culture in second language learning & teaching

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Culture in Second Language Learning and Teaching:

Culture in Second Language Learning and Teaching An Anthropological Perspective


Introduction In Culture in Second Language Learning and Teaching: Anthropology Revisited , R.C. Lafayette reviews the teaching and learning of culture by looking at the contributions from the field of anthropology.

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Historical background and present day situation of the role of culture in language teaching and learning; Concepts from anthropology; Second language classroom application; Relationship between anthropological concepts and recent curricular models;


Questions 1. Is culture really a central issue in providing students with control of a foreign language, which is, at bottom, the teacher’s essential task? 2. Is anything more than incidental encounters with and random reference to cultural matters required in establishing the language skills?

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3. Will special emphasis upon culture not be wasteful of precious class time and end up by giving the student less rather than more of what he is entitled to expect from his language course?

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4. Should not the language class concern itself with language proper and postpone cultural matters until the student has greater maturity and greater language competence? 5. There are already available many texts with a cultural ingredient in their total content; is it necessary to do more than already being done? (Brooks, 1968, p. 206)

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“Among the three major components of the curriculum (language, literature, and culture), the greatest amount of time and energy is still devoted to the grammar and vocabulary aspects of language…”

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“… Culture, however, remains the weakest component due to its uneven treatment in textbooks and to the lack of familiarity, among teachers, with culture itself and with the techniques needed to teach it” (Lafayette, 1988, p. 47).

Concepts from Anthropology:

Concepts from Anthropology Changes in how culture is defined Geertz’s definition of culture : “An historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form by means of which people [italics mine] communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life.” (Geertz, 1973, p. 89)

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Three anthropological concepts of culture: 1. Culture as knowledge or the accumulation of information 2. Culture consists of conceptual structures that create the central reality of a people. 3. Culture as falling between the culture as knowledge and culture as constructed reality continuum .

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“I see culture as making an impact not merely on language learning within an individual, but rather on the individual himself. As second language teachers, we have a unique opportunity to broaden the horizons of our students, to help them better understand themselves,

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and in so doing help them understand others. Or it maybe it should the other way around, help them understand others and in so doing help them better understand themselves.” (p. 61)

Application to Second Language Classroom:

Application to Second Language Classroom awareness Comparison other dependent learning


Comparison Benefits: 1. One’s own belief system revealed 2. Simultaneous gradual development of the belief system of the target culture

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“…stimulating students to reflect on their expectations vis- á-vis the C2 culture on the basis of their C1 frame of reference, by seeing these expectations confirmed, disconfirmed, modified as they deal with L2 texts, by having them speculate o what must be true in and for the other culture for certain statements to be possible.” (Byrnes, 1991, pp. 210-211)

Ethnographic questions:

Ethnographic questions 1. What time of the day is the main meal eaten? 2. What kind of food is eaten? 3. What kind of receptacles, utilities are used? 4. How is the food cooked, by whom, where? 5. How is the food served, by whom? 6. Where is the meal eaten? 7. Who eats with whom? Who eats separately? Who eats before or after whom?

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8. Does everyone eat the same food, the same amount of food? 9. How long does the meal last? 10. What happens during the meal? Is there talk or silence? 11. Who talks to whom? Who is silent? 12. What are the rules of etiquette, table manners?

Other Dependent Learning:

Other Dependent Learning Direct contrast to self-constructed knowledge (Psychological view) Synonymous with cooperative learning Benefits: 1. Promotes small group use for searching purposes 2. Advocates a shift from teacher-centered to learner-centered approach

Anthropological Concepts and Recent Curricular Models:

Anthropological Concepts and Recent Curricular Models Edwards’ six-step model 1. Awareness of one’s own non-universal perspective: that which is true on one side of the mountain may be false on the other side; 2. Differentiation : awareness that not only the other is different but also that I am different with regards to him.

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3. Exploration : an early but tentative desire to pursue knowledge of the other ; 4. Confrontation : a stage in the dialectic of communication;

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5. Decentration : (Literally, changing the center of…) Knowing oneself as one is known by others; this constitutes the early stages of otherness; 6. Surpassing of oneself: acceptance of the other.

Two key observations regarding Edwards’ model:

Two key observations regarding Edwards’ model 1. C1 awareness precedes C2 awareness and understanding 2. Use of comparison as a means of achieving the stages of exploration, confrontation and decentration


Conclusion 1. Treatment of culture has remained underserved in second language classrooms 2. Call for more broader, experienced-based approach to language learning and teaching 3. Move beyond textbooks to video and other media that includes the culture and real world of the foreign language

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Please discuss the 5 questions raised by Brooks (1968) at the beginning of the presentation in your threaded discussion this week.

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Source: Paige, R. M. and D. L. Lange (Eds). (2003). Culture as the core: Perspectives in second language learning . Connecticut: Information Age Publishing

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