By Nada AbiSamra
(Based on "Teaching Language in Context" by Alice Omaggio Hadley
Culture Strategies for Intercultural Communication" by H. Ned Seelye)
Foreign language teachers face many problems
in teaching culture. I will Present and explicate
these problems, then suggest solutions to them.
The Need for the Development of Cultural Understanding
People all over the world have become more aware of the value of second language competence and cross-cultural understanding.
As populations have become increasingly diverse, more and more parents, educators, and students have come to recognize the importance of valuing multiculturalism. The need for a strong commitment to the development of cultural understanding within the language program is clear; evidence of "hate crimes" against various ethnic or social groups throughout the world reveals the crying need for understanding and mutual acceptance among the world’s peoples. The valuing of ethnic and cultural diversity must be a high priority in education as our students learn to live in an increasingly interdependent world. Moreover, it has been proven that investment in learning about other languages and cultures can bring significant economic and technological advantages.
Yet, culture is still the weakest component
of our curricula; cultural teaching is remaining insubstantial and sporadic
in most language classrooms. Why is it so? What
are the problems foreign language teachers are facing? Can we find appropriate
Teaching Culture: Problems & Solutions
In the following paragraphs I will try to explore as many
problems as I can and to suggest solutions to them.
The First problem teachers are facing is: Overcrowded Curriculum.
The study of culture involves time that many teachers feel they cannot spare in an already overcrowded curriculum; they content themselves with the thought that students will be exposed to cultural material later, after they have mastered the basic grammar and vocabulary of the language.
Solution: Teachers should be made aware of the fact that this "later" never seems to come for most students. Therefore, instead of teaching language and culture in a Serial fashion, they should teach them in an integrative fashion, which means that they have to: (Lafayette 1978, 1988)
Teachers are afraid to teach culture because they fear that they don’t know enough about it, thinking that their role is only to impart facts.
Solution: Even if teachers’
own knowledge is quite limited, their proper role is not to impart facts,
but to help students attain the skills that are necessary to make sense
out of the facts they themselves discover in their study of the target
culture. Then, the objectives that are to be achieved in cross-cultural
understanding involve Processes rather than Facts. A "facts only" approach
to culture for which the only goal is to amass bits of information is ineffective.
Goals and objectives have to be set that relate not only to descriptive
or analytical knowledge of facts, but also to procedural knowledge
would enable students to observe and analyze cultural elements and patterns;
after all, students should have the ability to react appropriately in any
social situation, even those not previously studied.
The Third problem teachers are facing is: Dealing with Students’ Negative Attitudes.
Students often approach target-culture phenomena assuming that the new patterns of behavior can be understood within the framework of their own native culture. When cultural phenomena differ from what they expect, students often react negatively, characterizing the target culture as "strange".
Solution: Just as teachers need to help students revise their "linguistic patterns," they also need to help them revise their "cultural patterns." Students should be aware that it is important to recognize the pervasive influence of culture on our attitudes, emotions, beliefs, and values, and the dangers of projecting our native frame of reference on that of the culture being studied. To understand another culture, we must construct a new frame of reference in terms of the people who created it, which is complicated since cultures have both functions (meanings, purposes, needs) and forms (manifestations, realizations, operations) that vary widely, not only across cultures, but also within the subcultures of a society. As students are introduced to the target culture, they need to learn to expect differences, and eventually to understand and appreciate their logic and meaning. Any assumptions of cross-cultural similarity should be made with caution, as cultures may not share the same form/function relationships.
In order to help students construct a new frame of reference
based on the target culture, one possible solution would be to help them
begin with an understanding of their own frame of reference, and then,
with teacher guidance, explore the target culture through authentic texts
and materials. It is also important for teachers to become aware of their
own biases and help students recognize theirs.
The Fourth problem teachers are facing is: Lack of Adequate Training.
Teachers may not have been adequately trained in the teaching of culture and, therefore, do not have strategies and clear goals that help them to create a viable framework for organizing instruction around cultural themes. The development of such a framework depends in part on the definition of culture, which has been the source of much of the difficulty in designing quality instruction.
Let’s start with the Definition that can
help clarify things. "Culture" is a broad concept that embraces all aspects
of human life. Of its several meanings, two are of major importance to
teachers: Culture as everything in human life (Hearthstone or "little-c"
culture, also called culture BBV: Beliefs, Behavior, and Values) in addition
to Culture as the best in human life restricted to the elitists
(Olympian or "big-C" culture also called culture MLA: great Music, Literature,
and Art of the country). We should realize that knowing the language, as
well as the patterns of everyday life, is a prerequisite to appreciating
the fine arts and literature, therefore we need a balanced perspective
of culture when designing curricula (e.g. presenting popular culture to
the exclusion of "high" culture can shortchange students intellectually).
As for the main Themes of the culture, they
might be: symbolism, value, authority, order, ceremony, love, honor, humor,
beauty, and spirit, in addition to intellectuality, individualism, the
art of living, realism, common sense, friendship, family, justice, liberty,
patriotism, religion, education, conflict, ecology … "Theme" in teaching
culture is not just any "topic"; rather it is an "emotionally charged concern,
which motivates or strongly influences the culture bearer’s conduct in
a wide variety of situations."
To teach culture for understanding, teachers should achieve the following Goals: (Seelye, 1984)
Goal 1 = The student should demonstrate an understanding that people generally act the way they do because they are using options society allows for satisfying basic physical and psychological needs.
Goal 2 = The student should demonstrate an understanding that social variables such as age, sex, social class, and place of residence affect the way people speak and behave.
Goal 3 = The student should indicate an understanding of the role convention plays in shaping behavior by demonstrating how people in the target culture act in common mundane and crisis situations.
Goal 4 = The students should indicate an awareness that culturally conditioned images are associated with even the most common target words and phrases.
Goal 5 = The students should demonstrate the ability to make, evaluate, and refine the generalities concerning the target culture.
Goal 6 = The students should show that they developed the skills needed to locate and organize information about the target culture from the library, the mass media, people, and personal observation.
Goal 7 = The students should demonstrate intellectual curiosity about the target culture and empathy toward its people.
In order to translate these goals into classroom practice, we need to follow specific Strategies and Techniques:
It is very difficult for teachers to measure cross-cultural awareness and change in attitudes so that they can see whether the students have profited or not.
Measuring Cross-Cultural Awareness :
Hanvey’s (1979) scheme for measuring cross-cultural awareness consists of four stages :
Level I : Information about the culture may consist of superficial
Learners see the culture as bizarre.
Culture bearers may be considered rude and ignorant.
Level II : Learners focus on expanded knowledge about the culture
(contrast with their
own culture). They find the culture bearers’ behavior irrational.
Level III : Learners begin to accept the culture at an intellectual
level and can see things
in terms of the target culture’s frame of reference.
Level IV : The level of empathy is achieved through living
in and through the culture.
Learners begin to see the culture as insiders.
Measuring Change in Attitudes :
There are four techniques to measure attitudes :
Finally, after having presented the different problems that foreign language teachers face in teaching culture and suggested possible solutions, we hope that in the next century culture will be truly integrated with language study so that it can become a strong component of our curricula.
There is no question that the successful integration of culture and language teaching can contribute significantly to general humanistic knowledge, that language ability and cultural sensitivity can play a vital role in the security, defense, and economic well-being of this nation, and that global understanding ought to be a mandatory component of basic education.