Culture as the Fifth Skill

The concept of culture refers to a group’s shared beliefs, customs, and behavior. A school’ s culture includes the obvious elements of schedules, curriculum, demographics, and policies, as well as the social interactions that occur within those structures and give a school its look and feel as “friendly,” “elite,” “competitive,” “inclusive,” and so on.

Allen and Valette (1977:325) define culture in two different ways: Culture with a big „C”: it is the sum total of a people’s achievements and contributions to civilization: art, music, literature, architecture, technology, scientific discoveries, and philosophy.

Culture with a small „c”: the behavioral patterns of lifestyles of the people: when and what they eat, how they make a living, the way they organize their society, the attitudes they express toward friends and members of their families, how they act in different situations, which expressions they use to show approval and disapproval, the traditions they must observe, and so on.

Culture should be present in schools:

  • To help students develop an understanding of the fact that all people exhibit culturally-conditioned behaviors.
  • To help students 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.
  • To help students become more aware of conventional behavior in common situations in the target culture.
  • To help students increase their awareness of the cultural connotations of words and phrases in the target language.
  • To help students develop the ability to evaluate and refine generalizations about the target culture, in terms of supporting evidence.
  • To help students develop the necessary skills to locate and organize information about the target culture.
  • To stimulate students’ intellectual curiosity about the target culture, and to encourage empathy towards its people.
  • To develop students’ understanding of their own culture because learning about a culture requires beforehand consideration of students’ own culture in relation to another.
  • To increase students’ reading comprehension and fluency in reading because cultural elements implicitly or explicitly stated in the reading selection can pose serious problems to students.
  • To cultivate a degree of intellectual objectivity essential in cross-cultural analyses.

Previously, „cultural awareness” has often been seen as something for advanced learners, an extension exercise that can be „tacked on” to an ordinary lesson. This is partly due to the frequent error of assuming that students with a low level of English also have a low intellect generally, or that it is impossible to explain intellectual concepts in level one English. Intercultural awareness, as a fundamental feature of language and an integral part of language learning, is important at all levels.

Every word, every expression we use has a cultural dimension. Since speakers of different languages have different perceptions of reality (according to their culture), no two languages show a one-to-one correspondence between vocabulary items or grammatical structures. Thus, any separation between cultural knowledge and linguistic knowledge breaks down communication and results in linguistic problems and social gaffes.

As language and culture are intertwined, the materials provided in language classes should engage students in critical appreciation of culture, namely the underlying cultural assumptions are not merely accepted or reinforced but are also questioned and evaluated. Therefore, a lot of techniques have been tested in the literature of teaching culture in order to prove their effectiveness:

  • Cultural Islands
  • Culture Mini-Dramas
  • Audio–Motor Units
  • Media/Visuals
  • Celebrating Festivals
  • Cultural Consciousness-Raising
  • Independent Activity Sheets
  • Cultural Artfacts/Artifact Study
  • Cultural Scavenger Hunt
  • Getting to Know your Classmates
  • Deriving Cultural Connotations
  • Hypothesis Refinement
  • Decreasing Stereotypic Perceptions
  • Using Proverbs in Teaching Cultural Understanding
  • Humor as a Component of Culture: Exploring Cross-Cultural Differences

References:
1. Allen, E. & R. Valette. (1977). Classroom Techniques: Foreign Languages and English as a Second Language. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
2. Nada AbiSamra, “Strategies & Techniques for Teaching Culture”. Online available at the web site nadabs.tripod.com/culture.
3. Chris Rose. ”Intercultural learning 1”. Online available at the web site www.teachingenglish.org.uk, British Council.GVH  N ,
4. Dimitrios Thanasoulas. “The Importance of Teaching Culture in the Foreign Language Classroom”. Online available at the web site www.google.com.
5. Spinelli, E. & H.J. Siskin, (1992). „Selecting, Presenting and Practicing Vocabulary in a Culturally Authentic Context”. Foreign Language Annals, Vol.25, No.4, PP.305-314.

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