How Teach Culture

Topics: Culture, Language acquisition, Linguistics Pages: 39 (13468 words) Published: June 24, 2013
The Importance Of Teaching Culture In The Foreign Language Classroom

1/14/10 11:34 PM

Radical Pedagogy (2001)
ISSN: 1524-6345

The Importance Of Teaching Culture In The Foreign Language Classroom Dimitrios Thanasoulas Member of TESOL Greece and the AILA Scientific Commission on Learner Autonomy I would like to express my gratitude to my supervisor, Dr. Doreen Du Boulay for her assistance and insightful ideas, and record my thanks to my friends Joshua Jackson and Eleni Vassilakis, who were unstinting in their support, reading drafts of the paper and making thought-provoking suggestions. Nevertheless, any shortcomings or problems regarding the present thesis remain my responsibility. Finally, I would like to thank my family, Theodoros and Eugenia Thanasoulas, for their emotional and financial support, and my sister Penny, who, though she does not know it, has helped me in many ways. “She’s The One.”

The thesis is concerned with the contribution and incorporation of the teaching of culture into the foreign language classroom. More specifically, some consideration will be given to the why and how of teaching culture. It will be demonstrated that teaching a foreign language is not tantamount to giving a homily on syntactic structures or learning new vocabulary and expressions, but mainly incorporates, or should incorporate, some cultural elements, which are intertwined with language itself. Furthermore, an attempt will be made to incorporate culture into the classroom by means of considering some techniques and methods currently used. The main premise of the paper is that effective communication is more than a matter of language proficiency and that, apart from enhancing and enriching communicative competence, cultural competence can also lead to empathy and respect toward different cultures as well as promote objectivity and cultural perspicacity.

Foreign language learning is comprised of several components, including grammatical competence, communicative competence, language proficiency, as well as a change in attitudes towards one’s own or another culture. For scholars and laymen alike, cultural Page 1 of 25

The Importance Of Teaching Culture In The Foreign Language Classroom

1/14/10 11:34 PM

competence, i.e., the knowledge of the conventions, customs, beliefs, and systems of meaning of another country, is indisputably an integral part of foreign language learning, and many teachers have seen it as their goal to incorporate the teaching of culture into the foreign language curriculum. It could be maintained that the notion of communicative competence, which, in the past decade or so, has blazed a trail, so to speak, in foreign language teaching, emphasising the role of context and the circumstances under which language can be used accurately and appropriately, ‘fall[s] short of the mark when it comes to actually equipping students with the cognitive skills they need in a second-culture environment’ (Straub, 1999: 2). In other words, since the wider context of language, that is, society and culture, has been reduced to a variable elusive of any definition—as many teachers and students incessantly talk about it without knowing what its exact meaning is—it stands to reason that the term communicative competence should become nothing more than an empty and meretricious word, resorted to if for no other reason than to make an “educational point.” In reality, what most teachers and students seem to lose sight of is the fact that ‘knowledge of the grammatical system of a language [grammatical competence] has to be complemented by understanding (sic) of culture-specific meanings [communicative or rather cultural competence]’ (Byram, Morgan et al., 1994: 4). Of course, we are long past an era when first language acquisition and second or foreign language learning were cast in a “behaviouristic...
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