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Awareness Of Culture And Language Teaching Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 1395 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This project aims to outline the main principles of cultural awareness like also its potential advantages and disadvantages in the language teaching. There are many definitions of culture, because culture means different things to different people. The well known definitions include one made by Hofstede, who said that “culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another,” like also stated by Wederspahn, “culture is the set of shared assumptions, values and beliefs of a group of people by which they organize their common life.”

Literature Review and Principles of Culture Awareness

This project will focus on Cultural Awareness, although it is worth mentioning that Language Awareness is used for language teaching as well. In fact, according to Byram (1989), Cultural Awareness and Language Awareness have in common a dual purpose which aims at supporting language learning and extending general understanding of the nature of culture. Cultural and Language Awareness are both connected with specific and general learning. According to Hymes, language plays an important role in the social life of the community and lack of cultural understanding among members of some communities leads to social inequality that has been recognized. In order to communicate well with the second language speakers, students need to establish a good connection with the target language and its culture.

Cultural Awareness helps learners broaden the mind, increase tolerance and achieve cultural empathy and sensitivity. According to Tomalin and Stempleski (1993), Cultural Awareness contains three qualities, such as “awareness of one’s own culturally-induced behaviour, awareness of the culturally-induced behaviour of others, and ability to explain one’s own cultural standpoint.”

Culture takes a crucial part in teaching and learning foreign language. Every culture has its own cultural norms, for instance, when speaking to somebody the person can use formal or informal styles which differ from one culture to another. Some of the norms might be completely different, such as in many countries when you nod it means “yes” and while you shake your head it means “no” while Bulgarians do it the opposite way. It is very important that the learner while learning a foreign language needs to become aware of such norms within the target culture in order to avoid the communication problems.

Cultural awareness teaching should involve both points of view, from the learner’s point of view, like also from the point of view of the other culture. It should allow learners to gain a perspective through comparison which is neither entirely one nor the other.(Byram, 1989).

According to Hinkel(1999), developing cultural awareness means being aware of members of another cultural group. Factors, such as their behaviour, expectations, values, beliefs and perspectives should have been taken into account. “Help and encouragement from teachers is needed in order to realize how to learn about cultures. In order to achieve it learning skills might also include learning how to learn from one to another, especially in multicultural groups” (Nelson, 1995).

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Teaching a language can be seen as imposing elements of another culture into the student’s own “life space”. For example, in order to learn Polish, students need to develop a Polish identity, in other words they need to learn to think Polish and although only partially and temporarily become a bit like Polish person. As cited in Dörnyei(2001) , according to Douglas (1989) every person is part of a culture and everyone uses a language to express that culture, in order to operate within that tradition. Therefore, in order to carry on some sort of communication with people who speak or write a target language, the person needs to understand the culture out of which the language emerges.

According to Sapir (1920), a language and a culture of its speakers cannot be analyzed in isolation. Barth(1969) as cited in Byram( 1989)stated that treating cultures as if they were isolated from each other is to miss a significant dimension. Kramch(1993) stated that second language learners become learners of the second culture because a language cannot be learned without an understanding of the cultural context in which it is used. These statements support the situations in which students for some reasons do not like the second language community and refuse to incorporate elements of their culture into their own behavioural repertoire. For instance, when some Polish people were forced to learn Russian in the time of communism and now they even cannot recall the basic sentences. It leads to conclusion, that language belongs to a person’s whole social being :it is part of one’s identity and it is used to convey this identity to other people. “The learning of a second language involves apart from learning grammar and vocabulary the adoption of new social and cultural behaviours and ways of being , and has an important impact on the social nature of the learner” ( Williams, ( 1994) as cited in Dörnyei, (2001).

On the other hand, Byram and Morgan (1994) claimed that learners cannot easily forget their own culture and step into another, because their culture is part of their identities and created them as social beings. „Learners are committed to their culture and to deny any part of it is to deny something within their own being”.

Culture Awareness in published materials

There exist different criteria for textbook evaluation. One of the lists of criteria belongs to Byram(1993), which focuses on the cultural context, such as social identity and social groups. Other involve social interaction and national history; social interaction; belief and behaviour; social and political institutions; socialization and the life cycle, stereotypes and national identity. Byram(1989) cites Huhn’s criteria (1978) for evaluating the treatment of cultural content of textbooks. These criteria involve avoiding stereotypes by raising awareness like also presenting a realistic picture; presenting phenomena in context rather than as isolated facts. Unfortunately, very few published materials include these criteria.

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Advantages and disadvantages of Culture Awareness in language teaching

Developing Cultural Awareness in English language classes in not native countries of English may be influenced by a number of constraints, such as the teacher’s cultural knowledge. The second language learners will depend on teacher’s own cultural knowledge as the main source of learning about the target culture. The availability of native English speakers, and the system of education in a particular country could be other constraints.

On the other hand, students are now able to get access to many cultural resources and explore the target culture themselves. Native English speakers are also available in many countries to come and teach English. There should have been made some changes to the educational system, for example, in Poland there is a strong emphasis on examinations, which should be changed so people would be more interested in gaining new experiences by speaking another language and perhaps not so much obsessed with the assessment of their language proficiency.

Conclusion and Suggestions for further research

Development of people’s cultural awareness leads them to more critical thinking. Teachers can try to raise cross-cultural awareness by focusing on cross-cultural similarities and not just differences. Supplementing the course book with authentic materials and encouraging learners to discover interesting information about the countries where the second language is spoken on the Internet and to tell them to prepare the presentation might be a great idea as well. In the future research the assessment of students’ acquisition of cultural knowledge could be interesting. Potential ways of assessment may include interviews in other to measure the extent of effect of intercultural language learning on their second language learning.


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