Cultural Training in the L2 Classroom

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small research about cultural training during English lessons in Macedonia





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, 2013

Table of Contents

1.Introduction22.Cultural Training in the Curriculum: The Objectives and the Actual Situation42.1Another Dimension in Language Education42.2The objectives52.3 The actual situation62.4 Are private schools more successful in incorporating cultural training?73.Time Management for Successfully Implementing Cultural Training in the L2 Classroom93.1Making the Lesson Plan93.2 Course books103.3 INSERTING cultural content114.Conclusion165.References176. Appendix19

1. Introduction

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I might learn, involve me and I will know.-Benjamin Franklin

One of the best ways to involve students in the process of learning a foreign language is to teach them something about the target culture. Learners of foreign languages usually do not have the opportunity to acquire the target culture by being directly exposed to it. Therefore, bringing the target culture in the classroom is essential for their progress. A small scale research was initiated by the hypothesis that from all the skills taught in the EFL classroom in public schools, cultural training is by far the most neglected one. This paper will deal with the importance of incorporating cultural training in language education in public schools despite the limited amount of time that teachers have. The research was conducted between March and May, 2013 and it is based on observation of 15 English classes in several public and private language schools, the content of the course books used during classes, the program prescribed by the Ministry of Education and interviews with teachers of different age and with different experience. The observations were made in OOU Krste Petkov Misirkov, Gevgelija; SOU Josif Josifovski, Gevgelija; Petta Privatna Gimnazija, Skopje; Language and Computer Center Arka-Mk and Center for Language Education Simbol, Gevgelija. The interviews were conducted with the teachers whose classes were observed and their colleagues from the same schools. In addition, there were questionnaires distributed to teachers from other schools: Center for Language Education Bronco, Skopje, Private Language School Piccadilly, Kriva Palanka; Private Language School Next Level, Kavadarci. The interviews and the questionnaires consisted of the same questions. In total, 20 teachers were interviewed/answered the questions from the questionnaire. (See appendix, p. 20)

Seven teachers taught in private schools only, 10 taught in public schools only and 3 of them had experience in both public and private schools at present or at some point in their career. Among the interviewees and those who answered the questionnaires (20 people), 7 teachers were aged 22-30, 8 were aged 31-40, 4 were aged 41-50 and there was only one teacher older than 50.

The collected data was analyzed and compared in terms of private vs. public schools, the choice of books, classroom equipment and teachers attitude towards the subject and their ways of dealing with cultural training. The conclusion which followed was that almost all of the teachers are familiar with the concept of cultural training and the benefits that come along with it, but very few of them teach culture explicitly, mostly because of lack of time or classroom conditions and in some instances because of lack of competence. Additionally I tried to explore some possible ways of making culture a more prominent component in language learning.

Curriculum is a means, not and end: If the aim is to engage with particular students in productive activities that are personally as well as socially significant, covering the curriculum should not be thought of as the ultimate goal of education. Instead, the specifies knowledge and skills that make up the prescribed curriculum should be seen as items in the cultural tool-kit which are to be used as means in carrying out activities of personal and social significance.- Gordon Wells

2. Cultural Training in the Curriculum: The Objectives and the Actual Situation

2.1 Another Dimension in Language Education

Language learning is a long, complicated process which involves the learning of grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and pragmatics intertwined in the learning of the four skills: reading, speaking, listening and writing. Nowadays, more and more scholars refer to culture as the fifth skill in language learning. Despite this, teachers often neglect the importance of cultural training on the pretext that there is never enough time for this. We regularly come across this complaint, but fortunately teachers are beginning to realize that without the cultural aspect of language, language teaching itself cannot bring about the intended results, and students do not fully understand the language in context. Bringing the culture into the L2 classroom is indeed a challenge. But the need for having this kind of combined language and culture education is based on an ever-expanding list of reasons.The idea that learning about the target culture helps students to be more successful in learning the language permeates in this paper, but it is worth mentioning that there is more to the fifth skill than language learning. Cultural training opens students minds to the possibilities of encountering difficulties in the communication with people from other cultural backgrounds.English has undeniably taken the role of LINGUA FRANCA of today. It is the language that helps us connect with the rest of the world. Having cultural training as part of language learning teaches students something about the target culture, or better said- something about another culture. Making students realize the vast differences between two cultures will also spread a subliminal message about the existence of differences between the cultures in the world in general.Barry Tomalin is a specialist in intercultural communication and in an article which he wrote for the Teaching English Community he said: What the fifth language skill teaches you is the mindset and techniques to adapt your use of English to learn about, understand and appreciate the values, ways of doing things and unique qualities of other cultures. It involves understanding how to use language to accept difference, to be flexible and tolerant of ways of doing things which might be different to yours. It is an attitudinal change that is expressed through the use of language. Thus, gaining cultural skills could largely contribute to gaining intercultural competence.Globalization changed the way we communicate. Today, English is the language that connects us with the rest of the world and intercultural competence is the only thing which guides us in this new way of communicating. As a result, the combination of learning English together with cultural training has become nothing less important than the learning of any other life skill.

2.2 The objectives

There are number of reasons because of which cultural training is an essential part of language education. In order to use the language for its intended purpose, students need to achieve lingo-cultural competence. For that reason, teachers must devote time for cultural training and engage students into exploring the target culture. A proficient speaker of any language is not s/he who can only construct grammatically correct sentences. A proficient speaker is pragmatically precise in communication and uses the language in a way that reflects the culture of the native speakers. Language consists of many other elements apart from the grammar rules and vocabulary. All languages are shaped by the culture of the speakers, by their history and contemporary ways of living, their values, their belief system and other more or less visible segments of culture. Unless the learner is made aware of all this, s/he will never be close to proficiency and there will always be a possibility for misunderstanding because it is language in its cultural context that creates meaning: creating and interpreting meaning is done within a cultural framework.( Scarino & Liddicoat, 2009). Scarino and Liddicoat further on differentiate between the two ideas of language viewed as a social code vs, language viewed as a social practice and they point out that in developing a professional stance to language teaching, it is important to consider how language as code and language as social practice are balanced in the curriculum.

Pic. 1: , The program of the Ministry of Education clearly states that learning about the target culture is inevitable. Culture is part of 8 components of the curriculum, the other 7 being: listening, speaking, writing, reading, grammar, vocabulary and communication. Achieving good results requires holistic approach to teaching. While this looks good on paper, the question remains: -How applicable is it in reality?

2.3 The actual situation

The objectives do not reflect what really happens during English classes. The need of combined language and culture education has been widely recognized by both private and public schools, although this alone is not enough. Every teacher will admit that cultural training is beneficial, but very few will answer affirmatively when asked if they can successfully implement this idea into practice. The following charts show how teachers answered some of the questions in the questionnaire (see appendix, p. 18).

Teachers with more experience show more enthusiasm. All the teachers who claim to teach culture have at least 10 years of experience. All of them are aged above 31. During the observations it was seen that more experienced teachers tend to pay attention to things like sharing travel experiences from the countries of the target culture, talking about famous people, mentioning holiday traditions and even inserting popular quotes and proverbs during discussions.However, a more structured way of teaching culture is almost never present in the EFL classroom, regardless of the age or the experience of the teachers. Within classes of 40 minutes, cultural training cannot be inserted as a single activity unless the students have advanced knowledge or if the teacher has a method which is highly effective. In that case the prescribed program is quickly covered, and dedicating time to cultural training as an activity on its own is very possible. This is the case only with experienced teachers who feel more comfortable in their role of a teacher, have a lot of knowledge of the culture and plan their lesson in details. But most of the time, teachers are racing against time to go over the units of the course books and assign classes for revision and tests. With a fixed program, teachers usually care little about expanding the syllabus or combining the course books with some extra materials. As shown in the figures above, only 6 of 20 answered that they add cultural content to their lessons. So, with an obvious necessity of cultural training in the classroom, why do teachers tend to minimize this part of language teaching? All of the nine teachers who answered that they sometimes skip the pages with cultural information in their books stated lack of time as one of their reasons. Ten teachers who claimed that they do not expand the syllabus to teach about the target culture also stated lack of time as their main reason. Lack of time is undeniably teachers greatest concern and there is very little they can do to make their jobs easier.

2.4 Are private schools more successful in incorporating cultural training?

Private schools seem to have been more successful in transmitting the cultural traits of the target culture through language education. Considering this, one could ask why teachers in public schools would simply not adopt approaches from private language schools.Private language schools pay more attention to cultural training, but time (even though it could be) is almost never a problem here. Public schools cannot adopt the same way of language teaching. Private schools are more successful in cultural training and the main reason is time management and freedom in designing the syllabus.Teachers who work in private language schools find it easier to make an estimation of how much time can be dedicated to cultural training. It can be said that this is due to the duration of classes which are usually 20 minutes longer than English classes in public schools which last 40 minutes. During the extra time, teachers can play games, play videos, make presentations, play music and discuss different topics like movies, literature and travelling in the countries of the target language. But if we calculate the total amount of time for English classes per week in private and public schools it appears that teachers in public schools are those who have 20 minutes more, considering that students in public schools have English classes three times a week, which is one additional class compared to the private schools where courses usually consist of two classes per week. Then why does it seem that teachers in private schools have more time to do cultural training activities?According to the teachers who work both in private and public schools there is a clear distinction between these two. First of all, teachers in private schools are more flexible with the syllabus, or in other words, they can create the syllabus according to the students needs. Secondly, they have classrooms which are only used for language learning and these classrooms are usually better equipped. Finally, if students show interest, teachers could organize visits to the country of the target language and culture at the end of the courses.At any rate, it would be a false conclusion to say that teachers in public schools do not care about teaching culture. Trying to compare language learning in private and public schools is impossible since they are two processes which take place in different sets of conditions. A solution to the problem must be found elsewhere, not in trying to make English classes in private and public schools more similar.

3. Time Management for Successfully Implementing Cultural Training in the L2 Classroom

According to the 10/90 Rule, the 10% of time that you take to plan your activities in advance will save you 90% of the effort involved in achieving your goals later. The very act of thinking through and planning your work in advance will dramatically reduce the amount of time that it takes you to do the actual job.-Bryan Tracy3.1 Making the Lesson Plan

The general opinion of the teachers-participants in the research is that cultural training is of great importance, but in order to be more prevalent in the syllabus, it must be structured and well thought of.

(See appendix, p.19)

Time is limited, the syllabus is extensive and the simple calculations tell teachers that their primary concern should be covering the material. Despite being aware of the need fo...