Sunday, 4 December 2011

Culture Vulture

There is a debate as to whether culture has a role in the English Language classroom.

If we are teaching English as an international language, a lingua franca, then we do not need to learn about the culture of the target language community , the UK / the USA, as the real target language community is the world.

However, so much of the language comes out of the culture that developed it, so in a way the two are intrinsically linked. Also looking at culture gives us interesting topics to contextualise the language in.

I have 7 reasons for including culture in my lessons. They are:

Usage – so much of English has connotational nuances or subtle formality shifts that an understanding of the culture that developed the language helps with an understanding of the meanings.

Holistic Learning – some students love to study grammar rules and construct sentences using them. Some like to see the language being used in context, in meaningful situations. Learning about culture contextualises the language. It means that students can use other knowledge not just the knowledge of English.

Extended Skills work – learning about culture helps us to focus on reading writing listening and speaking skills in the language classroom. These skills are essential life skills that are not automatically transferred from L1 to a foreign language.

Understanding – if we want students to study outside the classroom we might ask them to read or watch films / tv programmes, listen to songs etc in English. These will have cultural references that students need to be aware of.

Travel – if students want to travel to English speaking countries they need to be aware of the customs and cultures of those countries.

Critical Thinking – discussing cultural differences , comparing your own culture to different cultures ca help students develop their reasoning skills and help them move beyond the remembering and understanding stages of Bloom’s taxonomy.

How to teach culture

If you take my reasons and shuffle them around you will find they spell culture.

So another acrostic can you think of reasons how to teach culture using letters from culture.



These were some of the ideas you came up with around the country.

Course book, comparison cinema. computers card, cds, cartoons customs, creativity, communication
Understanding. unabridged books
Listening, literature., learning., language
Tales, text. teacher, technology, traditions travelling tastes textbook
Universal unique information usage useful knowledge
Reading, riddles, radio role-play realia, rumour and gossip, religion
Entertainment, extracts, etiquette

And some others that didn’t quite fit:


yoU tube

An acrostic is one way to teach culture. In the session we also looked at the traps formal / polite language sometimes has.

We used the mind map and sounds to help brainstorm ideas before a reading or listening and we used a joke to get students thinking of the language.

So what do you think? Does Culture have a role to play in the ELT classroom. Leave your comments below.

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