and Culture - a thesis
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
By way of conclusion, we should reiterate the main premise
of the present study: the teaching of culture should become
an integral part of foreign language instruction. 'Culture
should be our message to students and language our medium'
(Peck, 1998). Frontiers have opened and never before have
nations come closer to one another-in theory, at least. As
a result, people from different cultures weave their lives
into an international fabric that is beginning to fray at
the edges by virtue of miscommunication and propaganda. In
order to avoid this ignominious cultural and political disintegration,
and foster empathy and understanding, teachers should 'present
students with a true picture or representation of another
culture and language' (Singhal, 1998). And this will be achieved
only if cultural awareness is viewed as something more than
merely a compartmentalised subject within the foreign language
curriculum; that is, when culture "inhabits" the
classroom and undergirds every language activity. According
to Singhal (1998), language teachers ought to receive both
experiential and academic training, with the aim of becoming
'mediators in culture teaching' (ibid.). At any rate, culture
teaching should aim to foster 'empathy with the cultural norms
of the target language community' and 'an increased awareness
of one's own 'cultural logic' in relation to others' (Willems,
1992, cited in Byram, Morgan et al., 1994: 67). This cultural
logic, though, is achieved through 'a recognition of 'otherness',
and of the limitations of one's own cultural identity' (Killick
& Poveda, 1997).
On a practical note, culture teaching should allow learners
to increase their knowledge of the target culture in terms
of people's way of life, values, attitudes, and beliefs, and
how these manifest themselves or are couched in linguistic
categories and forms. More specifically, the teaching of culture
should make learners aware of speech acts, connotations, etiquette,
that is, appropriate or inappropriate behaviour, as well as
provide them with the opportunity to act out being a member
of the target culture. Equipped with the knowledge that such
notions as "superior" or "inferior" cultures
are nothing but sweeping generalisations emanating from lack
of knowledge and disrespect to other human beings with different
worldviews, learners can delve into the target language and
use it as a tool not only to communicate in the country where
it is spoken but also to give a second (or third) voice to
their thoughts, thus flying in the face of cultural conventions
and stereotypes. To this end, language educators should 'not
only work to dispel stereotypes [and] pockets of ignorance
to learners' understanding that begins with awareness of self
and leads to awareness of others' (Singhal, 1998).
There is certainly room for improvement, and things bode well
for the future. Beyond current practice, there are still some
areas, such as the ones identified by Lessard-Clouston (1997),
that need further investigation. For example, is there such
a thing as a 'natural order' in L2/FL culture acquisition?
What cultural patterns do foreign language students need to
learn first and at what levels? Furthermore, are these patterns
best learnt by means of immersion in the target culture, or
are there any techniques obviating this need? Most importantly,
are these acquired patterns maintained over the long haul,
or is there some kind of regression at work? Once these besetting
issues are investigated, the next step is to do some research
on content and materials design for cultural syllabuses (see
It goes without saying that foreign language teachers should
be foreign culture teachers, having the ability to experience
and analyse both the home and target cultures (Byram, Morgan
et al., 1994: 73). The onus is on them to convey cultural
meaning and introduce students to a kind of learning 'which
challenges and modifies their perspective on the world and
their cultural identity as members of a given social and national
group' (ibid.). Unfortunately, by teaching about other cultures,
foreign language educators do not necessarily nip prejudice
in the bud, so to speak; cultural bias can still plague the
very aspects of the target culture which teachers 'choose
to indict or advocate', as Cormeraie (1997) insightfully remarks.
It is hoped that the present paper has contrived to clarify
most of the issues it set out to investigate, and has helped
contribute to a better understanding of culture and its importance
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English Literature and Linguistics at Athens University
and then did an MA in Applied Linguistics at Sussex
University. After that, he earned an MBA from Mooreland
University and is currently finishing the second year
of my PhD studies in Education at Nottingham University.
His academic interests include fostering cultural awareness
and learner autonomy, as well as such issues as language
and ideology, Critical Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics,
Sociolinguistics, and the Psychology of Education.
can be contacted at:
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