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Teaching culture in English classes

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2007

Автор: Королева С.М.

Globalization creates a world in which an increasing number of people are moving between countries for overseas work or studies. A major challenge that expatriate workers and international students face is how to function successfully in a new cultural environment, in a country with different values, sociocultural rules and norms of behavior. One of the main features of successful person nowadays is the ability to find the path when communicating with people.

A survey of contemporary research reveals that success or effectiveness in sociocultural interaction depends to a large extent on the degree of sociocultural competence a person possesses. To function effectively in crosscultural context one must have sufficient skills and knowledge to accomplish his job, must be able to adjust properly in a new culture or multicultural environment, and be able to establish interpersonal relations with co-workers and within the culturally differing community. Thus, sociocultural competence helps not only to survive but achieve success in an increasingly interdependent global society.

Therefore, nowadays the intensive development of intercultural contacts makes the methodology find others way of teaching foreign languages.

The question about learning language through culture in teaching English is investigated by Z.I.Nikitenko, B.V. Sysoev, R.P. Mirolubov, Paula R. Heusinkveld, L.R. Kohls Alvino, E.Fainti and many others. They are sure that when the teacher sticks to the way of teaching a foreign language through culture, the students get a clear idea about global and linguistic picture of the world.

Nowadays to learn a language through culture is considered to be very efficient and actual. All the needs and demands of society determine the aim of teaching and reform the educational system, the content of study, and its organizational structure.

Earlier the strategic aim of teaching was to develop students’ communicative competence. Nowadays this definition widens. According to the Program of Development of Education the main aim of teaching today is to develop student’s personality in connection with studying culture of the country of the target language. The most important long-term benefits of teaching culture may be to provide learners with the awareness and the tools that will allow them to achieve their academic, professional, social, and personal goals and become successful in their daily functioning in the second language (L2) environments.

In language teaching and research on language, the term culture includes many different definitions and considerations that deal with forms of speech acts, rhetorical structure of texts, sociocultural behavior, and ways in which knowledge is transmitted and obtained. Culture may find its manifestations in body language, gestures, concepts of time, hospitality customs, and even expressions of friendliness. While all these certainly reflect the cultural norms accepted in a particular society, the influence of culture on language use and on the concepts of how language can be taught and learned is both broader and deeper. To a great extent, the culture into which one is socialized defines how an individual sees his or her place in society.

Culture can be visible and invisible. When asked about the native culture, many L2 learners and teachers would undertake to describe the history or geography of their country because these represent a popular understanding of the term culture. In addition, some definitions of culture can include style of dress, cuisine, customs, festivals, and other traditions. These aspects can be considered the visible culture, as they are readily apparent to anyone and can be discussed and explained relatively easily.

Yet another far more complex meaning of culture refers to sociocultural norms, world-views, beliefs, assumptions, and value systems that find their way into practically all facets of language use including the classroom, and language teaching and learning. The term invisible culture applies to sociocultural beliefs and assumptions that most people are not even aware of and thus cannot examine intellectually. Scollon and Scollon (1995) state that the culturally determined concepts of what is acceptable, appropriate, and expected in one's behavior is acquired during the process of socialization and, hence, becomes inseparable from an individual's identity.

Hymes (1996) emphasizes that the learning of culture is an integral part of language learning and education because it crucially influences the values of the community, everyday interaction, the norms of speaking and behaving, and the sociocultural expectations of an individual's roles. He further notes that those who do not follow the norms of appropriateness accepted in a community are often placed in a position that exacerbates social disparities and inequality.

Today when the numbers of students learning foreign languages have grown dramatically worldwide, it is becoming increasingly clear that learning a second culture does not take care of itself. Thus, L2 learners cannot always make the best of their educational, professional, and vocational opportunities until they become familiar with fundamental L2 cultural concepts and constructs. Most importantly, an ability" to recognize and employ culturally appropriate ways of communicating in speech or writing allows learners to make choices with regard to linguistic, pragmatic, and other behaviors.

Through learning culture the students form all the components of communicative competence, develop their personality qualities that help in accomplishing of cross-cultural communication. Therefore, sociocultural communicative approach is widely used in teaching all international languages. It makes the students ready to the spontaneous communication in a foreign language. As a result, the object of studying a foreign language is the foreign speech as the main means of cross-cultural interrogation. In the process of acquiring and assimilating grammar and stylistic structures of the target language, the students form their second language personality. “To become proficient and effective communicators, learners need to attain second language sociocultural competence”. According to Galskova, the second language personality is the ability to communicate in the international level, and includes ‘language and global acquisition’.

As Stewart (1972) comments, “The typical person has a strong sense of what the world is really like, so that it is with surprise that he discovers that ‘reality’ is built up out of certain assumptions commonly shared among members of the same culture. Cultural assumptions may be defined as abstract, organized, and general concepts which pervade a person’s outlook and behavior”. To members of a particular community and culture, these assumptions appear to be self-evident and axiomatic. On the other hand, they are not always shared by members of other cultures whose values are similarly based on unquestioned and unquestionable fundamental assumptions and concepts. It is also important to note that ways of using language (eg., speaking, listening, reading, and writing) and sociocultural frameworks in different communities may conflict to varying extents (Hinkel 1999)

Learners’ awareness of sociocultural framework and the concepts they acquire as a part of their socialization into beliefs, assumptions, and behaviors remain predominantly first-culture bound, even for advanced and proficient learners. As Byram and Morgan (1994) point out “learners cannot simply shake off their own culture and step into another… their culture is a pert of themselves and created them as social beings”

The learning of language through culture becomes the teachers’ subject of interest in the last decade.

According to Galskova N.D. the second language personality forms with the help of both the language and global picture of the world

Vorobyov V.V. defines the following components in the language personality:

- world outlook component (language is a means of communication)

- cultural component (culture is a means of increasing of student’s interest to the language)

- personal component (inner attitude to the language)

Therefore, a student’s personality is a total of all the components in the real communication.

According to I.L. Bim, crosscultural interrogation takes place when the students have had all the components of foreign communicative competence developed.

Chen & Starosta (2003) defines intercultural communication competence as a complex notion and may be viewed as comprising three interrelated components:

1) intercultural sensitivity (affective aspect, which refers to the

2) development of a readiness to understand and appreciate cultural differences in intercultural communication);

3) intercultural awareness (cognitive aspect that refers to the understanding of cultural conventions that affect thinking and behavior);

4) intercultural adroitness (behavioral aspect that stresses these skills that are needed to act effectively in intercultural interactions).

Therefore, nowadays a great attention is given to sociocultural component in teaching a foreign language which serves as a means of usage of a foreign language in the definite situations. Sociocultural component is the basis of formation of student’s knowledge about foreign life, disposition, customs and traditions of the target culture.

P.V. Sysoev considers the content of sociocultural component in the three directions: means of communication, national mentality, and national property.

Sociocommunication is a total of all the means of oral and written transmission of information that is carried out by the representatives of the definite culture. For instance, language and its variations (in vocabulary: to prepare/to ready, football/soccer, shop/store -British/American variants; in Grammar: Past Simple Tense in American English is the same as Present Perfect Tense in British English; in phonetics: the difference in pronunciation of people in different states, social position,etc.). Moreover, the communicators must know the language of sounds (Eg. hoops- in sudden collision, or woah- in delight), gestures, and non-verbal communication.

The design of dates, addresses, resumes belongs to the written communication. For example, lack of knowledge about the rules of way of writing of dates (in Kazakhstan: day/month/year, in the USA: month/day/ year) can lead to the wrong understanding of information.

By national mentality the way of thinking of the representatives of the definite culture is meant. It determines their behavior and the expectancy of the same actions from other people. Moreover, national mentality is a sum of conceptions, ideas, opinions, feelings of community of people of definite epoch, geographical position, that influence historic and social processes.

Mentality of people is considered in three measurements: general, situational, and self-determination. R.P. Milrud refers knowledge, attitudes, and behavior to the general characteristics. He believes that in this respect the most important in teaching a foreign language is communicative behavior, and sociocultural stereotypes of the verbal communication. The brightest example of such components will be holidays, customs, and ceremonials of the native speakers.

Situational characteristics include traits of character, perception, and production. For American mentality such characteristics as individualism, personal space, naturalness, rationalism, orientation to future, etc. are usual. These characteristics will influence people’s behavior, and perception of outer world. Perception, interpretation, and evaluation of the phenomena of the target culture is based on the personal experience in the native culture. In other words, the native culture is the measurement of norms, values, standards of the foreign culture.

Speaking about mentality we also must mention about cultural self-determination, that is person’s realization of his/her place in the variety of cultures and belongings to the definite group and culture.

National property as a part of cosiocultural component includes such cultural directions as the science, art, history, religion, national parks, historical reserves and other things and concepts that have cultural value.

Student’s sociocultural knowledge is the main condition of realization of the adequate dialogue of cultures. The thing is that on the bases of sociocultural component of TFL, the students get used to the new way of communication, to foreign culture, to national specifics of behavior, etc. However, the teaching of students through the dialogue of the native national culture and the target culture must be accomplished constantly. It develops student’s skills to communicate verbally and non-verbally with the representatives of another culture. As a result of the use of sociocultural component in teaching English the students form their sociocultural competence that determines the usage of the language in the definite situations and influences on the communicative competence.

In the approach of Z.I. Nikitenko and O.M. Osianova sociocultural competence is presented by knowledge of the language (non-equivalent and normal vocabulary), knowledge of national culture, and the norms of behavior. I.A. Zymnaya considers sociocultural competence as both the aim and the result of teaching. According to I.A. Zymnaya, communicative competence is a student’s ability to play as a subject of communicative activity.

E.M. Vereschagin marks out the developing of the language and communicative competences as the aim of teaching a foreign language. In this case the student’s language competence implies the student’s ability to reproduce all the learnt grammar structures correctly. Communicative competence implies the total of social, national, and cultural norms and rules, values and evaluation of foreign culture.

Mirolubov defines sociocultural competence as the ability to behave appropriately in the specific situations, to choose the appropriate form of social etiquette, to decode the social code of the partner, to use different vocabulary, to understand the meanings of the words in definite context,etc.

The teacher should form the process of study in such a way that the target language was a means of exploring the foreign culture. The English language being a “language model” in the world serves as a source of formation of student’s’ sociocultural competence.

The students must be acquainted with the culture of the target language, because only in the process of the union with the culture, traditions, and customs of the foreign culture the person is able to understand their way of thinking, national character, stereotypes, behavior, etc.

The formation of sociocultural competence helps the students to be the adequate participants of sociocultural communication in the intercultural dialogue, who feel on equal terms with the native speakers.


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