Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Teaching English through Cultural Lenses. a Perspective on Initial Teacher Training Programs

Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Teaching English through Cultural Lenses. a Perspective on Initial Teacher Training Programs

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

This paper consists of two parts: the first one intends to provide details regarding the intertwined relationship between culture and language and the reasons for which this connection should be applied in the field of teaching foreign languages, while the second aims to present a study that has been conducted in order to better understand the would-be teacher's interest in addressing different culture teaching objectives. In order to provide more details about the students' profile there has been organized a feed-forward session and there have been applied some follow-up questions.

2 Language and culture

Language and culture cannot be viewed apart since ''language is not a culture-free code'' (Kramsch, 1998:8). The interlocutor inevitably makes use through language of different social roles that are appropriate for a specific situation. ''Language learners need to attend to variables (e.g. age, status, age, gender and education) that are especially sensitive to different cultural interpretations, which in turn, may result in miscommunication'' (Meier in Guerra, Flor, Juan 2003:195) even if the intended message obeys the rules of grammar. Kramsch (1998:32) suggests that the register, the tone of one's voice, the distribution of the silence and the choice of lexical and grammatical structures are markers of identity. These details should be taken into account by any interlocutor who wants to engage effectively in a conversation. Knowledge of these details can also offer a perspective on the complex manner of interpreting a message.

Acquiring a new language also implies the learning of the conceptual structures available in the foreign language because "learners have not only to master the grammatical structures and communicative peculiarities of the new language but also, in order to be native like, they have to learn to think as native speakers do, perceive the world the way native speakers do and use the language metaphorically as native speakers do" (Kecskes, Papp 2000:9). Since most foreign language learners are exposed to this reconceptualization in an artificial environment in which sociocultural knowledge is constructed with the help of course books and other authentic teaching resources there might appear grammatical and lexical problems due to a negative language transfer from the mother tongue.

3 Initial teacher training programs - A general philosophy

Initial teacher training programs should focus on a constructivist approach to teaching and learning since this perspective ''aims to prepare the individual for an active integration in a democratic society'' (Boco? 2007:55). Boco? (2007:56) suggests that a constructivist design would place the learning activity in contexts that are relevant for the learner, would favour the self-reflective attitude towards the learning process and would include learning within social experience. These also represent some of the guidelines promoted by the intercultural education.

Would-be teachers enrolled in initial teacher training programs need to be fully aware that "[A] foreign language environment presents a unique challenge to the language learners because they have to enhance background knowledge and sociocultural competence without direct contact with the target language environment and culture" (Kecskes, Papp 2000:108). This lack of genuine contact with the sociocultural background should be sustained with teaching activities and resources that focus on developing students' cultural knowledge, communication skills and interaction abilities in the target language. These represent according to Byram (1997: 34-37) the key elements for attaining intercultural communicative competence. Still, being able to speak in a foreign language does not transform the speaker into an intercultural speaker endowed with intercultural competence since the latter "(...) is not a 'natural' or 'automatic' result of foreign language teaching" Meyer (1991: 157). …

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