Culture-Related Problems

Teaching English culture is essential for an English teacher, grammar, vocabulary or literature being irrelevant without cultural hints. However, giving students a cultural motivation, arousing their interest and making lessons enjoyable can be quite a challenge.

On the other hand, although the teachers may have to introduce historical, geographical, political information, which is boring and difficult to memorise, they have on their side the modern technology, with computers, witheboards, video projectors, cd players, smartphones, tablets and other modern devices which help them present traditional information in modern ways.

Мultimеdia hеlp tеaсhеrs makе the lesson visual (еasy fоr visual lеarnеrs). Α piсturе is a story and it hеlps studеnts imprоvе thеir thinking and оbsеrvatiоn skills, they develop their imagination, their speaking abilities, they pay attention to details and actively take part in conversations. Watching vidеоs with оr withоut subtitlеs improves visual lеarning. Playing thе audiо hеlps auditоry lеarnеrs. Listеning and thеn seeing thе sсript, or watching the script while listening, is a соmbinatiоn that hеlps both visual and auditоry lеarners.

Вy using different types оf mеdia in thе сlassrооm wе сan develop our studеnts’ undеrstanding and improve their critical thinking. Media in class are a real challenge, the teacher’s main aim being to use different media through different technologies, giving the students creative and practical ideas. They allow teachers to address the students’ needs and interests. They also give students the chance to use a foreign language in activities which involve newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, films, books or the internet and tasks which develop all the four skills. They are a source of entertainment for students, encouraging them to read in a foreign language, both in class and individually, making them confident, motivated and able to learn on their own. Media inform, amuse, annoy, amaze, entertain, very rarely leaving someone indifferent.

Sometimes students’ reluctance in learning culture and civilization may be triggered by their teachers’ unfriendly attitude towards such elements. Sometimes it is the teachers who do not feel at ease with such lessons and prefer to use just the coursebook instead of bringing students new information from alternative sources. Common reasons claimed by teachers for not including cultural issues in EFL are:  a lack of material in the coursebooks, preoccupation with the exams, or a lack of appropriate training and experience abroad.

Aside from these factors preventing teachers from including culture-related activities in their classes, they also mention a lack of confidence to talk about different topics, a lack of awareness of possible differences in, for example, appropriate choices for conversation topics and non-verbal communication.  With beginners or pre-intermediate groups it may be too early to talk about cultural issues, with students whose level of English is poor there is big disappointment seeing that the students only want things that are of immediate use, they are not interested in cultural aspects, they pay no attention to the news, they do not read anything except for some magazines, or the majority of them come from families where there is very little stimulus.

There are many obstacles in the way of teaching culture-related activities. Aside from a lack of focus in some of the textbooks, when dealing with nonverbal communication and personal space the teachers may not be certain how to do it because they think students at this age would laugh at them if they wanted to talk about such issues. They sometimes even wonder if teaching these aspects is the task of the English teacher.

Another obvious obstacle to including culture-related activities is some of the teachers’ interest in exams which are, to a large extent, focusing on the students’ accurate use of the foreign language. As long as it is only linguistic competence that is assessed at final examinations in secondary schools and at language exams in general, it is unrealistic to expect teachers to incorporate the development of intercultural competence into their teaching in a systematic manner. Teaching culture is a time-consuming process and the teachers need time for relevant issues, grammar and vocabulary to make sure that their students will be well-prepared for examinations.  Moreover, some teachers neglect teaching culture because it deals with students’ attitudes towards „somewhat threatening, unclear, and unquantifiable area” (Galloway, 1985).

In addition, there are teachers who express uncertainty about their own knowledge and skills regarding language and culture teaching. One reason seems to be a general lack of first-hand experience in other cultures. ”Many language teachers are afraid to teach culture because they do not have enough knowledge about it.” (Hadley, 1993) Furthermore, some of the teachers blame teacher education programmes for not incorporating the methodology of developing intercultural competence in their curricula, claiming they have never been taught how to deal with these issues and what methods to use when intercultural communicative competence should be one of the most important aims of second language acquisition instead of mere linguistic competence.

Cynically speaking, it could be said that in addition to the cultural content of their coursebook, which is often limited, most of the students can perhaps read a passage by Oscar Wilde, listen to a pop song once or twice a year and learn about the English Christmas pudding every December. This definitely does not broaden their cultural horizon too much, and it surely does not help them to better communicate with people with a different culture, with different values, beliefs and customs.

However, even short workshops or training courses can make teachers aware of the importance of various culture-related activities and can be more beneficial than a longer stay abroad. Exchange programmes are not available for all language teachers, being impossible to train all of them in the country whose language they teach. A change of attitude seems more realistic and there are probably more benefits in reconsidering the role of culture-related activities in language teaching and changing language teacher education programmes than waiting for courses abroad.

References:
Galloway, V. (1985). A design for the improvement of the teaching of culture in foreign language classrooms. ACTFL Project Proposal. Yonkers, NY: USA
Hadely, O. A. (1993). Teaching language in context. New York: Heinle and Heinle
Hadely, O. A. (2001). Teaching Language in Context, (3rd ed,) Boston: Heinle & Heinle
Scrivener, Jim. Learning Teaching. Oxford: Macmillan, 2005.

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