Ways To Incorporate Culture In Foreign Language Instruction

Ways To Incorporate Culture In Foreign Language Instruction

According to a book, named, Radical Pedagogy, foreign language learning comprises of several components that includes grammatical competence, communicative competence, language proficiency, as well as a change in attitudes towards one’s own or another culture. 

And when planning to learn a foreign language, the sole purpose is to learn to communicate in the target languages, learn its customs and traditions; as it is an integral part of foreign language learning, and many teachers have seen it as their goal to incorporate the teaching of culture into the foreign language curriculum. It could be maintained that the notion of communicative competence, which, in the past decade or so, has blazed a trail, so to speak, in foreign language teaching, emphasizing the role of context and the circumstances under which language can be used appropriately. But, it falls short of the mark when it comes to actually equipping students with the cognitive skills they need in a second-culture environment’ (Straub, 1999: 2).

In other words, since the wider context of language, that is, society and culture, has been reduced to a variable elusive` of any definition—as many teachers and students incessantly talk about it without knowing its exact meaning—it stands to reason that the term communicative competence should become nothing more than an bare and meretricious word, resorted to if for no other reason than to make an “educational point.” 

In reality, knowledge of the grammatical system of a language has to be complemented by understanding of culture-specific meanings. Both teachers and learners need to understand that the relationship between language and culture is dynamic. They need to understand that language is an important part of culture. It is the primary vehicle by which a culture transmits its beliefs, values and norms. Language is influenced by its culture; it is one of the most important carriers of culture and reflects the latter. If there isn’t any language, culture would not be known. And on one hand, culture is the basis and one of the most important attributes of language and exerts great influence on the latter. And on the other hand, if there is no culture, language will be like water without a source or a tree without roots. Therefore, when planning to teach foreign language, it’s very important to incorporate culture into teaching. 

In this article, we introduce few different ways to incorporate culture in foreign language instruction.

Do your research

Before teaching your students about cultures associated with the target language, make sure you’re as well-versed and informed as possible to avoid perpetuating stereotypes. Avoid making blank/plain statements about cultural or ethnic groups. For example, “Spaniards enjoy attending bullfights regularly.” Instead of this, portray the cultural point as a piece of information: “In Spain, bullfights are considered traditional and enjoyed by some, while controversial for some.”Use sources such as news outlets, podcasts, and literature to teach about other cultures. If possible consider travelling to communities in which the target language is spoken. Seek the perspectives of individuals of the cultural heritage that you are teaching about; you might even invite some guest speakers to speak directly with your students. 

Already mentioned use sources as in authentic materials. Expose your students to authentic material; it would give them an unparalleled look into how the language is wielded on a day-to-day basis by native speakers. It takes the language learning out of the classroom or language lab and into a natural setting. Students would hear authentic pacing and pronunciation and not just the simplified version in educational audio books and podcasts. These authentic materials are great at demonstrating students that there’s a whole culture, a whole group of people who use the target language on a daily basis. Google Images or videos can be a great source of authentic materials to bring to class. For example, if you’re teaching Spanish, simply type “Spanish ads” in and you’ll be flooded with great Spanish-language ads in the images or videos formats that have linguistic value. 

Brainstorm cultural connections using themes

Instead of planning lessons or units, set some themes, and brainstorm some cultural points that tie in to these themes. These cultural points within your thematic units have the potential to spark student interest and increase engagement. For instance, if you plan a theme focused on the French language, concentrate on culturally focused subtopics such as the lifestyle, food habits, popular dishes, seasons or weather patterns, environmental challenges, and/or environmental innovations in target language communities or countries. And when you come up with connections, keep checking in. What, and how much, cultural knowledge are students gaining? Ideally, they should acquire insight into the daily lives of people who speak the specified foreign language.

Compare Students’ Own Culture with That of the Target Language

Using your students’ own culture can be used as a foil for the target culture. The quirks of the target culture can make for memorable points of comparison and student will be able to appreciate it more because they’ll have a way of comparing practices and traditions. You can use cultural differences to make the target culture very vivid for your students or use examples relevant to their culture or for juxtaposition. As already mentioned above, discuss cultural features; teach the language using not only simple vocabulary, but whole concepts discussing a particular feature in the culture. 

For instance, when teaching about the daily habitos alimenticios in Spanish, ask students to reflect: “How does the daily food habit of a teenager in Spain compare to yours? Or more. 

Practising this, will compel students to make these comparisons regularly and learn more at  the same time. Students will not only learn another language but also get  cultural knowledge that will leave a lasting impact on their lives.

Teach Through Memory-friendly Songs 

We all know that songs are good mnemonic devices. That’s why we’re able to easily memorize songs without consciously doing so. We intentionally don’t memorize the lyrics, we just sing them. The tune, melody and harmony all help our brain remember things in better way. Words embedded in a song have a special ability to be remembered; so instead of memorizing vocabulary, students can simply sing it. In actuality, songs are a good way to teach culture; you can actually feel the flavour between the lines. And it’s always good to start with children’s songs. For example, you can play “Bahay Kubo” a lively Filipino song about locally-grown fruits and vegetables when teaching Filipino language.   

Using music to teach will not only make it easier for students, but will also give them a break from the sermon-type teaching that’s endemic in language classrooms today. 

If you’re planning to incorporate culture in your foreign language teaching then these points will surely help you out. 

Do try them and share your experience with us! 

About the Author
Author: Saniya Khan
Saniya Khan I am Saniya Khan, Copy-Editor at EdTechReview - India’s leading edtech media. As a part of the group, my aim is to spread awareness on the growing edtech market by guiding all educational stakeholders on latest and quality news, information and resources. A voraciously curious writer with a dedication to excellence creates interesting yet informational pieces, playing with words since 2016.

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