Culture in second language teaching

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DIGEST

EDO-FL-03-09 • DECEMBER 2003

Culture in Second Language Teaching
ELIZABETH PETERSON AND BRONWYN COLTRANE, CENTER FOR APPLIED LINGUISTICS
The National Center 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 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 part of how we define culture, 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 a much broader concept that is inherently tied to many of the linguistic concepts taught in second language classes. Through initiatives such as the national standards for foreign language learning, language educators in the United States have made it a priority to incorporate the study of culture into their classroom curricula.Cultural knowledge is one of the five goal areas of the national standards: 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 Language Education Project, 1996, p.27) This Digest disc usses the importance of incorporating culture into second language teaching and recommends strategies for infusing cultural issues in classroom instruction.

Teaching Culture Without Preconceptions
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 theculture 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, then they would either research or be informed about how the utensil is used. This could lead into related discussion about foods eatenin 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. Avariety 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.

The Importance of Culture in Language Teaching
Linguists and anthropologists have long recognized that the formsand 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....
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