Teaching language as culture

What is culture?

During the last Postgraduate module we were exposed to a basic, but not easy, question: what’s culture? There are many concepts involved in culture, this is why I’ve created a mind map to summarize what is and what involves culture, with the main ideas learned in class.

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Why is culture important in a language class?

While learning and discovering about culture we stopped our journey to think and reflect about the importance of culture in class. Teaching language as culture will get our students to understand other worldviews, because not only language is part of a culture, it involves beliefs, values, customs and traditions.

According to Bryam and Kramsch (2008) teaching language as culture is challenging because it implies teaching critical language awareness, interpretative skills and historical consciousness. The challenge is that the traditional conceptions of teaching and learning don´t fit with the approach of teaching language as culture because when teaching is conceived as transmitting facts of knowledge and learning as displaying on tests, discussion on historical, cultural and political issues seem out of place. Some teachers show a limited intercultural competence (not being open enough to discuss different versions of history) while teaching culture, as they sometimes explain only ‘one side of the coin’, one vision of history, instead of teaching the fact itself, without being positioned in one political or cultural side. That will enrich our students’ capacity to see other worldview, to understand and respect all cultures, and promote then, that cultural awareness so necessary for everyone.

In my opinion, nowadays schools have a wide diversity of foreign students, which means teachers have to deal with cultural and language differences. As we’ve learned so far, teaching is not just transmitting facts, it is developing a critical language awareness, historical consciousness, values (as respect and tolerance towards the others)… As English teachers, our lessons are focused on teaching the language; lexis, grammar, literature, etc, but we sometimes forget about the cultural competence. In my opinion, planning a good language and culture lesson/project seems a hard task due to teachers’ lack of experience , the uncertainty about which aspects of culture to teach or the lack of techniques to use.

How can I apply this?

As I usually do, I wonder how would I apply what I’m learning in this module to my classes. In this case, we’ve learnt some strategies to foster cultural awareness in class, which means we have to demonstrate to our students that we care about their cultural, emotional and intellectual needs, so as to build trusting relationships with diverse students.

Some of the examples learned in this module, to apply in my teaching practises, could be the following:

  • school_survey_graphic01To express interest in the ethnic background of our students. We can encourage our students to research and share information about their ethnic background to create strong relationship with classmates, at the same time students share interesting personal facts to the rest of the class.
  • To redirect our role of instructor to facilitator: one way to do so is to show students we care about them, by listening and taking their opinions into account, suggesting ideas and activities related to their personal likes.
  • To respect and promote the variety of languages used in class: foreigner students often feel marginalized, lost, and pressured into discarding their original language in favour of the school one. Ask students to teach classmates key words in their language: how do you say … in your own language? Or letting students use their language to communicate among others in specific moments, using translanguaging pedagogy in class.
  • To have high expectations for all student’s work: teacher should help students to feel confident and in a secure environment through having high expectations for all students performance (and letting students to know them).

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  • To incorporate methods for self-testing: teachers can combine the traditional tests and non-graded tests, useful to provide progress checks and ensure that students don’t fall behind on required material.
  • To maintain an “inclusive” curriculum that remains respectful of differences: teachers have to consider and take into account all student’s background, as trying to incorporating them into the curriculum (by asking about different traditions, costumes or celebrations students do/have in their countries or within their family members) so as to promote inclusion.

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I hope these suggestions and ideas can help some of you to clarify what culture is and how to apply cultural aspects in class. Share with me any other interesting ideas regarding culture and language teaching.

 

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