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Relevant to this definition is the knowledge that the members of the same community use to construct these beliefs, which helps maintain group identity.

Second Language Learning and Language Teaching

Culture is a system of mediation. Language requires an understanding of culture within a specific context, which problematizes the notion of culture itself. Thus, it is not possible to use the term culture to represent an entire group of people. The complexity in defining culture is what makes it challenging to incorporate its teaching in the second language classroom. This results in two detrimental effects. The first effect is the implementation of culture in the language classroom as informed by a cognitive theory of culture. As Duranti explains, knowing a culture is like knowing a language; hence, to describe culture is to describe a language.

On the other hand, there are researchers, such as Chomsky, who take an innatist position, in which the separation of culture and language favors competence over performance. According to this cognitive view, teaching culture is separate from teaching the four language skills Kramsch, This position is reflected in the communicative language teaching model. As a result, a debate between grammar and communication has surfaced.

Towards an Understanding of Culture in L2/FL Education

Traditionally, the field of language teaching has focused primarily on the prescriptive forms of language and on accuracy over performance. This cognitive view was followed by a period in which language teachers increased their focus on culture and not simply on the grammar of the target language Holme, However, during this time, culture only served to motivate the practice of grammatical structures, which resulted in lesson plans that included videos, music, and other products of culture e.

Holme calls this the communicative view. Although the main goal of this view is to provide students a context in which to practice language, no explanation of the context itself is given. In other words, simple exposure to cultural topics are thought to motivate language learners to learn a language and will intrinsically help them reformulate their interpretations according to the new experiences introduced to them.

Other views of culture in second language teaching are the classical-curriculum view andthe instrumental or culture-free-language view Holme, Neither of these views sees cultural content as relevant to success in language learning. The former view provides a rationale for the learning of ancient or dead languages, whose principles of logical thought are presumably valued by the learner.

The latter view implies an imperialistic motivation for teaching a language in that the values and knowledge of powerful countries are highlighted. In the culture-free-language view, language is separated from culture to avoid any cultural contamination; thus, language instruction is contextualized within the culture in which that second language is taught. For instance, English can be learned for the purpose of helping Mexicans to immigrate to the U.

Learning English in this way focuses on practical communication skills, not on American cultures. Alternatively, if the second language is privileged in certain socioeconomic and political areas, then it becomes a medium of access to those areas, but with a disregard for the culture. In this case, the ability to speak English is valued more than knowledge of the cultures in which English is spoken.

François Piecuch

In response to the communicative view of culture in second language teaching, in which cultural products are often used to bolster the linguistic acquisition of target language forms, the field began witnessing changes that aimed to more meaningfully incorporate knowledge of culture. This is the second effect of implementing culture in the language classroom. In this view, language is seen as culture, thus aligning more with an intercultural approach.

Living in a multicultural and globalized society requires individuals to be aware of their own cultures as well as other cultures. However, Baker calls attention to the difference between cultural awareness and intercultural awareness in the context of language teaching. Raising cultural awareness is not enough. Promoting intercultural awareness is also a must in a diverse society. The research literature suggests that more than recognizing the essential role that culture plays in ELT, language should be seen as culture.

In this way, students develop not only cultural awareness but also intercultural communication, skills that will more effectively equip them to live in a globalized world. At this stage of education, the goal is to make students aware of a second language. This includes English in the case of Spanish speakers, or English and Spanish in the case of speakers of indigenous languages.

The formal teaching of English began when students reached elementary school. However, the program is still in the initial phases of implementation. Regarding how culture is addressed in ELT, PNIEB states that the goal of ELT in elementary and secondary schools is as follows: to graduate students who will develop the multilingual and multicultural skills required to successfully face the challenges of a globalized world; who will construct a broad view of linguistic and cultural diversity worldwide; and who will respect their own culture and that of others SEP, , p.

Therefore, ELT should consider not only the linguistic aspects of language but also its cultural components. In this manner, language learning equips students with the social functions needed to achieve the three goals previously mentioned SEP, , p. Importantly, this position promotes the teaching of culture within language teaching. This step is necessary because curricula, textbooks, and syllabi are chosen and designed based on the specific concept of culture that SEP encourages English teachers to adopt in class.

Without such parameters, English language programs will lack consensus on how to teach culture, thus resulting in individual educators determining how this concept will be integrated into their programs. Even though the curriculum used by all teachers is the same on a national level, each state approaches it differently. Thus, English language textbooks vary from state to state.


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Prior to the education reform that updated curricula in all subject areas SEP, , the main goal of teaching a second language was simply to become familiar with its grammar. Also, despite the inclusion of statements of communicative objectives, grammar-translation and audiolingual methods remained popular. Education in Mexico is mandatory for children five to fourteen years old roughly pre-school to secondary school.

There are national standards for high schools, but they vary from state to state. For example, in some high schools, the teaching of English occurs during the first three semesters, but not in the last three.

Given the variation in the curriculum from state to state, there is not necessarily an emphasis on the teaching of culture or on what types of culture teachers should address and how. In addition to changes in the curriculum, language programs have also reviewed their teaching methods. In the 70s and 80s, national and state curricula espoused grammar-translation and audiolingual methods, more recently, due to globalization and the status of English as an international language, programs have been placing English instruction within an international framework.

This approach emphasizes the competent use of English rather than knowledge of simple grammatical rules and vocabulary Baumgardner, Davies observes that one might think that universities are responsible for providing students with the level of English required for graduation, regardless of whether students have attended a public or private university. What he finds, however, is that learning outcomes tend to be much higher at private universities, while at public universities there is often little progress. He concludes that Mexican public universities are failing to provide students with all the necessary tools that would grant them access to a better future.

The last point is particularly related to the view of culture that sees culture as a fifth language skill to be studied separately. This situation is even more problematic if one considers that some of these same language students will be future language instructors. If they are taught language skills separately from each other and are not taught culture at all, or if culture is incorporated only as a context in which to teach language, the chances that they will reproduce the model they learnt is much higher.

Future teachers should be introduced to a model that promotes intercultural competence and that sees culture as an integral component of language. Likewise, future teachers should learn to analyze culture critically, as opposed to addressing it superficially based on stereotypes. When it comes to the use of textbooks in ELT, the private sector has not followed the same trend as the public education system. Although the national standards apply to both types of schools, public institutions use commercial textbooks, whose table of contents are often adapted and used as course syllabi Baumgardner, Additionally, important differences exist between teachers in each sector.

In public schools, teachers are not necessarily trained to teach English or not even proficient in the language. If they are, they may have limited access to teacher training or to workshops that would keep them abreast of the latest trends. As part of their jobs, these teachers are often sent to conventions or to teacher training workshops. Moreover, materials and textbooks in private, more affluent settings tend to address communicative skills Salazar, , especially because the goals of these programs, unlike in the public schools, are often to prepare students to study abroad or to pass the TOEFL Test of English as a Foreign Language or Cambridge examinations.

These important differences across institutional types suggest that ELT in Mexico often fails to consider the needs of students, the characteristics of teachers, and specific contexts. Although teaching culture is addressed more in the private sector English teachers who work in these settings may teach the behaviors, values, and norms that exist in a particular society , this does not necessarily mean that culture is integrated with the four language skills reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

The descriptions above have discussed the state of ELT in Mexico in public and private schools, including in universities, and suggest that culture does not have an explicit place in this instruction. Even when the importance of teaching culture in ELT is acknowledged, as in PNIEB , what is missing is a better framework defining culture and guidelines for how English teachers could incorporate language as culture.

The following section provides examples of how culture has been addressed in ELT in Mexico. Few studies exist on how culture is taught or integrated in ELT in Mexico. Sayer found that the teachers he observed agreed that language and culture were intertwined, but they were only able to address cultural differences sporadically. Most of the lessons he observed focused on language content, such as checking vocabulary and comprehension p. When cultural differences were addressed, the focus was on holidays, such as Halloween and Day of the Dead.

This approach reflects a cognitive view of culture in which the structural aspects of language e. In her paper, Zoreda presented a complete description of the how the inclusion of films can serve as a focus on intercultural reflection in ELT in Mexico. Importantly, this approach goes beyond comparing holidays as it encourages critical reflection on deeper issues in society that are not always easy to see. These examples stem from the same philosophy of teaching culture through literary texts or adaptations in film. Perales Escudero a provides an example of how to teach language as culture using a critical reading framework to address intercultural awareness.

His findings show that this approach helps students better understand their own culture as well as another one. Through written reflections, students demonstrated changes in their definitions of U. In this study, culture was seen as a discourse. Similarly, in a different study, Perales Escudero b aimed to improve the critical reading skills of Mexican EFL pre-service teachers.

The findings showed that when the participants engaged in inferential comprehension, most of them made repeatedly implausible inferences about authorial positions, intentions, and targeted audiences. This study showed once again that students were critical about their own culture as well as the targeted cultures. However, as Mugford explains, training teachers to learn about and then teach cultural knowledge can be challenging. Thus, international English, or other kinds of English, are often not presented to students which is less useful because the curriculum is not inclusive of or relevant to all students.

Tapia Huerta reports on a language training program which included intercultural education for teachers. Her conclusions suggest that it can be difficult to incorporate elements from diverse cultural backgrounds within a homogeneous group of Mexican teachers who have never been directly exposed to cultures other than their own. Tapia Huerta found that bringing in speakers from other cultures, having video conferences and presentations, and gathering authentic materials from the target culture were helpful for motivation and promoted learning.

However, this approach was also very difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. Other programs likely face similar challenges. In the next section, we offer pedagogical recommendations that can help ELT professionals incorporate the teaching of culture in their language teaching in Mexico.

Addressing culture in the language classroom is not an easy task. In the specific case of Mexico, ELT has mainly focused on teaching cultural stereotypes, e. In this way, culture is taught as if it were a fifth language skill; in other words, culture is seen as a separate entity from language.

However, the fact that the discussion about teaching culture has gained attention among language educators is already a positive step toward the incorporation of activities that promote cultural awareness and, consequently, intercultural communication. The goal should be to adopt a more intercultural approach. Additionally, in an English language classroom, it is necessary to have more than one target culture in mind Baker, The more cultures to which students are exposed, the more chances they have to negotiate meaning across cultures. However, it is not a matter of comparing cultures, but rather of understanding the reasons behind beliefs, values, and norms that constitute a particular culture.

English language teachers should guide their students in going beyond superficial discussions about culture, thus avoiding stereotypes. Importantly, English learners need to understand and respect the cultural diversity that exists in this globalized world. In the Mexican context, ELT has the potential to explore the following events as resources for the teaching of cultures: 1 the proximity between the U. Department of State, These numbers illustrate the presence of American cultures in Mexico and their interaction with Mexican cultures. What follows are suggestions on how to teach culture in language classrooms utilizing these resources.

Relating other cultures to local cultures is a way of raising cultural awareness and of preparing students to manage diversity when they encounter it. One example of a relevant activity would be to have students think about local writers, including how these writers represent Mexican society. Moreover, teachers could establish links with information students learn about American writers and how they represent American society. In this way, students would make connections between Mexican and American societies.

The teacher could address the topic of racial inequality, among others, and discuss how the book portrays this issue and how students see it in Mexican society. This activity would be designed for advanced learners. The teacher could start a guided class discussion by asking students to write about racial inequality in Mexico. Students could then report their points of view, thoughts, and personal experiences to the rest of class. This reflexive process is necessary for intercultural understanding Kramsch, The written work would prepare students for oral discussion.

Integrate the community with the classroom. In this type of activity, culture serves as more than a context for language practice. Instead, language is seen as culture because students move beyond stereotypes and become agents of their own learning. Students could interview family members, friends, and people from the community who have lived in the United States or in other English-speaking countries.

Students could also interview people who know someone who lives or has lived in the U. The key point of these interviews is to move beyond stereotypes, such as holiday themes, and delve deeper into societal issues e. Instead, cultures are different and need to be understood within their own contexts.

Incorporate visual and audio materials. Most teachers have already used visual and audio materials in ELT settings at some point. The challenge is to use them in a way that goes beyond providing a backdrop for practicing language skills. Importantly, these materials can be used to develop cultural and intercultural understanding Baker, Access to visual and audio materials can be very difficult, but by using the Internet, language teachers can introduce linguistic and cultural diversity through music, movies, books, and other authentic means e.

With the help of family members, friends, and colleagues, teachers can also try to find Americans and Mexican returnees in their communities who might be able to provide materials in English. Thus, language teachers need to create opportunities in class for students to use these materials in authentic ways. For example, a teacher who had a grocery-store flyer from the U.

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The next day, students could bring a flyer from a local grocery store. If the teacher had only one copy of the flyer from the U. Students could analyze the similarities and differences between the flyers and identify any elements with which they were not familiar. Students could also analyze the design of the flyer, as well as information about payments and discounts. This discussion would help students to locate and understand cultural information, which would go beyond simply learning vocabulary and numbers.

For instance, the teacher could give students specific locations of businesses that advertise outside their establishments or on billboards visible from the street. In this manner, students could take a virtual tour of cities and streets in different English-speaking countries. These videos present non-standard views of American society and thus show pluri-cultural constructs of the U. Your students can easily mouse over and see a detailed for every word in the interactive subtitles, allowing them to enjoy these authentic materials no matter what their level.

The quirks of the target culture can make for memorable points of comparison. You can, for example, highlight that while Americans shake hands when meeting strangers or acquaintances, bowing is the norm in Japan. Meanwhile, the French oh, the French! You can use cultural differences such as these to make the target culture very vivid for your students. The thing is, even the absence of a cultural equivalent can be used for juxtaposition. The very absence makes for a memorable lesson. Because of its novelty or unfamiliarity, you can milk a single cultural practice for some excellent language lessons.

I already mentioned that by teaching language, we are also inadvertently teaching culture because they are two sides of the same coin.


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  7. In the same manner, by discussing cultural features, you can also teach the language. You can use Islamic culture to teach vocabulary along with concepts like adhan call to prayer , salat prayer , iftar breaking of the fast and halal lawful. You may be a native speaker yourself, but when a visitor comes in, everybody snaps to attention. You can make this a really memorable learning experience for your students. So choose carefully who you place in front of them. Choose someone interesting, who can confidently speak in public and who knows how to tell a good story. What are some practices and traditions?

    What kinds of things might make a Japanese person tick, for example? What food do the Spanish eat for dinner, and at what time? What sports do Koreans tend to love? Do the French really eat frog legs and snails? If so, what do they taste like? In addition to culture-heavy topics, you could also ask her to deal with some language-related topics.

    If yours is an advanced language class, you could ask her to talk about linguistic tricks: the short cuts, the grammar rule violations that native speakers commit. This will help your students understand that language is very much a living, breathing creature. The same goes for teaching culture.

    You can even learn with your students! Food can be a great vocabulary-teaching tool. Grilled chicken! We know that songs are good mnemonic devices. The tune, cadence, melody and harmony all help our brain remember. Words embedded in a song have a special ability to be remembered. So instead of memorizing vocabulary, your students can simply sing it. You are actually giving your students a serious leg up when you teach language using music. So lead your class in a song. If you can play an instrument, all the better. Songs are not for kids alone. They are for anyone who wants a faster way of memorizing and understanding language.

    I have a theory that Google already has the solutions to all your problems. They are just sitting there, waiting for you to happen upon them. If your goal is to teach culture in the language classroom, there are several online resources that you can run to. Astonishment maybe, but not resistance.

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    It not only breathes life into grammar and vocabulary, making them so much more interesting, but makes us appreciate and celebrate our differences—which, in the greater scheme of things, are responsible for us having so many ways of identifying exactly the same object in the first place. Try them out. FluentU has a very wide variety of videos, as you can see here:. FluentU App Browse Screen. FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples.

    Now native language content is easily within the reach of any student, at any skill level, thanks to the interactive transcripts.