Teaching Language, Learning Culture

Teaching Language, Learning Culture

Teaching Language, Learning Culture

Teaching Language, Learning Culture

Synopsis

Whenever a new language is learned, a new culture is also learned. Swiderski provides instructive examples of language learning situations by describing multilingual events using more than twenty of the world's languages. All aspects of language learning from the physical environment of the classroom to the perceptions of events and emotions that languages express are considered. Australian aboriginal languages and Native American languages are analyzed to illustrate the world of differences of which English, Chinese, and Russian are also a part. The politics of language teaching and the effect of language policy in the classroom are brought out in concrete examples. This study will be of interest to language teachers and the general international community as well.

Excerpt

My lifelong concern with how culture forms a medium for learning and teaching languages came into focus when I took part in a year-long Master's of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages Program at the School for International Training (SIT) in Brattleboro, Vermont. I thought it was an unintentional irony that I had been teaching cultural anthropology for many years and had not fully appreciated the fact that I was teaching it mainly in English. By encouraging me to reflect on the medium of instruction rather than on the subject matter itself, the Master's program helped me to see how the medium affects the subject matter. The ideal of scientific value-free analysis, already seriously questioned from different sides in anthropology, seemed itself a remote and artificial ideal as I saw how much the teaching of English itself is laden with cultural values the instructors and their trainers do not consciously promote. Or do consciously promote.

I did not enroll in the program, as anthropologists have enrolled in medical or other professional programs, with an intention of doing an "ethnography" of the program. Yet I could not help taking as much an account of the values and worldview permeating the program as of what was being taught. Those values emphasized "practice" and "career." "Let's get on with learning to teach and leave aside the theory." This made it difficult for me to articulate my concerns within the program without posing a threat to the concrete aims of others. I found myself propelled into ethnography as I would have been were I a Maasai or a Chinese villager immersed in the same program. But I was insulated from the aims . . .

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