Making Culture Happen in the English Language Classroom

Article excerpt

Abstract

The issue of introducing the target culture into language classroom practice has long been an object of debates as well as the opinions of the learners towards it. Eventually, modern practitioners found a way of having the language learners acquainted with the target culture and introducing culture through culture-based textbook activities. However, the issue of additional culturally-oriented activities in improving students learning habits is questionable today. The purpose of this paper is to examine their effect and to investigate the attitudes of students towards language teaching and learning through culture-based activities (games, role plays, dialogues, video clips, discussions and comparisons of local and target cultures). The paper presents the results of the study conducted in one of the top universities of Kazakhstan throughout the spring semester of the 2012 academic year. Eighty students of different cultural backgrounds took part in the study. The activities for the experimental groups were modified according the tasks in each unit of one of the contemporary textbooks used in General English lessons. These activities varied from warm-ups to homework tasks in the units accordingly. The results suggest that practice of the various culture-based tasks and exercises helped the students to improve their communicative and linguistic competences in English. The results obtained from this study also offer insights into how culture-based activities can be used to develop and enhance not only students' language skills but also their awareness of various culture-sensitive issues.

Keywords: culture-based activities, foreign language teaching, attitudes, communicative and linguistic competences

1. Introduction

The issue of introducing the target culture into language classroom practice has long been an object of debates. It has been argued for a long time that foreign language teaching through a lingua-cultural approach should be given the importance it deserves. Therefore, many scholars have paid attention to the development of the notion of 'intercultural communicative competence' and contributed ideas of implementing culture-based activities in the process of foreign language teaching. With the work and investigations of contemporary practitioners and scholars language teaching professionals began to understand the relation between culture and language. It is emphasized that without the insights into the target culture foreign language teaching is inaccurate and incomplete. Acquiring a foreign language means a lot more than studying grammatical structure and vocabulary in isolation. Bada (2000) stated: 'The need for cultural literacy in ELT arises mainly from the fact that most language learners, not exposed to the cultural elements of the society in question, seem to encounter significant hardship in communicating meaning to native speakers'.

Studying culture also nurtures tolerance of the language learners towards the native speakers and the target language. 'Studying culture, we could also learn about the geography, history, etc. of the target culture' proposed Cooke (1970). Developing the idea, McKay (2003) argued that the culture influences language teaching in two ways: linguistic and pedagogical. Linguistically, it affects semantic, pragmatic, and discourse levels of the language. Pedagogically, it has an impact on the choice of materials because the teacher has to take into consideration the content of the language and the cultural basis of the teaching methodology. (Cited from Izadpanah, 2011)

The main problem in foreign language education is that the L2 students are not able to use target language effectively and appropriately for intercultural communication. The cultural content existing in language teaching has been widely discussed. However, as far as we see these cultural content or culture-based activities have not been designed in course books efficiently enough to be able to put target culture issues into practice fully. …