Language And Culture

What IS Culture And Why Should IT BE Taught?

In this section, we will briefly examine the relationship between language and culture and see why the teaching of culture should constitute an integral part of the English language curriculum. To begin with, language is a social institution, both shaping and shaped by society at large, or in particular the ‘cultural niches’ (Eleanor Armour-Thomas & Sharon-ann Gopaul-McNicol, 1998) in which it plays an important role. Thus, if our premise is that language is, or should be, understood as cultural practice, then ineluctably we must also grapple with the notion of culture in relation to language. Language is not an ‘autonomous construct’ (Fairclough, 1989: vi) but social practice both creating and created by ‘the structures and forces of [the] social institutions within which we live and function’ (ibid.). Certainly, language cannot exist in a vacuum; one could make so bold as to maintain that there is a kind of “transfusion” at work between language and culture. Amongst those who have dilated upon the affinity between language and culture, it is Duranti who succinctly encapsulates how these two interpenetrate:

  • to be part of a culture means to share the propositional knowledge and the rules of inference necessary to understand whether certain propositions are true (given certain premises). To the propositional knowledge, one might add the procedural knowledge to carry out tasks such as cooking, weaving, farming, fishing, giving a formal speech, answering the phone, asking for a favor, writing a letter for a job application (Duranti, 1997: 28-29).

Clearly, everyday language is “tinged” with cultural bits and pieces—a fact most people seem to ignore. By the very act of talking, we assume social and cultural roles, which are so deeply entrenched in our thought processes as to go unnoticed. Interestingly, ‘culture defines not only what its members should think or learn but also what they should ignore or treat as irrelevant’ (Eleanor Armour-Thomas & Sharon-ann Gopaul-McNicol, 1998: 56). That language has a setting, in that the people who speak it belong to a race or races and are incumbents of particular cultural roles, is blatantly obvious. ‘Language does not exist apart from culture, that is, from the socially inherited assemblage of practices and beliefs that determines the texture of our lives’ (Sapir, 1970: 207). In a sense, it is ‘a key to the cultural past of a society’ (Salzmann, 1998: 41), ‘a guide to “social reality”’ (Sapir, 1929: 209, cited in Salzmann, 1998: 41).

Studying culture gives students a reason to study the target language as well as rendering the study of L2 meaningful (Stainer, 1971).

• From the perspective of learners, one of the major problems in language teaching is to conceive of the native speakers of target language as real person. Although grammar books gives so called genuine examples from real life, without background knowledge those real situations may be considered fictive by the learners. In addition providing access into cultural aspect of language, learning culture would help learners relate the abstract sounds and forms of a language to real people and places (Chastain, 1971).

• The affect of motivation in the study of L2 has been proved by experts like Gardner and Lambert (1959, 1965, 1972). In achieving high motivation, culture classes does have a great role because learners like culturally based activities such as singing, dancing, role playing, doing research on countries and peoples, etc. The study of culture increases learners’ not only curiosity about and interest in target countries but also their motivation. For example, when some professors introduced the cultures of the L2s they taught, the learners’ interests in those classes increased a lot and the classes based on culture became to be preferred more highly than traditional classes. In an age of post-modernism, in an age of tolerance towards different ideologies, religions, sub-cultures, we need to understand not only the other culture but also our own culture. Most people espouse ethnocentric views due to being culture bound, which leads to major problems when they confront a different culture.

Being culture bound, people tend to reject or ignore the new culture. As if it is possible to make a hierarchy of cultures they begin to talk about the supremacy of their culture. This is because they have difficulty understanding or accepting people with points of view based on other views of the world. This point is also highlighted by Kramsch (2001)

People who identify themselves as members of a social group (family, neighborhood, professional or ethnic affiliation, nation) acquire common ways of viewing the world through their interactions with other members of the same group. These views are reinforced through institutions like the family, the school, the workplace, the church, the government, and other sites of socialization through their lives. Common attitudes, beliefs and values are reflected in the way members of the group use language-for example, what they choose to say or not to say and how they say it (p.6).

• Besides these benefits, studying culture gives learners a liking for the native speakers of the target language. Studying culture also plays a useful role in general education; studying culture, we could also learn about the geography, history, etc. of the target culture (Cooke, 1970).

took it from CULTURE IN LANGUAGE LEARNING AND TEACHING Bilal Genc and Erdogan Bada