Researching Language Aspects' Preferences of English Department Students When Learning Culture

By Rochman, Syaifur | K@ta, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Researching Language Aspects' Preferences of English Department Students When Learning Culture


Rochman, Syaifur, K@ta


(A Case Study of Students Taking a Course called Introductory to British Studies at Jenderal Soedirman University)

Abstract: Communicating in English covers two aspects: 'system' referring to syntactic and semantics elements; and 'schemata' referring to appropriateness based on the social cultural contexts of native speakers. It is, therefore, very essential to teach cultural aspects when teaching English as a foreign language. This article describes a survey to investigate students' opinions on which cultural aspects that should be learned.

Key words: culture, English as a Foreign Language (EFL)

The teaching of EFL cannot ignore cultural elements, particularly those of the Anglo-Saxon countries where people speak English as their native language. The concept of target-language culture has been advocated for being taught to students in EFL settings, such as for English Department students in Indonesia. However, in Indonesia some people still think that learning EFL has to be separated from learning its culture (Rochman, 2002). This is due to the fact that some elements of English culture are not in accordance with - even contradict to - the local values (Alptekin & Alptekin, 1984). Meanwhile, language uses, as Prodomou (1992) states, actually reflect their culture so it is impossible to disassociate them in any real sense. Therefore, the cross-cultural matters in language teaching may become a potential conflict in EFL teaching.

The harmony between the culture-specific aspects of English and the local values often undergoes a kind of conflict when one begins to learn EFL (Alptekin, 1993). A student of EFL who has never experienced in the target-language culture will most likely encounter problems in processing English systemic data of unfamiliar contexts, for instance 'pub' for Indonesian students. Pub is normally used in the mind of the native-speaker of English as a place for socializing. The natural tendency for the Indonesian students is to access the meaning of this word by respecting to their own cultural system. As a result, it is possible that students will react to the pub context with less than full comprehension; even it may contradict to the real meaning as they may think that pub is a bad place where people get drunk. Wallace (1988) attributes this problem as the lack of 'cultural competence', i.e. a very complex package of beliefs, knowledge, feelings, attitudes, and behaviours of the target culture.

Naturally, students of EFL make use of culture-specific schemas in relating input to what they already know, and to construct the target language meaning (Alptekin, 1993). Hyde (1994) warns that students in an EFL situation might feel learning the target language to be hard and frustrating experience when the relevant cultural background assumptions are missing. Thus, culture plays a major role in the learning process, which in turn significantly affects comprehension and interpretation of the target language.

Language has no function independently of the social contexts in which it is used (Askadou et.al., 1990). In the case of EFL, such contexts are various as there are numerous English-speaking countries in the world. Similarly, the schematic knowledge of the speakers of such contexts is quite diverse. Hence, to confine English to one of its native setting and to present that setting in a stereotypical manner is not possible. Consequently, EFL learners are likely to find themselves difficult in tackling unfamiliar information when coping with systemic data to an appropriate target language culture (Alptekin, 1993).

To build conceptual comprehension between the culturally familiar aspects and the unfamiliar ones is essential (Fairclough, 1992). This can be built, through the use of comparisons as techniques of cross-cultural comprehension, or the exploitation of universal concepts of human experience as reference points for the interpretation of unfamiliar data. …

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