Friday, January 29, 2010


“Communication is Culture, and Culture is Communication.” Edward hall
Culture and communication are inseparable because culture not only dictates who talks to whom, about what, and how the communication proceeds, it also helps to determine how people encode messages, the meanings they have for messages, and the conditions and circumstances under which various messages may or may not be sent, noticed, or interpreted... the foundation of communication. (Samovar, Porter, & Jain, 1981)
Culture is the "glue" that binds a group of people together."
(Douglas-Brown- 1994)
"Culture is an elusive construct that shifts constantly over time and according to who is perceiving and interpreting it."
(Linda Harklau- 1999)
Hearthstone or "little-c" culture: Culture as everything in human life (also called culture BBV: Beliefs, Behavior, and Values)
Olympian or "big-C" culture: the best in human life restricted to the elitists (also called culture MLA: great Music, Literature, and Art of the country).
The "big-C" Culture is already taught in the classroom; it is the "little-c" one that needs to be emphasized, especially in the FL classroom.
Dewey (1897) said that "It is true that language is a logical instrument, but it is fundamentally and primarily a social instrument." If language is "primarily a social instrument," how can it be divorced from the society that uses it? (Seelye p. 4)
Learning a language in isolation of its cultural roots prevents one from becoming socialized into its contextual use. Knowledge of linguistic structure alone does not carry with it any special insight into the political, social, religious, or economic system. Or even insight into when you should talk and when you should not. (Seelye 1993, p 10).
Why language and culture are inseparably connected (Buttjes 1990, p. 55):
(Buttjes, D. (1990). Teaching foreign language and culture: Social impact and political significance. Language Learning Journal, 2, 53-57.)
1- Language acquisition does not follow a universal sequence, but differs across cultures;
2- The process of becoming a competent member of society is realized through exchanges of language in particular social situations;
3- Every society orchestrates the ways in which children participate in particular situations, and this, in turn, affects the form, the function and the content of children's utterances;
4- Caregivers' primary concern is not with grammatical input, but with the transmission of sociocultural knowledge;
5- The native learner, in addition to language, acquires also the paralinguistic patterns and the kinesics of his or her culture. (Buttjes, 1990, p. 55
A Framework for Building Cultural Understanding
- based on process skills
- includes both factual & socio-linguistic content.
(Galloway- 1984)
Four dimensions: for building cultural understanding
1- Convention: Students need to recognize and understand how people in a given culture typically behave in common, everyday situations.
2- Connotation: Students need to know the significant meanings that are associated with words.
3- Conditioning: Students need to know that people act in a manner consistent with their cultural frame of reference, and that all people respond in culturally conditioned ways to basic human needs.
4- Comprehension: Students need the skills of analysis, hypothesis formation, and tolerance of ambiguity
A Framework for Learning/Teaching Culture
A) Knowing about (getting information)
1) Nature of content -- getting information
- what is the capital of the US?
- sports play an important role in American life.
2) Learning objectives -- demonstrate a mastery of the information.
3) Techniques/activities -- cultural readings; films/videotapes; recordings; realia (cultural artifacts); personal anecdotes.
4) Note
- how culture is traditionally taught -- giving students information and asking them to show that they know it;
- teacher role: informant.
B) Knowing how (developing behaviors)
1) Nature of content -- skills
- buying tickets to a sports event,
- cheering for your team at a football game,
- acting and speaking like American sports fans.
2) Learning objectives: demonstrate an ability -- a fluency, an expertise, confidence, ease.
3) Techniques/activities: dialogs, role plays, simulations, field experiences.
4) Note
- where communicative competence in the language and culture occurs. Students know both what to say and how to do it in a
culturally appropriate manner.
- teacher role: coach or model.
C). Knowing why (discovering explanations)
1) Nature of content -- values and assumptions
- why are sports so important to Americans?
- are you making an observation or an interpretation?
- why do Americans have such sports rituals?
- how does this compare with your culture?
2) Learning objectives
- demonstrate an ability: to infer; to generalize; to suspend judgment,
- curiosity; tolerance; sensitivity; empathy.
3) Techniques/activities
- learners interpret and make explanations based on above activities,
- comparisons with their own culture,
- ethnography,
- reflective writing.
4) Note
- learners engage in actively using their powers of induction, analysis and intuition to draw conclusions about cultural information or experiences -- like anthropologists.
- teacher role: co-researcher or guide.
D) Knowing oneself (personalizing knowledge)
1) Nature of content -- self-awareness
- what importance do sports have in YOUR life?
- how did it feel to act like Americans do at a football game?
- would you choose to act like this?
2) Learning objectives: by behavior/statements demonstrate understanding of ones' feelings, values, opinions, attitudes, and
act upon them.
3) Techniques/activities
- learners examine and make statements about themselves,
- reflective writing,
- feedback on above activities.
4) Note
- learners themselves are the subject matter in a process of guided self-discovery, as they study their own values and their
reactions to those of the culture. They decide whether or not to change.
- teacher role: counselor or guide.
By Patrick Moran
Department of Language Teacher Education- School for International Training
Brattleboro, VT, USA
To teach culture for understanding, teachers should achieve the following Goals: (Seelye, 1984 & 1993)
(The following 6 goals are a modification of the Nostrands' "kinds of understanding to be tested")
Goal 1 = Interest- The student demonstrates curiosity about the target culture and empathy toward its people.
Goal 2 = Who- The student recognizes that role expectations and other social variables such as age, sex, social class, ethnicity, and place of residence affect the way people speak and behave.
Goal 3 = What- The student realizes that effective communication requires discovering the culturally conditioned images that are evoked in the minds of people when they think, act, and react to the world around them.
Goal 4 = Where and When- The student recognizes that situational variables and convention shape behavior in important ways. (S/he needs to know how people in the target culture act in common mundane and crisis situations)
Goal 5 = Why- The student understands that people generally act the way they do because they are using options society allows for satisfying basic physical and psychological needs, and that cultural patterns are interrelated and tend mutually to support need satisfaction.
Goal 6 = Exploration- The student can evaluate a generalization about the target culture in terms of the amount of evidence substantiating it, and has the skills needed to locate and organize information about the target culture from the library, the mass media, people, and personal observation.
The Nostrands* listed nine objectives: students should have the ability to
1) React appropriately in a social situation
2) Describe a pattern in the culture
3) Recognize a pattern when it is illustrated
4) “Explain” a pattern
5) Predict how a pattern is likely to apply in a given situation
6) Describe or manifest an attitude important for making oneself
acceptable in the foreign society
7) Evaluate the form of a statement concerning a culture pattern
8) Describe/demonstrate defensible methods of analyzing a
socio-cultural whole
9) Identify basic human purposes that make significant the
understanding that is being taught
Problems involved in teaching culture:
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.
The Second problem teachers are facing is: Fear of Not Knowing Enough.
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.
The Third problem teachers are facing is: Dealing with Students’ Negative Attitudes.
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."
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.
Solution: Check the aforementioned goals and the "belowmentioned" themes and strategies.
The Fifth problem teachers are facing is: How to Measure Cross-Cultural Awareness and Change in Attitudes.
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.
Solution :
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 stereotypes.
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 :
• Social distance scales : To measure the degree to which one separates oneself socially from members of another culture (e.g. would marry .. , have as close friend, have as next-door neighbor, work with, have as an acquaintance only…)
• Semantic differential scales : To judge the defined culture group in terms of a number of bipolar traits (e.g. Good/Bad, Clean/Dirty….)
• Statements : To put a check in front of the statements with which s/he agrees. (e.g. Envious of others, Tactless, Self-indulgent, Quick to understand…)
• Self-esteem change : To measure changes in self-esteem in the primary grades (e.g. happy with myself, at home, at school, my teacher/friends like me….)
• The main Themes of the culture 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."
In order to translate the goals for teaching culture into classroom practice, we need to follow specific Strategies and Techniques:
• The lecture
• Native informants
• Audio-taped interviews
• Video-taped interviews/Observational dialogs
• Using authentic readings and realia for cross-cultural understanding (a four-stage approach to a cultural reading of authentic materials is very effective to lead students through the process of guided exploration and discovery : 1- Thinking, 2- Looking, 3- Learning, 4- Integrating)

 Strategies for Teaching the Value of Diversity
by Christine Elmore- Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute
• Cultural Islands
• Culture Capsules
• Culture Clusters
• Culture Assimilators
• Critical Incidents/Problem Solving
• Culture Mini-Dramas
• Audio–Motor Units
• Cultoons
• Media/Visuals
• Celebrating Festivals
• Kinesics and Body Language
• Cultural Consciousness-Raising
• Independent Activity Sheets
• Cultural Artifacts/Artifact Study
• Cultural Scavenger Hunt
• Getting to Know your Classmates
• Deriving Cultural Connotations
• Hypothesis Refinement
• Decreasing Stereotypic Perceptions
• Using Proverbs in Teaching Cultural Understanding
• Humor as a Component of Culture: Exploring Cross-Cultural Differences
• Stimulating Discussion: Email & Listservs
* Cultural Islands
From the first day of class teachers should have prepared a cultural island in their classrooms. Posters, pictures, maps, signs, and realia of many kinds are essential in helping students develop a mental image. Assigning students foreign names from the first day can heighten student interest. Short presentations on a topic of interest with appropriate pictures or slides add to this mental image. Start students off by making them aware of the influence of various foreign cultures in this country. Introduce students to the borrowed words in their native language or the place-names of our country. This helps students to realize they already know many words in the target language (i.e. poncho, fiesta, rodeo). Some of the foods they eat are another example of the influence of foreign cultures (i.e. taco, burrito, chili).
A good introductory activity is to send students on cultural scavenger hunts to supermarkets and department stores and have them make lists of imported goods.
* Culture Capsules (developed by Taylor & Sorenson, 1961)
Culture capsules are generally prepared out of class by a student but presented during class time in 5 or 10 minutes. The concept was developed by Taylor & Sorenson (1961). A Culture capsule consists of a paragraph or so of explanation of one minimal difference between a Lebanese and an American's custom along with several illustrative photos and relevant realia. Miller (1974) has developed well-defined culture capsules into classroom activities.
In Ursula Hendron’s article on teaching culture in the high school classroom, she suggests using culture capsules. The culture capsule teachers through comparison by illustrating one essential difference between an American and a foreign custom (i.e. dating, cuisine, pets, sports). The cultural insights from the culture capsule can be further illustrated by role playing. For example, Hendron suggests teaching dating customs in Spanish-speaking countries by creating an illusion of a plaza mayor in the classroom with posters, props, music or slides. Students pretend to be young Latin-Americans and act out a Sunday paseo.
Brigham Young University also publishes culture capsules entitled “Culturgrams” for 100 different countries. Each “culturgram” is divided into sections on family lifestyle, attitudes, customs and courtesies, and history. After studying these, students can compare and contrast the foreign customs and traditions with their own. "Infograms" which cut across cultures with topics such as travel stress, keeping the law, and families, have been published.
Culture capsules are one of the best–established and best–known methods for teaching culture. They have been tried mostly in classes for foreign languages other than English. Essentially a culture capsule is a brief description of some aspect of the target language culture (e.g., what is customarily eaten for meals and when those meals are eaten, marriage customs, etc.) followed by, or incorporated with contrasting information from the students' native language culture. The contrasting information can be provided by the teacher, but it is usually more effective to have the students themselves point out the contrasts.
Culture capsules are usually done orally with the teacher giving a brief lecture on the chosen cultural point and then leading a discussion about the differences between cultures. For example, the information which a teacher might use about the grading system at U. S. universities is included in the link. The teacher could provide all of the information at once or could pause after the information in each paragraph and ask students about the contrasts they see. Some visual information, such as in handouts or overhead transparencies or pictures, supporting the lecture can also be used.
* Culture Clusters (developed by Meade & Morain, 1973)
A culture cluster is simply a group of three or more illustrated culture capsules on related themes/topics (about the target life) + one 30 minute classroom simulation/skit that integrates the information contained in the capsules (the teacher acts as narrator to guide the students). For example, a culture cluster about grades and their significance to university students could contain the capsule about how a grade point average is figured plus another about what kind of decisions (such as being accepted in graduate study, receiving scholarships, getting a better job, etc.) are affected by a person's grade point average.
Culture capsules and clusters are good methods for giving students knowledge and some intellectual knowledge about the cultural aspects being explained, but they generally do not cause much emotional empathy.
* Culture Assimilators (Developed by Fiedler et al., 1971)
The culture assimilator provides the student with 75 to 100 episodes of target cultural behavior. Culture assimilators consist of short (usually written) descriptions of an incident or situation where interaction takes place between at least one person from the target culture and persons from other cultures (usually the native culture of the students being taught). The description is followed by four possible choices about the meaning of the behavior, action, or words of the participants in the interaction with emphasis on the behavior, actions, or words of the target language individual(s).
Students read the description in the assimilator and then choose which of the four options they feel is the correct interpretation of the interaction. Once all students have made their individual choices, the teacher leads a discussion about why particular options are correct or incorrect in interpretation. Written copies of the discussion issues can be handed out to students although they do not have to be. It is imperative that the teacher plan what issues the discussion of each option should cover.
Culture assimilators are good methods of giving students understanding about cultural information and they may even promote emotional empathy or affect if students have strong feelings about one or more of the options.
* Critical Incidents/Problem Solving
Critical incidents are another method for teaching culture. Some people confuse them with culture assimilators, but there are a couple of differences between the two methods. Critical incidents are descriptions of incidents or situations which demand that a participant in the interaction make some kind of decision. Most of the situations could happen to any individual; they do not require that there be intercultural interaction as there is with culture assimilators.
Individual critical incidents do not require as much time as individual culture capsules or individual culture assimilators, so generally when this method is used, more than one critical incident is presented. It is probably most effective to have all the critical incidents presented at one time be about the same cultural issue. For example, the critical incidents listed in the appendix to this chapter all deal with the issue of time, promptness, and scheduling.
Generally, the procedure with a critical incident is to have students read the incident independently and make individual decisions about what they would do. Then the students are grouped into small groups to discuss their decisions and why they made them they way they did. Then all the groups discuss their decisions and the reasons behind them. Finally, students have to be given the opportunity to see how their decision and reasoning compare and contrast with the decisions and reasoning of native members of the target culture. If the ESL class is occurring in an English–speaking environment, students can be assigned to go out and survey native English speakers about how and why they would solve the problem or make the decision required by the critical incident. Reports on the reasoning and the differences can be made in a following class session. If the class takes place in an EFL environment, the native speaker information would have to be gathered by the teacher from reading or from contact with expatriates. Sometimes advice columns like the "Dear Abby" or "Ann Landers" columns, can provide teachers both with critical incidents or problems to be solved and with information about what native speakers would do and why.
Critical incidents are very good for arousing affect (emotional feelings) about the cultural issue. Discussion or surveys about what native English speakers would do also promote intellectual understanding of the issues and give learners basic knowledge about the target culture.
* Mini–Dramas (Gorden's prototype minidrama, 1970)
Mini–dramas consist of three to five brief episodes in which misunderstandings are portrayed, in which there are examples of miscommunication. Additional information is made available with each episode, but the precise cause of the misunderstanding does not become apparent until the last scene. Each episode is followed by an open-ended question discussion led by the teacher. The episodes are generally written to foster sympathy for the non–native of the culture the "wrong" that is done to him or her by a member of the target culture. At the end of the mini–drama, some "knowing" figure explains what is really happening and why the target culture member was really not doing wrong. With mini–dramas, scripts are handed out and people are assigned to act out the parts. After each act, the teacher asks students (not necessarily the ones performing in the drama) what the actions and words of the characters in the drama mean and leads them to make judgments about the characters in the play. After all of the scenes have been portrayed and the "knowing" figure has made his or her speech, students are asked to reinterpret what they have seen in view of the information which the knowing figure provided.
The first time mini–drama is used in an ESL classroom, it should promote quite a lot of emotional feeling of the kind that really happens in intercultural misunderstandings. Mini–dramas always promote knowledge and understanding, but the great emotional impact usually only happens the first time. Mini–dramas work best if they deal, therefore, with highly charged emotional issues.
Brislin et al. (1986) prepared 100 critical intercultural incidents in English.
Intercultural Interactions : A Practical Guide (Cross Cultural Research and Methodology) (Hardcover)
by Richard W. Brislin, Kenneth Cushner, Craig Cherrie - 1986
* Audio–motor Units
Audio–motor units consist of verbal instructions for actions by students which the students then carry out. They work very well for any cultural routine which requires physical actions (e. g., eating with a knife and fork, shaking hands, listening actively, standing in line to buy a ticket, etc.).
With an audio–motor unit, the classroom is set up as the required setting and with the required props. Individual students are then directed orally by the teacher to carry out appropriate actions. The process can be repeated several times with different students carrying out the instructions. Once appropriate behavior is established, minor but relevant changes can be made and students can see what factors require adjustment (e.g., Is it proper to shake hands with adults and children in the same way? If two come in together and have to pass in front of people, does it alter what anyone says or does?, etc.)
Audio–motor units give knowledge and practice with correct behavior. They do not necessarily promote understanding nor empathy.
* Cultoons
Cultoons are like visual culture assimilators. Students are given a series of (usually) four pictures depicting points of surprise or possible misunderstanding for persons coming into the target culture. The situations are also described verbally by the teacher or by the students who read the accompanying written descriptions. Students may be asked if they think the reactions of the characters in the cultoons seem appropriate or not.
After the misunderstandings or surprises are clearly in mind, the students read explanations of what was happening and why there was misunderstanding.
Cultoons generally promote understanding of cultural facts and some understanding, but they do not usually give real understanding of emotions involved in cultural misunderstandings.
* Media/Visuals
Magazine pictures, slide presentations, and/or videos are among the kinds of media/visual presentations which can be used to teach culture. Usually with this method, the teacher presents a series of pictures or slides or a video with explanation of what is going on and what it means in terms of the target culture. Many aspects of culture, such as appropriate dress for activities, kinds of activities students participate in or the weekend, public transportation, etc., can be effectively presented with such visuals. The appendix for this chapter contains the script which might be used for a slide presentation about the importance of the automobile and the independence it allows in the U. S.
Media/visuals are usually very good at giving information and intellectual understanding, but, like several other methods of teaching culture, they do not cause students to understand the emotion which is involved with so many cultural issues.

* Celebrating Festivals
Celebrating foreign festivals is a favorite activity of many students. Even though this activity takes a lot of planning, it works well as a culminating activity. My Spanish-speaking students start by bringing in recipes from home and then we put our own cookbook together (See bibliography for Cooper’s book). We then prepare for the festival by drawing posters, decorating the room, and preparing some of the foods in our cookbook. At Christmas time, we fill a pinata with candy and learn some folk songs and folk dances (Most textbooks have songs at the back of the book). This kind of activity enables student to actively participate in the cultural heritage of the people they are studying.
* Kinesics and Body Language
Culture is a network of verbal and non-verbal communication. If our goal as foreign language teachers is to teach communication, we must not neglect the most obvious form of non-verbal communication which is gesture. Gesture, although learned, is largely an unconscious cultural phenomenon. Gesture conveys the “feel” of the language to the student and when accompanied by verbal communication, injects greater authenticity into the classroom and makes language study more interesting. Gerald Green in his book "Gesture Inventory for Teaching Spanish" suggests that teachers use foreign culture gestures when presenting dialogues, cueing students’ responses, and assisting students to recall dialogue lines (Examples of dialogues and appropriate gestures are given in the book). At the beginning of the year, teachers can also show foreign films to students just to have them focus on body movements.
* Cultural Consciousness-Raising
Attitude is another factor in language learning that leads to cross cultural understanding. Helen Wilkes believes that the totality of language learning is comprised of three integrated components: linguistic, cultural, and attitudinal. As foreign language teachers, we all teach the basic sounds, vocabulary, and syntax of the target language. Above we have seen methods of introducing culture into the classroom. The remainder of this paper will focus on effecting attitudinal changes.
Most foreign language teachers would agree that positively sensitizing students to cultural phenomena is urgent and crucial. Studies indicate that attitudinal factors are clear predictors of success in second language learning. However, effecting attitudinal changes requires planned programs which integrate cultural and linguistic units as a means to cross-cultural understanding. The following method for effecting attitudinal changes is adapted from Helen Wilkes’ article “A Simple Device for Cultural Consciousness Raising in the Teenaged Student of French.” The organization of the notebook can be a useful tool in any discipline, but it can be of special importance in the foreign language classroom as a cultural consciousness raising tool. Helen Wilkes suggests that from the very first day of school the foreign language teacher should have students begin organizing their notebook. The notebook should be divided into four sections: Vocabulary, Maps, Grammar, Symbols. Each section of the notebook will have an illustrated title page.

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