By Walter Marshall,2014-11-06 19:32
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    Culture and Foreign Language Teaching

    sLu Xuhong

    (JimeiUniversity, Xiamen fujian)

    Abstract:Thispaperargues thatcross-cultural communication betweenChinese and Foreigners often runs into trouble. Some factorswhich block communication lie in culture-governed structures of language. In view ofthe factthatthe culturalmessages are reflected in people.sdailyuse of language, culture elements should not

    be overlooked in FLT. This paper attempts to explore theways of including culture teaching in the language classroom.

    Key words:Culture Foreign LanguageTeaching Communication

    ÑCulture Studies are Needed

    Culture is communication and communication is culture. Communication va- rieswith culture and culture varieswith communication. The difference in culture and communication inevitably result inmiscommunication andmisunderstandings in cross-cultural communication. That can be illustrated by the following rea- sons:

    a: The languagewhichwe speak isnotone butmany, where each dialector registerhas its own habits and values deriving from its local culture; b: The culture inwhichwe live is notone culture butmany, eachwith its own values, customs etc., and each should be as honored as any other culture; c: Otherpeoples' views, values, traditions, feelings, cultures, are as valid and valuable as ourown.

    So obviouslywhatGillianBrownmeans to say is thatthe differences in back- ground knowledge of certain social tradition and lack of shared cultural values will certainlygive rise toproblems in understandingparticipantsofcross-cultur- al interaction.

    ÒCultureKnowledge isNeeded

    /Culturemight be defined as the ideas, customs, skills, arts, and tools which characterize a given people in given period of time.0(BrownH.D.1980: 123-24).

    Languagesand culturesare closely related to each other. Languageusage re- flects the culture of a society. This relationship between language and culture forms one importantaspect in second language acquisition. The use of language can notexistoutside a certain societyorsocialcontex;t language isnotonly a tool for communication, but also a means to reflect cultural features of a nation. (Halliday, 1973:.41), the premise for second language learners to commun-i catewith native speakersand understand socialmeaning is tohave a common cu-l tural standard and background knowledge(Giglioli P. P. 1972: 6), so, ifwe want to learn a language, we should and must be aware of the culture of its speakers.

    However, aswe look back to see the situation inmostofourChinas' univer-

    sities and colleges, we see tha,t language teachers and scholarshave notbeen a- ble to pay attention to the role ofculturalknowledge in language teaching. What have been emphasizedmostly are the students, motivation, the teachers, skillsof teaching and the teachingmaterials. Butthis is far from enough. One very impor- tant component in foreign language teaching has been neglected. That is, the awareness of the role of cultural traits in foreign language acquisition. It is very hard forone tomaster a foreign language and communicate verywellwith its n- ative speakerswithouta good knowledge ofthatpeoples' cultural traits and cultur- al standards, because each language contain a certain amountofcultural features thatother languages do nothave. Language developswith the development of a peoples' history and culture, and the language itself is one part of that society, language is amixed embodimentofculture. Culture establishes a contextofcog- nitive and affective behavior for everymember in a certain society, and we only tend to perceive reality strictlywithin the context of our own culture, not other cultures. Asan ingrained setofbehaviorandmodesofperception, culture isvery important in the learningofa foreign language, because any language is a partof a certain culture. The acquisition ofa foreign language is also the acquisition ofa foreign culture.

    ÓProblem s and Remedies

    Since the use of language can not exist outside a certain society or social contex;t language is notonly a tool for communication, but also ameans to re- flect cultural features ofa nation. (Halliday, 1973:. 41), the premise for sec- ond language learners to communicatewith native speakers and understand social meaning is tohave a common culturalstandard and background knowledge(Gigl-i oliP.P. 1972:6), so, ifwewantto learn a language, we should andmustbe a- ware of the culture of its speakers.

    Attention should be paid to the role ofculturalknowledge in language learn- ing inChinas' universities and colleges. It isunthinkable and veryhard forone to master a foreign language and communicate very well with its native speakers withouta good knowledge of that peoples' cultural traits and cultural standards, because each language contains a certain amount of cultural features that other languages donothave. Language developswith the developmentofapeoples' his- tory and culture, and the language itself is one part of that society, so the lan- guage is amixed embodimentof that culture.

    Sowe can see that the teaching and learning of a foreign language by em- phasizing the structure of that target language is imperfec.t In theEnglish teach- ing, we are quite aware of the following cultural inappropriateness that our students oftenmake.

    a)Sociolinguistical inappropriateness: ways ofgreeting and addressing peo- ple.

    b)Cultural unacceptability: the use of self-deprecation strategies in ex- pressingmodesty. TheChinese people often deny complimentswhen otherpeople praise them.

    c)Conflictofdifferentvalue systems: invasion ofprivacy. TheChinese peo-

    ple like to show friendship and intimacy by inquiring other people.s privacy. (CuiShuzh,i 1986:36)

    d)Over-simplification orover-generalization: Chinese studentshave ster- eotyped concepts aboutother societies. What a Chinese student thinks of an A- merica oraBritish is subjective rather than objective: in aChinese students' eye s', allAmericans are very rich and friendly, and allBritish are conservative and mean and silentpeople. The students'attitude toward western people is heavily biased, and the reason for this is that theyhave very little knowledge aboutwes-t ern cultures.

    So far, a foreign language teacher, is inescapably a teacherofculture, reme- dies for these cross-culturaldifficultiesmay be as follows:

    a)More information on customs, habits and behavioral patterns ofEnglish native speakers should be included in the textbooks. Teachersask students topay attention to finding outmore about such cultural elements in the textswhile they are reading.

    b) If conditions permi,t teachers can use video films and English instruc- tional films, and ask students to observe cultural traitswhilewatching. Teachers can ask students to do the same thingwhen they read books on various subjects. c)Well trained teacherswith a lot of cross-cultural experience can give 196中国校外教育教


    lectures on western cultures: They can compare Chinese culture withWestern culture. I think this is themost effectiveway, for in China there are few better opportunities than this.

    Foreign language teachers can neverput their teaching emphasis on pronun- ciation and grammar only, because this is very dangerous as to the fostering of students'ability in communication. Ifwe, as foreign language teachers, can put more emphasis on cultural interferences in language teaching, and addmore con- tent to this respect in our teaching, thenmanymistakes in communication caused by a lack of culturalknowledgemay be avoided

    ÔTeaching Cultures

    It is stilla topic ofacademic discussionwhetherornotthis culturally speci-f ic knowledge is teachable. Mypersonalbelief is that it isunrealistic to expectall aspects ofa certain culture to be covered in classroom teaching and be fully per- ceivedwithout realcontactwith i.t Personalparticipation in realuse of the target languagewillprovide the direction for awareness of culture-specific elements, which is justwhatcross-culturalcommunication dependson, butcan hardlyon- ly be learned in classroom settings. Personal experience provides themosteffec- tive access to a complete view ofa culture.

    However, this does not mean that culture is absolutely non- teachable through school education. As a consequence of highly developed technology, there are variousways to experience foreign cultures, such asmovies, video- tapes, and interactive pictureson the Interne.t Thesemeans can be applied fully in classroom settings so that language learnersmay have first-hand experience

    with the authentic target language and its related culturalcontexts. In a nutshel,l one important principle of language teaching is that cultural awareness should grow simultaneouslywith the knowledge of the target language. As long as this principle remains functional in themindsof teachers and learners, active and e-f fectivemeasures can be developed to the benefit of cross-cultural communica- tion.

    ÕCulturalContrast)))the Basic Approach

    Cultural contrast is the basic approach to cross-cultural communication re- search. Only by comparison canwe have a betterunderstanding ofour own cu-l ture, other cultures and the differences and conflicts between them. Themajor principles thatunderlie contrastive analysis are as follows:

    a)What should be done is differentiation butnot evaluation. Every culture has itsmerits and demerits. Since the objective ofcross-culturalcommunication is to furthermutual understanding and to establish friendly communication be- tween different cultures, making positive and negative comments on this or that culturewillonly result inmore serious cultural conflicts.

    b)Differentiation is the keynote ofculturalcontras.t Attention should center on cultural differences and cultural conflicts so that communicative interference and culturalmistakes can be avoided.

    c)Mainstream culture is the focus of attention. "Mainstream culture" here refers to the culture of the standard language taughtat schools and used inmass media. For example, cultural factors in Chinese "putonghua" are our focus of research.

    d)It is communicative norms butnot social phenomena that are to be com- pared. Socialphenomena are complicated, and a common problem in cross-cu-l tural communication is thatpeople are easilymisled by this or that individual in- cidentor acts thathave observed in a foreign culture. It is the socialnorms of a culture thatpeople form other cultures need to learn abou.t Of course it is very difficult to achieve this objective. That iswhy cultural contrast is also an impor- tant topic in cross-cultural communication research.

    e)What should be done is synchronic contras.t It is against the guideline of cross-cultural communication research to compare the past of one culture with the presentofanother, or substitute the pastofa culture for its presen.t f)Quantitative analysis is important in achieving a correctunderstanding of the socialnorm ofa culture, and a correctmode ofthought is thekey tomake the analysis true to the essence of the culture. In observing a culture, "one question should alwaysbe asked Is the particular item thathasbeen observed an individu- al accidentor an essentialpartof themode of living? 'Notall the actions are e- qually significant In ourobservations of the life 'of the speaker of the language, we seek to learn, wemustarrive atsome conception of the pattern of living'as a basin uponwhich to classify and evaluate the particular itemswe note.Exper-i ence is awhole inwhich each partaffects all the rest" (Eries1945) ÖCulture in Classroom

    Languages and culturesare closely related to each other. Languageusage re-

    flects the culture of a society. This relationship between language and culture forms one important aspect in second language acquisition. The use of language can notexistoutside a certain societyorsocialcontex;t language isnotonly a tool for communication, butalso ameans to reflectcultural featuresofa nation. , the premise for second language learners to communicate with native speakers and understand socialmeaning is tohave a common culturalstandard and background knowledge, so, ifwewant to learn a language, we should andmustbe aware of the culture of its speakers.

    In FLT classroom, language teachers play an important role in establishing students'defaultattitudes towardsanew culture. How studentsperceive the target culture depends to some extent on teachers ' guidance. In order to promote the culturalunderstanding, language teachers can find ways and use techniques in classroom language teaching:

    a)Textbooks: InEnglish textbooks, there aremany elements thatreflectthe culture of thewes.t Of course, extracts from literaryworks aremost typical and usefu.l In fac,t the occurrence of such cultural elements is suitable for teachers to focus on in class- if teachers have noticed them. The teachers can ask students topay attention toplaceswhere cultural traits, socialcustoms and habits are embodied in text they study. Furthermore, once the students have acquired this kind ofculturalknowledge, theywill learn topay attention to some "cultural taboos" as they communicatewith nativeEnglish speakers.

    b)Lectures: Well-trained teacherswith a lotofcross-culturalexperience can give lectures on western cultures; they can compare Chinese culture with western cultures.

    c)Role-play: inESL classroom, role-play is ameansofhelping students to overcome cultural"fatigue", role-playpromotes theprocessofcross-cultur- aldialogwhile at the same time, it provides opportunities for oral communica- tion.

    d)Othermaterials and techniques: readings, films, simulation games, cu-l ture assimilators are now available to language teachers to assist them in the process of language teaching in the classroom.

    e)Other idealways: sending students toEnglish speaking countriesorareas to practise theirEnglish with native speakers or invite foreigners to come to the classroom or teach orhave a lecture to the students.

    So if the foreign language teachers can placemore emphasis on cultural in- terferences in foreign language teaching, and addmore content to this respect in our teaching, thenmanymistakes in communication caused by a lack ofcultural knowledgemay be avoided


    [1] Brislin, R. Understanding Culture 's Influence on Behavior. Fort Worth, TX:HarcourtBrace Jovanovich College Publishers,1993.

    [2]Cui Shuzh.i, Teaching of Basic English)On Relationship Between Language Teaching and Background Knowledge. Journal of Foreign

    Languages,No.1. Shangha,i 1996.

    [3]Gigliol,i p. p.,Language and SocialContex. ,t Penguin Books, 1972. [4]Halliday,M. A. K.. Exploration in the Functions of Language. New York,1977.

    [5]Smith, A.G.Ed.Communication and Culture. New York: Hol,t Rine- har,t &Wilson,1996.


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