Nostrand, L.).
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 (Peterson,E
& Bronwyn Coltrane).
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 curriculum.
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