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Benefits of Teaching Culture and Language

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2468 words Published: 31st Jul 2018

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Definition of culture

Culture (from the Latin “cutura” stemming from colre meaning “to cultivate”) generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activities significance. “Farhang”, meaning culture, has always been the focal point of Iranian civilization. Values (the ideas about what in life seems important), norms (expectations of how people will behave in various situations), institutions (the structure of a society), and artifacts (things or aspects of material culture, which derive from values and norms) are four components of culture (Wikipedia, 2009).

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The culture of a people refers to all aspects of shared life in community. Children growing up in a social group learn ways of doing things, ways of expressing themselves, ways of looking at things, what things they should value and what things they should despise or avoid, what is expected of them and what they may expect of others.

We can define culture from different points of view. But the most common definition of culture among several scholars is what Haddley (2003) have in his book “Teaching Language in Context”. She tries to classify aspects of culture into two groups. The first group is the best in human life. This is what is called Big-C culture. Literature, music, art, etc. fall into this category. The second group is everything in human life. This is called the small-c culture. This category includes the way people eat, dress, and behaves in their society.

The importance of studying culture

There are many benefits that people can obtain from studying culture. It is useful for understanding the people of other cultures and also one’s own culture (Kitao, 1991). It can also help us to be more tolerant (Saz as cited in De Gordon, 2007). Dominant thoughts in the societies during the history, the way people look at the world, living manners and different forms of socializing, enculturation and like that lead us to a better understanding and appreciation of economic affairs. According to various developments in the world we can say that although the content and form of culture may change, it never fade away. (Pahlavan, 2003).

Culture has been studied under different sciences and fields of study and this can show the importance of culture by dealing with this phenomenon.

Culture and language

In this section we will come to a wider area and look at the culture with respect to the relation it may have to the concept of language. As usual in this section we will divide these relationships into different sections according to what different scholars believe. There are three kinds of relationship determined between culture and language.

  1. The structure of a language determines the way in which speakers of that language view the world.
  2. The culture of a people finds reflection in the language they employ. Cultural requirements certainly influence how a language used and perhaps determines why specific bits and pieces are the way they are.
  3. A “neutral”: there is little or no relationship between language and culture (Wardaugh, 1993)

Culture and L2/FL Teaching and learning

Although some teachers think that the present of culture in current writings is relative recent, a review of the L2/FL literature shows that this is clearly not the case. The early ages were the time people learned an L2/FL for the purpose of reading and studying its literature. Literature is categorized as the high culture or the best in human life (brook, 1975, as cited in Haddley 2003, p.361). The next stage of concerning with culture is the era of Audio-lingual. This is the era of communication goals in language teaching and the time the emphasis is on the “little c culture”.

In 1970s, the communicative competence replaced the audio-lingual method. In this new paradigm a more natural integration of language and culture takes place through a communicative approach than a more grammatically base approach (Lessard-Clouston, 1997).

Why teach culture

In the previous section we saw that the relationship between language and culture is undeniable. Despite this certain fact we should think of the implication of this reality in a real situation. Therefore, we raise another question regarding the importance of teaching culture and why a teacher should teach culture in the classroom. In order to fully learn a foreign language, an individual needs to understand the culture that goes along with it. What follow are some of the reasons for teaching culture in the classroom.

  1. Giving the students a reason to study the target language.
  2. Help in teaching grammar: relating abstract sounds and forms of a language to real places and people.
  3. In achieving high motivation, culture classes does have a great role because learners like culturally based activities such as singing, dancing, role playing, doing research on countries and people, etc.
  4. It gives learners a liking for the native speakers of the target language.

Culture studies have a humanizing and a motivating effect on the language learner and the learning process. They help learners observe similarities and differences among various cultural groups.

Teaching culture (intercultural learning)

Many people have shown their own contribution to the issue of relation between culture and L2/FL learning as well as the role of culture in learning/teaching a language in the classroom. Almost every book in the area of language learning has a chapter in teaching culture.

Chastain (1987) maintains that language is used to convey meaning, but meaning is determined by culture. One of the major hurdles to the successful implementation of culture goals in language classes revolves around attitudes.

Brown (2000) also has some points in this area: It is apparent that culture as an integrated set of behaviors and modes of perception, becomes highly important in the learning of an L2. The two are intricately interwoven so that one cannot separate the two without losing the significance of either language or culture.

Dimitrios Thanasoulas (2001) says that the teaching of culture should become an integral part of foreign language instruction. Culture should be our message to students and language our medium. Teachers should present students with a true picture or representation of another culture and language.

Baker (2003) believes that culture has become an increasingly integrated component of English language teaching in recent years. He argues that the root of integrating culture in language learning processes come from the theory of communicative competence delivered by Hymes (1972, as cited in Haddley, 2000, pp.3-5). In this theory communicative competence involves an understanding of the norms of social interaction of one socio-cultural community. This concept of communicative competence is called intercultural communicative competence. Central to the notion of intercultural communicative competence is ‘cultural awareness’.

Culture and language teaching methods

From the early stages of teaching language a lot of methods have been discovered by methodologists and researchers with different points of view towards second language teaching and learning. I’ll investigate several methodologies and their approach to culture and its relationship with language teaching and learning.

  1. Grammar-translation method: a fundamental purpose of learning a foreign language is to be able to read its literature.
  2. Direct method: culture consists of more than the fine arts (students study cultural values).
  3. Audio-lingual method: culture consists of the everyday behavior and lifestyle of the target language speakers. Language cannot be separated from culture.
  4. Silent Way method: they believe that culture, as reflected in students unique world view, is inseparable from their language.
  5. Suggestopedia: it says that the culture which students learn concerns the everyday life of people who speak the language. The use of fine arts (music, art and drama) enables suggestions to reach the subconscious.
  6. Community language learning: it believes in integrating the culture with language.
  7. Total Physical Response: says that culture is the life style of people who speak the target language natively.
  8. In Communicative Language Teaching: culture is the life style of people who use the language natively.
  9. The cultural-communicative learning paradigm: “learning a language is learning a culture.

Intercultural competence

Intercultural competence is an enormously popular concept nowadays, its content being discussed in a great variety of contexts. It is not possible to arrive at one particular definition of the concept – it is always contextually determined, colored by the latest discourses on competence, culture, communication, language, etc (Risager, 2000).

Looking for a comprehensive definition of this phrase, we encounter a lot of different ideas and various definitions. By Alvino E. Fantini (1997) a basic definition of intercultural competence includes:

  • The fundamental acceptance of people who are different to oneself outside one’s own culture.
  • The ability to interact with them in a genuinely constructive manner which is free of negative attitude (e.g. prejudice, defensiveness, apathy, aggression etc.)
  • The ability to create a synthesis, something which is neither “mine” nor “yours”, but which is new and would not have been possible had we not combined our different background and approaches (www.kwintessential.co.uk, 2009).

Penn State (2009) has also “A simple definition”: “the abilities to perform effectively and appropriately with members of another language-culture background on their terms.” And finally, In essence intercultural competence can be summed up as the ability to work well across cultures.

Culture in Foreign Language Curriculum

A major goal of foreign language instruction is to increase students’ literacy in languages other than their own, thereby also increasing literacy in that culture. The concept of literacy encompasses the students’ ability to read with understanding, to write with clarity and accuracy, to understand what is heard, and to speak comprehensibly with accurate grammar and pronunciation. To communicate successfully in another language, students develop facility, with the language, familiarity with the culture that use the language, and awareness of the ways in which language and culture interact in society. Reaching this point is central to developing literacy in any language.

Two aspects of culture appropriate to be included in the foreign language curriculum are: first, the society’s production of art, music, and literature, and second, the social conventions of that society’s members.

Culture in the classroom

Now it is the time to come to the classroom and investigate culture related to the requirements of the class: Foreign Language Teachers and Foreign Language Learners.

Culture and language teachers

Traditionally, language teachers have listed culture as one of the five principal objectives of second language study. Attaching the same value to culture as to each of the four language skills is no surprise because of its importance in the development of global awareness and international understanding, in being able to function in the second language society, and in stimulating and maintaining students’ interests and motivation. The primary goal and dominant focus of attention in most classes continues to be language, to the detriment of achieving desirable cultural objectives.

As conclusion to this, the teacher ought to be able to describe and assess his or her own intercultural competence. A foreign language teacher should be able to:

  • Understand the contributions and lifestyles of the various cultural groups
  • Recognize and deal with dehumanizing biases, discrimination, and prejudices
  • Create learning environments that contribute to the self-esteem of all persons and all positive interpersonal relations
  • Respect human diversity and personal rights (Lafayette, 1979, p. 132).

Some authors do recommend placing the greater emphasis on culture. What these authors are advocating is an organized, systematic presentation of the major characteristics of the second language culture that will lead students to an understanding and an appreciation of the culture.

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.

It is important for a language teacher as an influential figure in the class to be interculturally aware and responsive. Teachers should be aware of and sensitive to the cultural differences (Valdes, 1986), and its influences on students’ growth and learning. They should also be aware of their own cultural values and beliefs (Wang, 2006).

Culture and language learners

One of the principal reasons for stressing culture in language classes has to do with the students. They are extremely interested in the people who speak the language they are studying (Chastain, 1987).

A program which seeks to develop systematic progress in cultural understanding side by side with growing mastery of the language will ensure that the language learners are able to communicate with the speakers of the language in the fullest sense of the word.

Intercultural contact is both a means and an end in second language studies. It is impossible to identify the specific ethnic and cultural groups that represent native speakers of the language. As a result, in order to investigate the role of the intercultural contact in foreign language learning environments, we first need to explore what kind of contact students of foreign languages have with home and how frequently, what attitudes they display and how they see the role of contact in language learning. It appears that favorable contact leads to the discovery of cultural similarity and of our common humanity. Then, contact will improve attitudes (Piage R. M., et al., 1998).


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