The Incorporation of Culture in Foreign Language Teaching.

An extended article addresses the great significance that culture holds to foreign language teaching.

Academic research has always been a must for every researcher to develop their knowledge in a certain field as well to foster critical thinking and analytical skills through hands-on learning. Research effectively adds value to the stock of global knowledge and provides the source of new ideas, methods, techniques, and innovation across a whole range of disciplinary and multi-disciplinary areas. Teaching is among the essential areas in which research is needed all the time to update the field and enhance it. In this regard, the material under consideration is an attempt that documents the importance of exposing language learners to the aspects of culture as part of the process of teaching a foreign language. In reality, language is one essential carrier of culture, and also a social product that reflects various aspects of culture. Thus, successful foreign language teaching does not take place unless culture teaching is incorporated too. Furthermore, the process of acquiring communicative competence is mainly accomplished through the socialization of the speaker.

When speakers get the chance to know the traditions, customs, and behaviors of a particular speech community, they surely move from being ignorant individuals to social members. The latter can communicate with various kinds of cultures face to face and show a high intercultural communication competence. To build intercultural communication competence, language educators must teach culture to their students. In the light of this point, this article devotes a well-structured discussion of significant and intricate notions that language educators, as well as knowledgeable language learners, must be aware of. Initially, Language and culture are two intertwined notions. Language is regarded as the cornerstone of culture and society. Besides, the relationship between these two key elements is described as dynamic. Through language, culture can transmit its beliefs and values. Though, the existence of culture is significant to language as well. Culture exerts a great influence on the language. Equally important, the relationship between culture and foreign language teaching needs to be mentioned. Most of the time, foreign language learners resort to their native language to learn the target one. That is to say, they mostly use their native language’ rules, grammar patterns while learning a certain foreign language. Consequentially, a sort of language interference occurs because of this negative linguistic transfer from the native to the target language. This accentuates the realization that language is inextricably bound up with culture. Inevitably, the way of thinking and expressing influenced by the native culture will be unconsciously transferred to the target language during intercultural communication.

All in all, the most difficult aspect for the language learners to deal with in their study of the foreign language is not the linguistic forms or grammar, but the cultural difference. As a solution to this issue, it is suggested to consider the cultural schemata in which the human knowledge structure is based on cultural knowledge. In this respect, the teaching of cultural knowledge and the establishment of the cultural schema will be of great help to the learners’ linguistic comprehension and expression. Additionally, the cultural schema stored in one’s brain will be used by the students to get rid of the obstruction and solve the problem resulting from cultural differences. Another intriguing aspect in this regard is communicative competence. The latter refers to the ability to achieve certain communicative aims by various possible linguistic or non-linguistic means. It is far more than the grammatical competence of an ideal speaker and it is a highly complex ability. As has been noted before, the linguist pioneer Dell Hymes has put forward the theory of Communicative Competence, referring to the ability to use language in conformity with the social setting of a given context. Since communication is mentioned, the focus is not only on language accuracy, including grammar rules but also on fluency. The latter is referred to as appropriateness. Therefore, teaching a foreign language should enable learners to use the target language to negotiate meaning in communication, and be able to use the language appropriately in given social contexts. All these intricacies of communicative competence are incorporated in a communicative approach. This approach, accordingly, attaches more importance to the practical use of the foreign language rather than its structure and grammar. By the same token, there are theories on culture teaching that can be discussed as an important step to clarify the process of incorporating cultural awareness in foreign language teaching. Among the theories that support the approach underlined are Byram’s and Kramcsh’s. According to Byram, foreign language educations should include four fundamental components, namely, language learning, language awareness, cultural awareness, and cultural experience. Furthermore, Kramcsh states that the teaching of culture in foreign language has taken two main directions: one has focused on cultural information, statistical information, institutional structures and facts of civilization, and highbrow information. Another key element to discuss is the cultivation of cultural awareness. In this regard, some cultural aspects need to be addressed. First of all, customs are an aspect that refers to the greetings, addressing, and gratitude. These elements differ from one cultural setting to another. Each social context requires certain ways of dealing with these elements. Secondly, people’s psychology is regarded as another aspect of culture. The psychology may differ in the sense that the values and morals differ from one nation to another. Some nations, for instance, care about frankness, like in the Chinese society. On the other hand, other societies consider collectivism rather than individualism. Thirdly, the historical background is also a term that covers the historical development of culture and the accumulation of cultural ethics. In the English culture as an example, expressions such as ‘keep up with the Jones’, ‘John Bull’, ‘Uncle Sam’… etc are directly related to some historical figures and events and have to be learned specifically. Overall, students that are exposed to such facts of cultural awareness and cultivation will have the highest expectations to learn a foreign language effectively and communicate authentically, better than those who have just been exposed to linguistic knowledge about a certain foreign language. Emphasizing the culture introduction in language teaching, some examples reflect what has been discussed above. The students who are not exposed to the awareness of cultural differences between societies make mistakes while communicating with native speakers face to face. Such students may ask questions such as ‘how old are you?’, ‘what is your salary?’ or even ‘are you married?” Such questions may be acceptable in students’ culture. However, they are not relevant in the culture of native speakers of that foreign language. This causes embarrassment to native speakers because they are not accustomed to this type of questions. Due to this issue, teachers, as part of their training, should familiarize themselves with politics, economics, geography, history, art, religion, literature and other aspects of the social life. Concerning the language part, they should learn the everyday language, idioms, proverbs because they reflect the culture behind the language.

To conclude and give a digest of what has been mentioned above, teaching a foreign language is not only limited to exposing students to grammatical structure, rules, and patterns but also entails raising students’ awareness about the culture that reflects the language they are learning. In a few words, teachers are required to help students enhance their communicative competence for an effective learning process.

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Ait Oumghar Elghali

Do not seek to master the language. Do not fight the language or it will defeat you. If you devote yourself to the language, you will be rewarded.