By Tarun Patel
Language and Culture
by Mahsa Kia
Culture is the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education.(Webster dictionary)
The national centre for cultural competence defines culture as an” integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, languages, practices, beliefs, values, customs, courtesies, rituals, manners of interacting and roles, relationships and expected behaviors of racial, ethnic, religious or social group; and the ability to transmit the above to the succeeding generation.(Good,Sockalingam,Brown&Jones,2000)
It is emergent to language learners to be aware of the culturally appropriate ways to address people, express gratitude, make requests, and agree or disagree with someone. Behaviors and intonation patterns that are appropriate in their own speech community may be perceived differently by the members of the target language. As a matter of fact, language use must be associated with other culturally appropriate behavior.
This paper concerns with the culture in relation with language teaching and learning. In addition, it focuses on the role of the learners and teachers to be effective ones and develop their cultural competence.
The necessity of culture in language learning
To speak a language well, one has to be able to think in that language, and thought is extremely powerful. A person’s mind is in the centre of his identity, so if a person thinks in French, one might say that he has, in a way, almost taken on a French identity. That is the power and the essence of a language. Language is culture. Language is the soul of the country and people who speak it.
It is clear that the terminology used by a culture primarily reflects that culture’s interests and concerns. For instance, Indians in Canada’s north west territories typically have at least 13 terms for different types and conditions of snow, while most non-skiing native southern Californians use only 2 terms –ice and snow. That does not mean that the English language has 2 terms. Quite the contrary, there are many more English words that refer to different states of frozen water, such as blizzard, dusting, flurry, frost,… the point is that these terms are rarely if ever used by people living in a tropical or subtropical regions because they rarely encounter frozen water in any form other than ice cubes.
On the other hand, without the study of culture, teaching second language is inaccurate and incomplete. For L2 students, language study seems senseless if they know nothing about the people who speak the target language or the country in which the target language is spoken. Acquiring a new language means a lot more than the manipulation of syntax and lexicon. According to Bada(2000,101)”the need for cultural literacy in ELT arises mainly from the fact that most language learners, not exposed to cultural elements of the society in question, seem to encounter significant hardship in communicating meaning to native speaker.”Moreover, nowadays the L2 culture is presented as an interdisciplinary core in many L2 curricula designs and textbooks.(Sysoyev&Donelson2002)
The social process of interaction (through language, as well as other systems and tools such as gestures, narratives, technologies) mediates the construction of knowledge and leads to the individual’s development of a framework for making sense of experience that is congruent with the cultural system in which the learner and learning are located. It is through this social and cultural process that students are socialized to act, communicate and be in ways that are culturally appropriate to the groups in which they participate to as members, and through which identities are formed.
Within socio-cultural theories, development occurs twice: firstly in the process of social interaction (that is, on an interpersonal plane) and then within the mind of the individual (that is on an intrapersonal plane). Language is integral to learning in that it is the major means by which we make and share meanings with ourselves and with others, and by which we negotiate social relationships and social values. It is language that makes it possible for people to objectify and conceptualize themselves in the world- to give names to experiences, and make sense of the environment, objects, experiences, events and interactions. In short, language is central to the process of conceiving meaning, which is integral to learning.
The socio-cultural perspective on second language learning, based on the work of Vygotsky(1978) highlights that all learning, including language learning, is based on social interaction with more proficient others, on an interpersonal and intrapersonal plane as described above. Through the concept of the zone of the proximal development, it highlights that language learning is developmental. The characteristic of prior knowledge is very important. It recognizes that new learning is built on prior learning- that is, the ideas and concepts that students bring to learning. Teachers work with these preconceptions in order to facilitate learning.
Motivation: the effect of motivation in the study of L2 has been proved by experts like Gardner and Lambert(1959,1965,1972). In achieving high motivation, culture classes does have a great roles because learners like culturally based activities such as singing, dancing, role playing, doing research on countries and people, etc. The study of culture increases learners’ not only curiosity about and interest the target countries but also their motivation. For example, when some professors introduced the cultures of the L2s they taught, the learner’s interests in those classes increased a lot and the classes based on cultured become to be preferred to more highly than traditional Classes.(kiato,2000)
Communicative competence in L2: Culture enhances communicative competence in L2. Cultural competence falls in the category of pragmatic aspect of communicative of the members of a culture, and thus behaves in a way that would be understood by members of the culture in the intended way. It, therefore, involves understanding of all aspects of a culture, but particularly the social structure, the values and beliefs of the people and the way things are assumed to be done. Lado (1957) argued that lack of cultural competence in the target language would surely lead to transfer from the native language. Consequently L2 students would express idiosyncratic utterances leading to inappropriate utterances even through the grammatical structures may be appropriate.
The process of teaching
Teaching a language is not giving some information about the structure, vocabulary, idiom and linguistics, but it should include cultural points.
The study of culture should begin on the very first day of class and should continue every day there after. From the first day of class teachers should have prepared a cultural island in their classrooms. Posters, pictures, maps and signs are essential in helping students develop a mental image. Assigning students foreign names from the first day can heighten student interest. Short presentations on a topic of interest with appropriate pictures or slides add to this mental image. Start student off by making them aware of the influence of various foreign cultures in this country. Introduce students to the borrowed words in the language or the place-names of our country.
Byram (1989,42) points out that the cultural experiences that teachers can provide for the learners in the tutored setting are, at best, vicarious and argues that it would be misguided to teach as if learners can acquire foreign cultural concepts, values and behaviors, as if they were a tabula rasa.
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.
According to Tomalin & Stempleski(1993:7-8), there are seven goals of cultural instructions:
1.to help students to develop an understanding of the fact that all people exhibit culturally-conditioned behaviors.
2.to help students to develop an understanding that social variables such as age, sex, social class, and place of residence influence the ways in which people speak and behave.
3.to help student to become more aware of conventional behavior in common situations in target language.
4.to help students to increase their awareness of the cultural connotations of words and phrases in the target language.
5.to help students to develop their ability to evaluate and refine generalizations about the target culture, in terms of supporting evidence.
6. to help students to develop the necessary skills to locate the organize information about the target culture.
7.to stimulate students’ intellectual curiosity about the target culture, and to encourage empathy towards its people.
Nelson Brooks has identified five meanings of culture: growth; refinement; fine arts; patterns of living’ and the total way of life. He believes that patterns of living should receive the major emphasis in the classroom. It is patterns of living that are the least understood, meaning of culture as culture 4 and defines it as follows:
“Culture 4 (patterns of living) refers to the individuals’ role unending kaleidoscope of life situations of every kind and the rules and models for attitude and conduct in them. By reference to these models, every human being, from infancy onward, justifies the world to himself as best he can, associates with those around him, and relates to the social order to which he is attached.’(Brooks 1991,210)
From the point of view of language instruction, culture 4 can be divided into formal culture and deep structure. Formal culture, sometimes referred to as “culture with a capital C”, includes the humanistic manifestations and contributions of a foreign culture: art; music; literature; architecture; technology; politic. However, with this way of looking at culture, we often lose sight of the individual.
Deep structure, or “culture with small c”, focuses on the behavioral patterns or lifestyles of the people: when and what they eat; how they make a living; the attitudes they express towards friends and members of their families; which expressions show approval or disapproval. In this sense, culture is a body of ready- made solutions to the problems encountered by the group. It is a cushion between man and his environment. If we provide our students only with a list of facts of history or geography and a list of lexical items, we have not provided them with an intimate view of what life is really like in the target culture.
Kordes (1991,288) reports that after 3 years of French study, including time in country one third of 112 students in a sixth German Oberstufe remained monocultural, small minority at level of transculturation, in which they achieved some degree of identification with the foreign culture. Recognizing that cultural proficiency may be more difficult to assess than linguistic proficiency, Kramsch (1991,220) notes that even in the case of study-abroad experiences, the evidence pointing to the development of cross-cultural understanding or cross-cultural personality development is lacking. According to Kramsch (1993,234) even individuals who immigrate to a new country and spend the remainder of their lives as active participants in the new cultural setting often report the feeling of not” really to the host culture,” but of being situated on its borders.
Byram (1991,19) for one, believes that the goal of culture instruction can not be to replicate the socialization process experienced by natives of the culture, but to develop intercultural understanding. Kordes(1991,302) expresses a similar view in claiming that even though a foreign language, intercultural learning is feasible to at least some degree. Kramsch (1993) proposes that in the classroom setting it is possible to foster the formation of what she calls a third culture conceived of as the intersection of multiple discourses rather than as a reified body of information to be intellectualized and remembered. Robinson-Stuart and Nocon (1996) present the results of a classroom study that shows that it is possible for learners to develop positive attitudes toward the cultural perspective of members of different speech communities as a result of an instructional program that brings learners into meaningful interaction with members of the second culture.
The role of the learner
Necessarily, students can not master the language unless they have mastered the cultural contexts in which the language occurs.
Effective communication more than a matter of language proficiency, but successful communication hardly ever takes place unless second language users have obtained a kind of cultural competency of the language they use. One’s meaningful cross-cultural communication depends on the achievement of abilities to understand different modes of thinking and living, as they are embodied in the language to be learnt, and to merge and mediate between different modes present in any specific interaction. This mode of understanding can be labeled as ‘intercultural communicative competence.’
Through intercultural language learning, students engage with and learn to understand and interpret human communication and interaction in increasingly sophisticated ways. They do both as participants in communication and as observers who notice, describe, analyze and interpret ideas, experiences and feeling shared when communicating with others. In doing so, they engage with interpreting their own and others meanings, with each experience of participation and reflection leading to a greater awareness of self in relation to others. The ongoing interactive exchange of meanings, and the reflection on both the meanings exchanged and the process of interaction, are an integral part of life in our world. As such, intercultural language learning is best understood not as something to be added to teaching and learning but rather something that is integral to the interactions that already (and inevitably) takes place in the classroom and beyond.
Language learners need to be aware, for example, of the culturally appropriate ways for addressing people, greetings, expressing needs, 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.
If learners are particularly lucky, they get a chance to a foreign country to immerse themselves in the culture of the country.
However, most of the learners have no chance to spend time in a foreign country: therefore, learners should do some useful techniques:
1.it is very effective to contact with native speakers of the language in some classes.(native teachers)
2. they can find some culturally similarities and differences between their language and target language and discuss this with their classmates.
3.it is necessary to work with authentic materials of the target language:
Films: films offer learners a chance to observe behaviors which are not in texts.
It is possible to watch, feelings, gestures, behaviors.
Internet: via the internet, we can easily search anything any time.
Newspapers and magazine: newspapers offer daily news. They are the best sources to connect learners with language and culture such as, interviews and advertisements.
4.learners can study the history and identity of the people of the language and get familiar with their customs and way of thinking.
5. the role-play must take place after an exposure to authentic conversation in a classroom. They observe the role play and try to identify the reason for the miscommunication.
6. one of the best way to be aware of cultural information is common proverbs in the target language. They will focus on how the proverbs and different from or similar to proverbs in their own language.
7. talks and discussions may be suitable for giving information to students about culture in classes.
8. an effective way for students to learn about target language and culture is to speak in an authentic way. For example, they can call a hotel and get some information about rooms, facilities…..
Understanding the nature of the relationship between language and culture is central to the process of learning another language. In actual language use, it is not the case that it is only the forms of language that convey meaning. It is language in its culture context that creates meaning: creating and interpreting meaning is done within a cultural framework.
Learning to communicate in an additional language involves developing and awareness of the ways in which culture interrelates with language whenever it is used.
Taking an inter cultural perspective in language teaching and learning involves more than developing knowledge of other people and places. It means that all human beings are shaped by their cultures and that communicating across cultures involves accepting both one’s own culturally conditioned nature and that of others and the ways in which these are at play in communication.
To get this goal, teachers and learners should play their effective role in the classrooms. The effective techniques were introduced to the learners in the text.
On the other hand, teachers must allow students to observe and explore cultural interactions from their own perspectives to enable them to find their own voices in the language speech community. In fact, without the study of culture, teaching foreign language is inaccurate and incomplete.
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**ELTWeekly would like to thank Mahsa Kia for contributing this article.
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