Development of Intercultural Awareness: A Strategic Task in Foreign Language Teaching
(School of Foreign Languages, Lanzhou Jiaotong University, Lanzhou, Gansu 730070, China)
Abstract: Lingua-cultural teaching has been discussed for more than 10 years in China’s college English teaching circle, but, so far, most of the teachers still show greater preference to the inputting of language knowledge while overlooking the cultural training in the instruction of language. In terms of his research on language and lingua-cultural teaching experience obtained in the long years of his teaching career, the author analyses cultural information distribution in teaching resources and comes up with the principle of lingua-cultural teaching and the framework that can bring forth a close combination of language and cultural teaching. The author holds that it is only by means of establishing overall lingua-cultural teaching thought and optimizing teaching patterns that can we find the most effective way to strengthen the development of college students’ intercultural awareness and intercultural communication competence.
Key words: lingua-cultural teaching; development of intercultural awareness; teaching mode
In order to understand our humanity, we must understand that it is language that makes us human. As early as 1921, Sapir pointed out that language, in its existence, can not break away from culture. Language expresses, embodies and symbolizes cultural reality (Claire Kramsch, 1998: 3) and it is by means of a certain language code together with a certain behavioral pattern that culture finds its existence, expression and function. In the past decades, with the
rapid development of sociolinguistics, pragmatics and cross-culture communication studies, more and more linguists have forcefully emphasized the close correlation between culture and language, speech communities and their interactions. However, it was not until the late 1980s that Chinese teachers of foreign languages commenced to discuss the correlation between these two aspects seriously (WANG Zong-yan, 1996)
and tried to bring the contrastive studies of linguistics and culture into their regular English language teaching.
However, according to the information and data from relevant publications, the reform in this field does not turn out to be progressing smoothly and the cultural instruction in current China’s College English Teaching is still in a less focused, initial and trial stage. At present, as for most English teachers, inputting language knowledge still presides over their classroom instruction, while insufficient attention has been paid to cultural training in practice. All this has inevitably resulted in deficiency in language acquisition. The students’ cultural competence is found much lower compared
with their language competence, leading to “cultural aphasia” in actual intercultural communication. This, in turn, has held back the further improvement of language teaching quality. Not being able to satisfy the social demands for high level bilingual professionals. Therefore, language instruction and cultural teaching must be equally emphasized in the whole process of foreign language teaching at colleges and universities.
In conformity with the results of some scientific research on contemporary linguistics, foreign language teaching and the author’s own protracted teaching research and practical lingua-cultural teaching experience, this paper attempts to stress the inseparable correlation between language and culture, analyses cultural
information distribution in teaching resources and comes up with a framework of lingua-cultural teaching that can produce a close integration of the two aspects. In doing so, the author hopes to draw the attention of foreign language teachers that they need to make joint efforts to discuss how to achieve a further optimization of English teaching patterns in China’s institutions of higher learning.
2. It Is Vital to Have a Correct Understanding of the Correlation of Language and Lingua-cultural Teaching
So far, scholars and linguists at home and abroad have voiced strong opinions about the relation between language and culture. Most of them hold the identical view that language functions not only acts as an organic element of culture but also a carrier of culture. But different living environments confined by different natural, social, historical and cultural backgrounds have shaped and resulted in different language structures and language usages, which automatically and inevitably embody such things as different modes of thinking, values, social norms and social formations, religious beliefs and the historical accretion of the community to the full extent. What is more, with the rapid development of society, different cultures have never stopped being mutually blended all the time, which, in turn, has kept renewing people’s ideas and concepts. For instance, new words and expressions come into use all the time. Therefore, language is characterized by its importance, multivariateness, unceasing evolution and propagation. Since “Culture is always the result of human intervention in the biological process of nature” and “Culture is the product of socially and historically situated discourse communities, that are to a large extent imagined communities, created and shaped by
language”(Claire Kramsch, 1998). It goes without saying that it is impossible to use a foreign language more efficiently and accurately
in communication and interaction among different cultures without a thorough understanding of its culture. Though the generality of human culture, generally speaking, is larger than its particularity, the generality of a culture, when reflected in words and discourse, will unavoidably result in “lexical gaps” and “cultural clashes” in communication. In particular, there exists an innately wide gap between Chinese and Western cultures. If teachers and students just emphasize language learning but fail to pay sufficient attention to or to fully understand the culture of the English speaking countries, there will inevitably arise misusage of language and speech errors in actual communication. Due to the language deficiency and speech deficiency, Chinese students often find their expressions in such aspects as in greetings, inquiry, in their expressions of compliments, gratitude, regret, declination, courtesy, social intercourse activities and organization of the discourse structure. These are, however, only the tips of the “iceberg of cultural barriers”, just like the giant part of it hidden beneath the sea surface, the cultural elements and the cultural essentials of underlying layers needs further comprehension and study. Therefore, lingua-cultural teaching must be emphasized in the whole process of foreign language teaching at colleges and universities and for teachers to have a correct understanding of the correlation between language and culture is an indispensable prerequisite for successful fulfillment of simultaneous lingua-cultural training. Only when teachers are fully aware that the teaching of foreign languages should be conducted not only for students to learn how to use the “tool”, but also to cultivate students’ cross-cultural
awareness and communication competence through offering learners important aspects from the educational fields of the humanities and social sciences, can they hope to unfold the splendid and extraordinary language and culture before the students’ eyes. In this
way, they are able to stimulate the learners actively and enthusiastically to explore the realm of foreign languages and culture and pursue their language studies with their own efforts. 3. Making Full Use of the Cultural Information in Teaching Resources to Cultivate
Students’ Cross-cultural Awareness and Communication
In the process of foreign language learning, the cultivation of cross-cultural awareness is of great importance because it serves as the key affecting learning efficiency and communication competence. Cross-cultural awareness means understanding and cognition of such things as the social domain, social rules and norms, values, beliefs, habits and customs of the target-language. Cultivation of cross-cultural awareness turns out to be a process that proceeds in an orderly and gradual way, a process in which cross-cultural awareness can be accumulated and sharpened step by step accordingly and unceasingly. Therefore it is really vital to achieve an organic integration of language and culture in the teaching process. In order to achieve this, in the first place, teachers should know clearly where the cultural information is located in the teaching resources and how to make efficient use of it.
Whatever the teaching materials may be, they consist of different discourses and the related exercises containing a varying amount of cultural information. The cultural information in the teaching resources identifies itself in different forms on different levels. The difference lies only in the amount of cultural information that varies, the level of its accessibility in the materials and the ways it identifies itself. It might be visualized or embedded or mingled in the text. All that could be easily identified is categorized as dominant cultural information, such as culturally-loaded words, idioms and phrases,
unique sentence patterns and discourse structure, exotic cultural images and rhetoric skills. While some other elements belong to recessive cultural information such as what is implied in the language itself or what is closely but delicately associated with the context concerning social ideology, ethnic concepts, mode of thinking, philosophy of life, the author’s personal psychological experience, or what cannot be explained in verbal expression at all, the learners have to identify their connotation through deduction or induction. So that we can label all these cultural elements, cultural context and latent cultural factors containing the discourse on different layers within internal and external scopes as “The Cultural Information in the Teaching Resources” (Table 1), which is drawn and induced based on
the author’s own research and practical teaching for other language teachers’ reference only.
Since culture is a big, all-inclusive systematical composition with multilayer features, the cultural information in the teaching resources is often limited and incomplete. Therefore, while giving presentations, on the one hand, teachers should supplement the original text with some more cultural knowledge into the teaching process and the teaching materials, in particular, with the sufficient introduction of more contents related to the comparative studies of the western and Chinese cultures so that the students can be encouraged into widening their horizon in their language acquisition. On the other hand, teachers should not weaken the language teaching while attaching importance to the cultural instruction within the scheduled teaching time. For this very reason, it is the teachers’ responsibility to highlight the discrepancy, the importance, the practicality and the comprehensiveness of the culture and accordingly select to offer what the students are in desperate need of to strengthen the contrastive lingua-cultural teaching. In addition, it is
only through practice that the learners can further consolidate and improve the lingua-cultural knowledge that they have acquired. Therefore, schools and teachers should do their utmost to create an inviting language environment in which the students will have more actual communication opportunities. For example, quite apart from various English activities organized for the students with presence of foreigners, while giving lectures or playing audio videotapes, the author often designs and fulfills the teaching in a way that the students take the learning process including reading comprehension or watching videotapes as a kind of intercultural communication. In doing so, the author often first asks them to fish out words, expressions, paragraphs, scenes with special features of their own or contexts belonging to “cultural individuality” so as to help them get hold of the background and general picture of the text or the film as a whole, its meaning and value of the communication in this particular situation, and then handle “cultural discrepancy” properly in different ways based on a correct understanding of the cultural elements that arise in them.
Table 1 The distribution of cultural information in the teaching resources
4. Optimizing the Teaching Pattern to Achieve the Organic Combination of Language and Cultural Teaching
Essentially speaking, foreign language teaching is a special process of recognition and practice. Learning a foreign language is to learn how to conduct intercultural communication accurately and efficiently, or in a more strict sense, to learn another kind of way of thinking and expression patterns based on the comprehension and recognition of culture of the target language. Due to the strong impact of anthropology and sociolinguistics, currently the theoretical research on language teaching has shifted from how to teach to how to learn with more and more emphasis placed upon “learner-oriented”
teaching methodology. For example, Tomlinson (1998) holds that language learning is a “conscious process”, in which there exist two
kinds of studies of totally different essence. One is direct learning with explicit characteristics in nature while the other, far bigger in substance, belongs to “subconscious and inexplicit” domain. What people have learned belongs to “procedural knowledge”, but their communication competence results from implicit and subconscious aspects. In order to develop students’ cross-cultural awareness and
capabilities, we must resort to “learner-oriented” teaching
methodology. When observing the growth of the human individual, we can easily find that college students are in the period of time when they have basically perfected their logical thinking and meanwhile they have started to speed up their development of dialectical thought. They could derive foreign cultural knowledge on their own initiative through various channels without just having to rely on their teachers for getting access to and understanding foreign cultures. Therefore, it should be the teachers’ main concern to coordinate the correlation
between the teachers and their students, the teaching resources and teaching environment, encouraging the students to take the initiative in the whole learning process. As a result, the students can sharpen their intercultural communication awareness continuously, which will eventually lead to refining their cross-cultural communication and interaction capabilities accordingly while they absorb language knowledge and improve their ability to use the language. This process is among the most important because it is the key factor that directly determines learning efficiency and finally results in reaching the desired goal. While we attach importance to language and culture teaching simultaneously, we should never forget to teach a foreign language in the cultural perspective rather than teach culture from the angle of language. Philosophically, only when lingua-cultural teaching is taken as an organic integration in the whole cultural system of the human society can we clearly find that the
ultimate purpose of the teaching of the foreign language lies in the understanding and the exchanging and the mingling of different cultures. In fact, lingua-cultural teaching is nothing else but an organic integration, which functions as the main guard line running through the whole teaching process. As for the teachers, it is a continuous and coherent teaching process from conducting basic lingua-cultural teaching together with the cultivation of cross-cultural awareness simultaneously to the further development of the intercultural communication competence as the final result. As for the students, it is a dynamic learning process from the specific to the whole, from knowledge acquisition to the possession of intercultural competence, an important aspect concerning the education aimed at all-round development of the individual. The teachers’ main attention is to set up an overall teaching methodology and continuously optimize the teaching patterns so as to achieve an organic integration of language teaching and cultural teaching (Goodman, 1991). In the whole process, it is vital for the teachers to try their utmost to utilize the cultural information in the teaching resources to the full because it is not only the important element used to cultivate students’ cultural
awareness, but also helpful in perfecting the teachers’ teaching arrangement, adjusting their teaching methods and bringing into full play the initiative of their students. In order to illustrate clearly what has been discussed above, here the author would like to present a framework simplified in accordance with the one the author has used in the long years of his teaching career, hoping to describe the correlation between the teachers and students, teaching resources and the very purpose of the language teaching. The mutual teaching-learning process could be illustrated as follows:
Table 2 The teaching pattern to achieve a close combination of