05 March 2007

Do we need to teach the culture to teach the language?

Someone asked if culture, as related to the language, should be taught with the language. I think we can all agree the answer is "yes" and "no". This is another example where the question should be carefully framed in our discussions so that we can all be at the same starting point when we answer it.

Mert Bland, a teacher with considerable experience all over the world, answers the question if culture should be taught with the obvious first question, "which culture?", taking a perspective of EFL.

Maggie Sokolik, based in a university in California, takes a different viewpoint, but her outlook is ESL.

So let us agree on the same starting point. If we are teaching abroad we seldom know with which culture our students are going to interacting. I teach in China (another place Mert has been). The closest English speaking countries are Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines and Australia, India but my students are also very interested in America. Do I need to teach those six cultures to them? And what about a needs analysis? It is quite likely they will be visiting, calling and doing business in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand. And when they speak to Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Thai businessmen they will be speaking to them in English. So Mert's question is very valid, "which culture?" and the answer is correct for EFL, in the limited time frame that teachers have to teach their students it is best to stick to a basic English that would be useful for our students in all of those situations.

If we are talking about foreign students visiting, studying or living in California, should they learn about the culture of the United States as related to their English studies, I think every teacher would answer "of course".

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