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View Full Version : Teaching culture - is it important? why or why not? -your opinion



boczenka
28-Jul-2005, 14:17
Hello!
I've been writing a diploma thesis on teaching culture and its importance in teaching English. I'd like to know your opinion on this.
Do you think it's necessary to teach culture elements, to talk about culture, to teach common language or just the academic, 'RP' English? Do you consider talking about English culture to learners significant? Do you teach culture? If yes, how? What do you use to teach it, what techniques? Do you prepare a special lesson or put some culture elements to each lesson?
Thanks in advance

Tdol
28-Jul-2005, 23:53
It depends very much on the learners and what they might need the English for. A knowledge of the London undergorund system or Shakespeare won't help much if you're trying to sell mobile phones in Brazil. If you need English for international business, then the culture is of little interest, IMO. ;-)

shane
30-Jul-2005, 08:42
I usually teach cultural difference in the language. An example is the use of 'please' and 'thank you'. In Chinese, please and thank you are not used very often, but in English, they are very important. I think that this aspect of culture is well worth teaching.

Regarding other aspects, I sometimes do it when I have classes of kids, as they like to be wowed by things that are completely different to what they are used to. I don't do it all the time though.

boczenka
31-Jul-2005, 22:21
Hi :) Thanks for your opinions tdol and shane :-) Can you tell me how much culture do you teach? In what way? Do you just tell the learners that there is something like Boxing Day in UK or Thanksgiving ? Do you give them any exercises, texts to read? Is it common in your countries to teach culture elements of the country the language you teach? Is it popular among teachers to teach culture? I'm asking as very few teachers, as far as I've come across, talk about it. Sometimes it happens that they say: "Culture? What? What's that? How should I know what to do? I wasn't taught at my college anything about the culture so I can't tell them anything" or something like that: "I don't have time during the lesson to talk about such a thing" How does it look like in the place you teach? What's the teachers' opinion on this?

SweetMommaSue
08-Aug-2005, 13:31
Hi :) Thanks for your opinions tdol and shane :-) Can you tell me how much culture do you teach? In what way? Do you just tell the learners that there is something like Boxing Day in UK or Thanksgiving ? Do you give them any exercises, texts to read? Is it common in your countries to teach culture elements of the country the language you teach? Is it popular among teachers to teach culture? I'm asking as very few teachers, as far as I've come across, talk about it. Sometimes it happens that they say: "Culture? What? What's that? How should I know what to do? I wasn't taught at my college anything about the culture so I can't tell them anything" or something like that: "I don't have time during the lesson to talk about such a thing" How does it look like in the place you teach? What's the teachers' opinion on this?

Hello boczenka :-) ,

As far as "how much" culture does one teach, I think it depends on your lesson plans. How often per week do you meet and how long is your class time? That also will play a role in how you present culture to your students. For instance, we have a ministry through our church whereby we teach free English as a Second Language classes once a week for 1 1/2 hours. Usually, the week or lesson before a certain holiday would happen, we would teach about that particular holiday, and actually build the whole lesson around it. So, we would incorporate pictures, texts (appropriate to their level), sometimes even a game or song or two into the lesson plan. It makes for an interesting time! We even get the students to give examples from their own countries: whether or not they celebrate the same holidays and how. Holidays, therefore, are a learning situation for the students and teachers alike!

There are also other aspects of culture which are important for our students to understand. Such as, if our students are construction workers or computer personnel or stay at home mothers, they each need to understand what mannerisms are acceptable here in the States and how to go about getting help in various situations. Culture is an inherent part of what we teach because a country's culture is what affects its speech.

It is also useful for teachers to understand the cultures from where their students come. For instance, with my Central and South American students, I need to be a bit more formal in the classroom. I am the "teacher" and in their countries, the teachers are formal with their students. If I come across as friendly, they become uncomfortable. They always maintain a very respectful tone and attitude-never casual (this has been my limited experience thus far. amd quite consistent). However, when I see them out in town and greet them, they are more social with me (though still formal).

I hope this is of some service to you. :-)

Smiles!
Sweet Momma Sue :-D

gwynedd_owen
16-Aug-2005, 09:50
Hi,

Besides teaching culture so as to ensure our learners know what to say or do at the right time (Hyme's communicative competence), teaching a foreign culture to our learners is also one way to keep them motivated in class. If we refer to Krashen's input theory, learning happens best when learners are exposed not just to what they already know but also to additional information related to what they already know. For example, if the topic of the day in a classroom in the US is about how to greet someone, learners could also be exposed to how greetings are done in Japan or India. This not only increases their knowledge but also rouses the learners interest.

best regards!

grammar.gal
13-Sep-2005, 06:10
Teaching culture is very important! It is important to respect the students' individual cultural backgrounds, and to understand how that shapes their language learning. It is also important to teach the culture of their English speaking environment. It would be irrelevant to teach a student living in North Carolina about life in Australia, but it is vital for that student to understand social norms that influence verbal and non-verbal communication.

silversea
13-Sep-2005, 10:10
well, I have read very insightful ideas that help shape the task of teaching culture in the target language 8-) . I do agree with Owen about communicative competence that includes this feature. Maybe, we are all well aware of the importance of teaching culture and now wondering how we can do that. IMO, cultural instruction should be implemented together with the teaching of lingustic knowledge and training of languge skills or rather cultural instruction should be intergrated into teaching the target language to ensure the appropriateness as well as the use of that language in intercultural communication. For example, when we introduce greetings in English, it is good time to say in what contexts they are used in English-speaking countries so that students know how to use them properly.
Yet, once again, we have to think of our goal of teaching that language first.
What do our students NEED to learn? :up:
Best,

Casiopea
13-Sep-2005, 14:55
Hi, boczenka. :hi:

Do you think it's necessary to teach culture elements, to talk about culture, to teach common language or just the academic, 'RP' English?
Even if one says they don't teach culture or don't know how to teach culture or don't know what culture means exactly, they're teaching culture. Language houses its culture, which is different from Culture; e.g., holidays, and it may not be all that visible to the language provider, but it is visible to the learner. Consider yourself as the learner, here: You're learning a language, say, Japanese, and you're taught that subject pronouns aren't necessary; in fact, half your semester is spent trying to figure out who said what to whom because there are no subject markers in the text. What does that say about how the language reflects its culture in its grammar and usage? Cultural note, directing attention to oneself is considered forward and impolite. Is that tied to the grammar? Is that why subject pronouns are unncessary? Maybe, maybe not. The point being, whoever says they don't teach culture does, albeit indirectly.


Do you consider talking about English culture to learners significant?Again, it depends on how you define culture. If, as other posters have mentioned, it's related to usage, then yes, it's significant. If it's related to e.g., holidays, well, it depends on the learner. Young learners would be thrilled to tears to learn about Culture, whereas older learners may see learning it as a waste of their academic time and money; moreover, they may feel they can "do that" on their "own time". Other learners, no matter their age, will differ according to their needs. "Needs" is a huge factor in any teachers' decision making process on what to teach;i.e., what is the purpose of this course? Some learners, especially in Japan, want to learn Culture more so than Grammar because they crave the new experience: to "understand" non-Japanese ways of doing things, whereas other learners, Japanese or not, need to pass those dreaded examinations, so they prefer to learn Grammar, which isn't to say they choose to learn Grammar. Trust me, they'd be more than happy to ditch the dictionaries and learn how language is actually used by its speakers. But, what academic institute is going to trade traditional methods for what tends to be considered edutainment? Sure, conversation courses are taught at universities all over the world, and focus is placed on Culture, but in today's academic stream it's terms like, Pop Culture and Global Issues that are making their way into the mainstream. So, learners do in fact want the bigger picture, but in the form of small-cap culture, a form that not only provides the learner with a linguistic environment to be able to pick up on the patterns housed in the language, but also the opportunity to discuss it and find out how it works. Is that possible in, say, elementary school? Yes, but delivery is everything. A functional language approach, which is the mainstay of ESL programs, does it nicely.


Do you teach culture? If yes, how? What do you use to teach it, what techniques? Do you prepare a special lesson or put some culture elements to each lesson?My lessons are housed with culture every day - it's part of the language; how does one teach 'conversation' without drawing on the nuances in the language? e.g., register, tone, usage, and the BIGGY, meaning. 4 times a year, I teach Culture classes;e.g., holidays, and about Canada - it's part of my job. :oops: Topics range from, North American elementary schools (show and tell, guess the answer) to family structure (terms, relationships, roles; pictures, compare 'n constrast activities, and discussion), lifestyle (houses, jobs, hobbies, pets, friends; find the person who "fits" this picture - it teaches children that non-Japanese aren't really all that different from Japanese), and of course, food, because who doesn't like to talk about food? :lol:

Good luck on your paper. Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts. If you're ever in the neighbourhood . . . 8-)

boczenka
11-Nov-2005, 16:47
Hi everybody :hi:

Thanks for your replies. I've just started writing my thesis and I find your opinions very interesting and useful. If you don't mind I will cite your opinions in my thesis.
Maybe, you know any good books worth reading on culture teaching? I've got several already but it'd be great if you gave me some more ;) Don't think I'm too lazy to search for but sometimes it's easy to miss a really good one while looking for in the library.

Thank you very much for all your help!!! :cheers:

Tdol
12-Nov-2005, 09:35
This looks promising: http://www.ohiou.edu/esl/elective/culture.html

boczenka
12-Nov-2005, 14:18
tdol, thanks for a very good link ;-) It is really useful. Thanks again :-D

Kas55
13-Nov-2005, 21:56
If you are teaching English as a Second Language in an English speaking country, then teaching your learners their new culture is very important. If learners are to fit in and become productive members of their new society, they must understand the cultural mores of the place.

I teach in a very multi- cultural high school in a Toronto suburb, and teaching our students their new culture is paramount to their learning experience. They need to know how things are done - from the most mundane - to understand how to function in a place so very different from the one they have come from.

Now, I do not know which English culture you would teach if you are teaching English in your own country, as culture varies greatly from England to the US to Australia to South Africa, to give a few examples. Is there even a common English culture to really speak of?

meomuopcon
14-Nov-2005, 00:03
In my opinion, teaching culture is also as important as teaching English. The leaner should be supplied the knowledge of culture of the language they study. why?. Because for each sentence the native speakers speak, they are in a certain situation. So the learner will not understand why the foreigners say so and why it is completely different from their culture.
for example:
in English, if you make an unintended touch, you say sorry
but in Viet Name, people usually smile and say nothing

Tdol
14-Nov-2005, 07:00
Is there even a common English culture to really speak of?

There are certainly enough differences to raise the question. ;-)

Kas55
14-Nov-2005, 18:25
I agree about the Vietnamese example, but there are so many English cultures around the world. What might be acceptable in say, Britain, might not be in say, New Zealand. If you decide on British culture, then you will have to teach your students that one and hope that it will serve them well wherever they may travel or live. Also, remember that humour is very different in each English -speaking country too.

meomuopcon
16-Nov-2005, 02:54
i agree there are many aspects of British cultures. But not most of them are quite different from other countries' culture.
for example: in English: die= pass away. in My country, people also use the same word.
Moreover, Student can induce some,
We can't teach all culture but we can teach what is highlight and connected to our lessons.

Kas55
19-Nov-2005, 21:35
You are quite right. The basics of English culture are probably all the same, but if you would go to Australia, for example, you would find words and expressions being used quite differently from those in Canada.

Just to give you an idea - do you know what a 'doona' is? Well, in Australia, it's a duvet and a 'dunnie' is a toilet. The bottom line is, that your students must be made aware of the fact that colloquial expressions and slang in each English speaking country can be very different, and that even the accents can pose a problem in understanding.

I am a native English speaker and I have lived in a few English- speaking countries in my life, and I can tell you that sometimes I barely understood a word of telephone conversation in Australia!!:-)

meomuopcon
20-Nov-2005, 13:35
I understand what you are thinking of. but you see, you can't teach completely the British culture , in general, or any kind of culture. the students can get experience outside the class. As i said, we should teach what is connected to our lessons
in fact, the culture is once experienced by students, they behave or speak in right situations.
except for special classes open for culture purpose, for example, people want to immigrant to a country

Kas55
24-Nov-2005, 22:31
I understand where you are coming from, but I still do not think you can ever separate teaching language from culture. They should always be taught interactively if your students are to be truly proficient and comfortable in the target language. Naturally, they will only pick up the culture of a country when they are living there, but you still need to teach customs etc in the ESL classroom. Knowing just the grammar and how to speak the language will not suffice once they find themselves in an English - speaking country for any length of time. Sure, they may know how to ask directions, even how to order in a restaurant or understand a doctor, but will they know which piece of cutlery to use, how to greet a woman, how to conduct themselves in social business gatherings etc etc?

When I learned French, I also learned French culture, and I can't even begin to tell you what a help that was.

Lucinea
27-Nov-2005, 18:10
Hi

I am a teacher of English in Brazil,and I think it is important to teach culture because the students will know about other people and they will learn new way of life.
A good way to introduce them, culture in general is talk about Olimpics Game,because like we know it is a competion that envolve many countries in the world. So students will be curious about cultures in other contries.

Joe Bustiono
06-Dec-2006, 03:23
Teaching culture is very important because it contains of worthy morale values of life. People can learn how to interact with others, to behave properly in a new society, to appreciate and understand others' culture and the way of life by knowing the culture. Besides, by learning the culture, people also will learn the language, the people, the politics, and so on. If the young generation are rich of knowledge about their own, they will appreciate and keep the culture alive, however, otherwise, the culture will die, and it will losen one history of one culture and its people. In addition, by learning culture, the young will behave properly.
I also want to say, in absorbing foreign culture, the one needs to filter it, take the good one and leaves the bad one.

Joe Bustiono

Daizee
22-Dec-2006, 22:16
In my experience, teaching culture is exceedingly important! It teaches students about different ways of life and motivates them. I also find that the language becomes more of a reality when students realise that there is actually some use for it outside of the classroom. :-o

Tide
09-Feb-2007, 09:44
Hi everybody
I read your opinions and enjoied them...
As far as I have understood,Learning a forein language is learning a new culture,new ways of life... .In official text books written for teaching a language wich are sent to other countries...you can say exportung a language,a culture... People try to export their polite and acceptable words than slangs..etc.So the learners get a new culture and it's components

Tide
10-Feb-2007, 11:41
I think The common words people make use of during daily life are important to teach .for example the way people interact in an airport,hotel,school,...etc.
I meen the official English used in tv programs of your country,radio,text books...whatever theyneed to comunicate in their society.
regards
PS this comment is for the friend who teaches in an English speaking country.

Westley Mark
10-Feb-2007, 16:39
Culture is an important aspect of a student's learning. I find it especially useful when working with upper-intermediate and advanced students, whom may be slightly patronised by the examples of 'real' interaction found in many text books (this is particulary accute in the case of advanced business English students).

Combing cultural issues with the use of idiomatic expressions can be really helpful. Also, I agree with the previous posting that, yes, the cultural aspect certainly does make the language seem more relevant and of practical use outside of the classroom.