Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Impact of Instruction on Shaping or Reshaping Stereotypical Cultural Representations in an Introductory French Course

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Impact of Instruction on Shaping or Reshaping Stereotypical Cultural Representations in an Introductory French Course

Article excerpt

Abstract: Learning a foreign language promotes new ways of seeing the world and the self in relation to it (Gee, 1996), making practices and perspectives underlined through the acquisition of vocabulary and grammatical structures available for appropriation (Bakhtin, 1981; Kramsch, 1993,2009). Using a combination of interviews and self-reported questionnaires, this study explores what may influence learners' preconceived images and cultural representations of the French language and culture in an introductory French language course. Data analysis shows that participants started a reflection on how learning a foreign language opens access to the cultures that speak it and embodies cultural acts. However, the findings suggest that at the beginning level, the reflection on the interconnection between a language and its culture needs to be nurtured within the course content itself in order to encourage the process of developing cross- cultural understanding.

Key words: cross-cultural understanding, culture learning, learners' beliefs, teaching culture, vocabulary acquisition

Foreign language learners bring to the classroom beliefs, values, impressions, opinions, and representations, shaped in part by real facts, encounters, and events, and in part by myths, images, and stereotypes found in their native culture (Gabillon, 2005; Stangor & Schaller, 1996). Learners' beliefs, as Wesely (2012) pointed out in an extensive review of research on learners' attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions, may be about the language learning process itself, but also "about the target community, language, and culture" (p. S100). Horwitz (1988, 1999) stressed the importance of investigating learners' beliefs about language learning because the realities of the foreign language classroom may challenge assumptions and ultimately affect learning outcomes. Schulz (2007) also remarked on the importance of examining students' perceptions in order to minimize possible conflicts between students' beliefs about language learning, language and culture, and actual teaching practices. As Freeman (2002) noted, con- flicting points of view are bound to collide in the foreign language classroom because of interactions among the teacher's expertise in the target language and culture, the learners' native cultural background, and the course materials. Freeman's observation, as well as those of Zarate, Gohard-Radenkovic, Luss- ier, and Pens (2004), confirmed that "our vision of the world and our ways of think- ing develop from our contact with others and shape our cultural representations" (p. 29). These authors emphasized the collective coconstruction of beliefs and the influence of the environment, including native cultural frames of reference, on the development of one's opinions and beliefs. Using an interpretive approach, this article explores how language acquisition can influence learners' preconceived images, beliefs, and cultural representations of the French language and culture and result in the reshaping or appropriation of new perspectives.

Frames of Reference and Foreign Language Acquisition

Individuals perceive and process informa- tion using as a point of reference what they already know (Gabillon, 2005; Jin & Cortazzi, 1998; Kramsch, 1983), which for Byram and Cain (1998) was grounded in the native context. Gabillon (2005) explained that learners use collectively coconstructed images and cultural representations present in their native culture as a foundation to orient the development of their beliefs. These representations may be shaped by discursively constructed stereotypes, myths, and images, which according to Sercu (1998) are necessary "in order to classify people and objects into a coherent world view" (p. 270). However, as Gabillon pointed out, they may also originate from the "shared historical past and political relations between the target foreign lan- guage culture and his [the learner's] own" (p. 249). Castellotti (2001) supported that claim by stating that the learner's native language is the basis around which repre- sentations are articulated. …

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