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Numer: 6018
Dział: Języki obce

Ways of integrating language and culture in the foreign language classroom

Language is an integrated element of culture. They both constantly influence on each other and cannot exist separately. Therefore teaching a foreign language means teaching also the culture of FL native speakers and their countries. Unfortunately, this issue is very often neglected by EFL teachers who find it less useful than other elements e.g. grammar or speaking, so they do not teach it at all or limit it to few hours a year. Those ones cannot be called reflective teachers at all. There are numerous reasons for introducing EFL culture into course syllabus. Learners develop their intercultural awareness which teaches them tolerance – the necessary trait of broad-minded man living in the globalized world. Moreover it allows them better understand the language, especially that of media. It can also help to reduce a culture shock which may be experience by them during foreign travels or even working and living abroad.
There are many ways of teaching culture in the foreign language classroom. It can be reasonable to distinguish approaches and techniques of developing cultural awareness. If it comes to recently famed comparative approach, Edington (2000: xii, Mountford – Wadham-Smith 2000:135) writes that a teacher has two ways; they can focus on showing differences between students’ own culture (C1) and the culture of target language-speaking countries (C2). The negative results of choosing this approach are that the students will have the feeling that “there is little in C2 to which they can relate” (Edington 2000: xii, Mountford – Wadham-Smith 2000:135). Therefore, learners are bound to marginalize C2 seeing only differences and they cannot be able to develop awareness or ways of thinking already known to them. Yet, it seems more reasonable to concentrate on similarities between C1 and C2. If a teacher chooses topics that are common to both cultures, learners may find C2 more accessible. However, “there may be little impetus to rethink schemata, because students’ own may seem sufficiently applicable to cope with the phenomena concerned” (Edington 2000: xii, Mountford – Wadham-Smith 2000:135). That is why the themes of lessons should be chosen very carefully. They cannot be only interested but, first of all should be cross-cultural. Edginton (2000: xii, Mountford – Wadham-Smith 2000:135) emphasises the subtleties of teaching C2 which may result even is a few threats. For instance, C2 may be idealised at he expense of C2. Foreign countries may be sometimes perceived as a “promised land”, or on the other hand their internal problems may be presented as more serious than those of students’ country.
Nowadays, virtually all ESL handbooks contain some elements of culture. In Enterprise series, for example, they are included in all skills-sections e.g. grammar (putting articles before British landmarks) or reading (passage about the blaze of London). There are also some special study pages at the end of the book. Similar parts are in Opportunities, where also some shortened and simplified versions of classic pieces of British literature can be found. Moreover, those elements are required by syllabuses. Students are obliged to have some cultural knowledge on their Matura and university entry exams. Although the issue seems to have solid basis in school curriculum, Richard Bolt (2000, Houten – Pulverness 2001:107) claims that it results in specific understanding British culture. It is associated with:
• general knowledge of the country (including cultural absurdities such as naming rivers etc) not the process producing such knowledge
• only certain aspects – for instance the Xmas meal but not the TV being watched at the same time
• differences (e.g. national customs) – not similarities (e.g. international tourist attitudes)
• learnable facts (e.g. how many Welsh M.P.s) rather than ‘unlearnable’ issues (e.g. national identities)
• history (‘facts’ on Stonehenge) separated from the present (issues surrounding its heritage role)
• a lack of focus on language issues and development (the inescapable culture/language link). (Richard Bolt 2000, Houten – Pulverness 2001:107)
Observing lessons held by my teachers in the past and also talking with befriended teachers, I must admit that Bolt is right. There are hardly social concerns in syllabus; if students are exposed to some elements of culture they usually learn about English or alternatively American holidays (such us Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Halloween but not about Hanukah or even Columbus Day). Furthermore, even these events are misrepresented. Teachers often pass over some inconvenient facts and issues which really interest people living in those countries. No authentic materials are used; tutors prefer text in a coursebook or at most some ready-made materials from a resource-pack. This attitude just consolidates existing stereotypes, creates false images and does not develop intercultural awareness.
Collie (2000: xiii, Mountford – Wadham-Smith 2000:147-147), gives a few techniques of introducing culture into English lessons which were proposed during first post-graduate Certificate in British Cultural Studies organised by British Council in Istanbul in 1992. The following ones are quoted:
• using the learner: calling upon the learner’s knowledge/experience of the world; encouraging cross-cultural reflection;
• developing language skills:
listening activities – listening for gist or specific information, and to enhance awareness of the varieties of spoken English; dictation techniques for enjoyment and to simulate discussion
reading activities – gist reading, skimming and scanning techniques, encouraging extensive reading;
writing activities – from sentence completion to preparing an essay of argument based on a mini-debate;
• working with visuals: using grids and diagrams; using pictures/photos from newspapers, magazines etc.
• working with video freeze frame techniques; predicting activities; working with/without text to focus on language;
• using songs and poetry: conveying historical/factual material; stimulating discussion; encouraging re-evaluation, assessment of stereotypes;
• using factual materials: ways of enlivening presentation, enhancing personalisation and retention of factual data;
• using drama techniques: enhancing comprehension/discussion of social issues; as a means of dealing with argument and opposing views. (Collie 2000: xiii, Mountford – Wadham-Smith 2000:147-147)
In my opinion the proposed techniques are very accurate and universal. As I noticed, C2 is introduced into ESL teaching in Poland at gimnazjum or even later. Thanks to drama, songs and multimedia materials some elements of culture can be slipped even into very young learners teaching. Furthermore, if a class has really few hours of English its teacher should combine C2 teaching with developing language skills which is of benefit of both aspects.
Quite interesting implications for teachers are provided by Tomczak (2000: Rydlewska 2002:145-151). She claims that first of all a cross-cultural approach should be adopted by a teacher. Secondly, it is worth remembering that we teach skills and not facts. She also advises combining cultural studies with language work. Furthermore, the value of using various authentic materials is stressed. It is also very important to prepare students to analysing given materials but not lead them by the hand.
Szymańska-Czaplak (2007: 237-238) highlights not only teacher’s role in the process of teaching C2 but also the role of school in developing sociocultural and intercultural awareness in its students. She lists several school’s responsibilities, e.g. providing constant training to its teachers including allowing to take part in conferences and workshops; caring for class and school equipment (multimedia devices, subscription of magazines, educational software, books in foreign languages in school library); allowing teachers to choose a coursebook individually to every class according to their individual traits and expectations; organizing multicultural events (drama festivals, youth exchange, meetings with local minorities) supporting students in browsing foreign work and travel offers.
All in all, it must be said that teaching C2 is a very important and inseparable element of teaching EFL. Negligence of it, which may be observed at Polish schools, leads to gaining not sufficient language knowledge and skills. A wide range of various ways of integrating language and culture in the foreign language classroom gives the teacher a chance to display their skills. It was also showed above that lack of time is not an excuse of not introducing C2 because it can stand for an ideal background also for teaching language skills. EFL teachers must be also supported in their efforts by school

Boult, Richard. 2000. The foreign language classroom, culture and British studies – reflections and suggestions. (Paper presented at the New directions, New Opportunities: the Proceedings of the British Studies Conference, Puławy, Poland, 9-12 March, 2000), in Michael Houten and Alan Pulverness (eds.), 95-113.

Collie, Joanne. 2000. Teaching British cultural studies: Reflections on some methodological issues, in: Alan Mounford – Nick Wadham-Smith (eds.), 141-150.

Edginton, Beth. 2000, in: Alan Mounford – Nick Wadham-Smith (eds.), 134-137.

Mountford, Alan – Nick Wadham-Smith (eds.). 2000. British Studies: Intercultural Perspective. London: Pearson Education Limited.

Rydlewska, Julitta. 2002. Cultural curriculum : theory, practice, trends. Szczecin: AMP Studio Paweł Majewski.

Szymańska-Czaplak, Elzbieta. 2007. “Rola szkoły w kształtowaniu kompetencji socjokulturowej i interkulturowej ucznia” [The role of school in developing student sociocultural and intercultural competence], 235-240. (http://spnjo.polsl.pl/konferencja/materialy/referaty/szymanska-czaplak.pdf) (date of access: 20 Dec. 2007).

Tomczak, Anna M. 2002, The seven commandments for teaching British studies (not to be confused with the seven deadly sins), in: Julitta Rydlewska (ed.), 145-151.

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