Explicit foreign culture teaching in the English Foreign Language classroom for intercultural competence development

Essay 2014 17 Pages

Didactics - English - Pedagogy, Literature Studies


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical framework
2.1. Language and Culture
2.2. Foreign Culture Acquisition and Interculture Development
2.3. Communicative Competence and Intercultural Competence

3. Foreign culture teaching in the EFL classroom

4. Conclusion

5. References


This paper examines foreign culture acquisition and intercultural competence as sociolinguistic components addressed in the English as a Foreign Language classroom due to the relation between culture and language. Sociolinguistic studies explain that when acquiring a new language, one acquires not only new linguistic patterns, new words and new sounds but a new culture. In consequence, this study explores if explicit foreign culture teaching is necessary in the English as a Foreign Language classroom in order to help learners achieve effectiveness in intercultural communication. Main implications of this study suggest the necessity of teaching foreign culture because the classroom represents the central cultural core for English as a Foreign Language students. Also, interculture development significantly varies from one learner to another, which means there is a necessity of including teaching tools in the English as a Foreign Language classroom for enhancing cultural awareness of both cultures, native and foreign, with the aim of having students reach cultural integration.

1. Introduction

Language and culture have a vital and unbreakable bond. In other words, Sagredo explains that a great amount of cultural aspects from the past are shown through language (n.d.: 421). Likewise, Jiang claims that “some social scientists consider that without language, culture would not be possible. Language simultaneously reflects culture, and is influenced and shaped by it.” (2000: 328). In the same way, Brown, (1994) quoted in Jiang, describes this complementary relation by stating that “a language is a part of a culture and a culture is a part of a language; the two are intricately interwoven so that one cannot separate the two without losing the significance of either language or culture.” (2000: 328). In order to illustrate the connection between language and culture, some metaphors from different views have been claimed; from swimming and water to vehicle and traffic light, culture is perceived as the background of language, and language as the vehicle of culture.

Additionally, there is a metaphor that establishes language as the tip of the iceberg and culture as the underlying part of it (Jiang, 2000: 328). If this metaphor is analyzed, it can be said that each language has its own culture as bedrock, but in particular if this metaphor is expanded to the foreign language acquisition field, could it be assumed that when acquiring a foreign language, one would be also acquiring a foreign culture because the latter is unavoidably attached to the first one? If so, would it be relevant to explicitly teach a foreign culture in the foreign language classroom? Considering this, this study aims to investigate if in the English as a Foreign Language Teaching (EFLT) field it is important to focus great attention to explicit foreign culture teaching in order to help students become fully communicative competent.

In the hope that the specific topic of this paper is well supported, prior work addressing it will be reviewed. First, to emphasize the relation between language and culture and how the mastering of a language results in an inevitable achievement of a new culture and the development of a new identity, the research made by Pavlenko (2006) where behavioral changes while language shifting in a total of 1039 bilingual and multilingual people were studied is brought to attention. This research demonstrates through a descriptive and quantitative analysis that having control of two or more languages may generate different worlds and views of the self for speakers getting them feel changes when language shifting. Equally important, Eriksson (2009) made a research that lied on the theories of Ethnolinguistics, Culture Studies, Translation Studies and Culture Translation Studies in order to analyze the interaction between language, culture and identity by reviewing what happens to people’s identity when they are placed between two languages and, as a consequence, between two cultures. This exploration was made through a deep analysis of Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation and concluded that different perspectives are gained when acquiring new cultures through new languages and that way, people create awareness of both cultures: native and foreign.

Moreover, as an illustration of the importance of cultural awareness development when acquiring a foreign language, Jimenez (1996) explains in her paper, Proxemics in the ESL classroom, the relevance of the awareness of proxemics when teaching a second language by stating that proxemics is a main way of cultural specific non-verbal communication that helps people convey meaning and can also create communication problems if it is not mastered. She claims that teachers can raise proxemic awareness through a variety of alternatives such as readings, interviewing people from other cultures; watching videos, pictures and TV, role-playing and experiments to observe people’s reactions to different proxemic behaviors in order to help students become more effective during communication.

In addition, to explain how intercultural competence has been included in the foreign language teaching field, Trujillo (2001) explains in his paper how needs and objectives in the EFL classroom have changed through time. The author says that in less than 30 years, intercultural competence has gained more emphasis over linguistic and communicative competence development. Likewise, Lessard-Clouston (1997) addresses in his article the understanding of culture in the foreign language classroom by studying the development of culture teaching, the place where it stood at that time and some future implications for it. Through the article, the author claims that language teaching is always culture teaching, no matter if the second one is not even included in the syllabus. Finally, Lessard-Clouston concludes by saying that teachers should not be cautious to include culture in the foreign language classroom because foreign culture acquisition is inevitable.

Furthermore, Elmes (2013), explores the significance of cultural competence in the language learning field by reviewing Wardhaugh and Thanasoulas’s theories, where both connect language to the social environment where it is performed, and claiming that accepting there is a link between language and culture can help teachers develop language policies which could get students become socially competent when communicating in a foreign language. Correspondingly, Sinicrope, Norris and Watanabe (2007) made a research on intercultural competence to know how to understand and assess it in the foreign language classroom. After reviewing theories of intercultural competence and some prior work related to it, the authors concluded that intercultural competence is becoming more valuable in all language teaching environments, from study abroad programs to adult education; therefore, appropriate assessment of it is a key concept to get teachers help students develop intercultural competence. On the other hand, the authors point out that choosing one way to assess intercultural competence depends on the model of intercultural competence selected for the teaching program.

With this intention, this report will first introduce the theory where it is framed as well as main concepts needed for its comprehension. Then, it will present a supported answer for the question previously addressed and this will lead to the conclusion.

2. Theoretical framework

This study relies on the theory of Interculture; for this reason, first, the relation between language and culture will be established and supported. Then, the process of foreign culture acquisition will be explained in order to get to interculture and its developmental stages. Immediately, intercultural competence and its relevance for EFL learners will be mentioned; equally, some cultural aspects of EFL will be described with the intention of exemplifying this relevance. Later, the importance of explicit foreign culture teaching in the EFL classroom will be demonstrated through theoretical support. Finally, some aspects for culture acquisition and culture training EFL teachers must take into account will be presented.

2.1. Language and Culture

According to Díaz-Rico and Weed (2006) quoted in Spackman, culture can be defined as

3the explicit and implicit patterns for living, the dynamic system of commonly agreed-upon symbols and meanings, knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, behaviors, traditions, and/or habits that are shared and make up the total way of life of a people, as negotiated by individuals in the process of constructing a personal identity (n.d.: 2)

This process is developed through language; it is the reason why language and culture are two concepts that cannot be separated. In other words, Sapir quoted in De Gruyter, explains that “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.” (2008: 103).

In fact, all languages serve as a vehicle of culture because it is through it that beliefs, laws, customs, among others, are passed from one person to another inside a society. In addition, culture serves as a foundation for language; from the simplest idiomatic expression to non-verbal communication, culture is expressed and lived through language. To demonstrate the relation between language and culture, the following script about a constructed language will be analyzed: “Daenerys: She’s beautiful. … Ser Jorah, I don’t know how to say ‘thank you’ in Dothraki.



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Title: Explicit foreign culture teaching in the English Foreign Language classroom for intercultural competence development