An Examination of Culture Knowledge: A Study of L2 Teachers' and Teacher Educators' Beliefs and Practices

Article excerpt

Abstract: Historically, culture has not been emphasized as much as linguistic features in the teaching of second languages, but the introduction of the National Standards has provided an opportunity for a shift in this trend. This study surveyed 415 world language teachers and 64 teacher educators about the extent to which the culture standard is a focus of teaching and the motivators and barriers in maintaining culture knowledge. Using descriptive statistical analysis, survey results suggest that both groups share some concerns, motivations, and barriers to teaching culture, but they also differ in significant areas. The article concludes with some potential implications for teacher education programs as well as suggestions for continued professional development for teachers related to culture knowledge.

Key words: culture, professional development, Standards, survey results, teacher education

Introduction

Teaching culture in the second language (L2) classroom can be challenging for teachers at all levels of instruction. This can be especially true for K-12 L2 teachers. Teachers at these levels face challenges preparing, teaching, and assessing culture, which is particularly critical in a time where more pressure is being placed on K-12 districts and universities to maintain and grow language programs. One of the challenges to teaching culture is the ability to learn and maintain culture knowledge. Teachers are often left to their own devices to find cultural resources, instructional strategies, and frameworks for the teaching of culture. Recently, however, the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century (National Standards, 2006) movement has reshaped how L2 teachers approach the teaching of language and culture in the classroom.

This is true for the area of culture, which in the past has suffered in comparison to linguistic elements of the classroom. Historically, culture has not been given the prominence it deserves within language curriculum, methodologies, and instructional techniques. In 1983, Stern stated that a balance between the two features of language study is difficult to achieve, either stressing linguistic forms, which in turn ignore the people who use the language, or emphasizing cultural matters, which fails to draw attention to linguistic form, making the language ''superficial and unserviceable'' (p. 191). Despite efforts in the field to create this balance, culture has never quite achieved the status that linguistic forms have over the years in regard to teaching methodologies.

In response to the call of L2 educators (Crawford-Lange & Lange, 1984, 2001; Met, 2004; Schulz, Lalande, Dykstra-Pruim, Zimmer-Lowe, & James, 2005; Stern, 1983) to make culture a more meaningful part of the L2 classroom, the present investigation is part of a study conducted by the Professional Development Board (PDB) of the LangSource Project of the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland (http://www.langsource.umd.edu) in association with ACTFL. It was the Board's charge to examine how pre-service foreign language teachers are prepared to teach culture and how in-service teachers are teaching culture.

Review of Related Literature

In the 21st century, the Standards Movement provides an overarching and unified framework that situates culture as a primary component of language learning; however, this has not always been the case. A historical examination of the place of culture within teaching methodologies sheds light on the current status of culture in today's L2 classrooms and L2 methods courses.

Evolution of Cultural Instruction

Over the years, the foreign language profession has sought out the ideal method to teach learners an L2. Because some of the early methodologies of choice lacked a cultural component, the integration of culture into the curriculum has suffered from a delayed start. A summary review of the evolution of the teaching methodology with reference to culture sheds light on why culture has been so long neglected. …