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The acquisition of the TL culture is essential in FL learning. However, teaching culture seems to have been a "soft spot" throughout the history of FL instruction. Outline:
  1. - What is culture?
  2. - Rationale for including goals
  3. - Problems
  4. - Techniques
Ned Seelye- 1974-1993

  1. - What is culture?
"Culture" is a broad concept that embraces all aspects of human life. It includes everything people learn to do. It is everything humans have learned. Culture shapes our thoughts and actions, and often does so with a heavy hand." (Seelye- 1984-1993) Of its several meanings, two are of major importance to teachers: The "big-C" Culture is already taught in the classroom; it is the "little-c" one that needs to be emphasized, especially in the FL classroom.

According to the US senator, Paul Simon, "Knowledge of the world's languages and cultures is more vital than ever. In order to compete in the global community, we must be able to communicate effectively and to appreciate, understand, and be able to work in the framework of other cultures." In the past, culture used to be distinct from language; nowadays, it has become integral to it. If it is important to teach a foreign language to enhance communication, it is also vital to instill in students an intellectual and emotional appreciation of the culture of that foreign language, so that communication will not be impaired.

Dewey (1897) said that "It is true that language is a logical instrument, but it is fundamentally and primarily a social instrument." If language is "primarily a social instrument," how can it be divorced from the society that uses it? (Seelye p. 4)
Jay (1968) argued that "Bilingualism is not in itself the answer to cultural understanding among people... With knowledge of the language must exist a similar knowledge of the social, religious, and economic attitudes of a people." (Seelye p. 6)
Learning a language in isolation of its cultural roots prevents one from becoming socialized into its contextual use. Knowledge of linguistic structure alone does not carry with it any special insight into the political, social, religious, or economic system. Or even insight into when you should talk and when you should not. (Seelye 1993, p 10).
"The study of language cannot be divorced from the study of culture, and vice-versa (Seelye p. 22).

  1. - Rationale for including goals + 6 Goals

We have already concluded that teaching culture needs to be integrated in the curriculum of the foreign language. Teachers do indeed need to teach students a few critical skills that can help them develop and improve the quality of their intercultural communication, that can help them "get their feet wet in the waters of another culture." (Seelye 1993, preface) However, it is not easy to determine what to teach. The "big-C" or the "little-c" culture? And within each type of culture, what should teachers focus on? Teachers already have an overcrowded curriculum and they are not adequately trained to teach culture. How do they decide on the skills to teach? Just as every other discipline has focus and goals, the solution to teachers' problems would be to define the skills that students need to acquire when it comes to learning a FL, the skills that students need in order to increase their ability to communicate across cultures. Here are some goals, devised by Seelye in 1974 and refined in 1993, that will help teachers select cultural data that will increase student skill in intercultural communication.


Goal 1 = Interest- The student demonstrates curiosity about the target culture and empathy toward its people.

Goal 2 = Who- The student recognizes that role expectations and other social variables such as age, sex, social class, ethnicity, and place of residence affect the way people speak and behave.

Goal 3 = What- The student realizes that effective communication requires discovering the culturally conditioned images that are evoked in the minds of people when they think, act, and react to the world around them.

Goal 4 = Where and When- The student recognizes that situational variables and convention shape behavior in important ways. (S/he needs to know how people in the target culture act in common mundane and crisis situations)

Goal 5 = Why- The student understands that people generally act the way they do because they are using options society allows for satisfying basic physical and psychological needs, and that cultural patterns are interrelated and tend mutually to support need satisfaction.

Goal 6 = Exploration- The student can evaluate a generalization about the target culture in terms of the amount of evidence substantiating it, and has the skills needed to locate and organize information about the target culture from the library, the mass media, people, and personal observation.

  1. - Problems
The First problem teachers are facing is: Overcrowded Curriculum.
The study of culture involves time that many teachers feel they cannot spare in an already overcrowded curriculum; they content themselves with the thought that students will be exposed to cultural material later, after they have mastered the basic grammar and vocabulary of the language.
Solution: Teachers should be made aware of the fact that this "later" never seems to come for most students. Therefore, instead of teaching language and culture in a Serial fashion, they should teach them in an integrative fashion.

The Second problem teachers are facing is: Fear of Not Knowing Enough.
Teachers are afraid to teach culture because they fear that they don’t know enough about it, thinking that their role is only to impart facts.
Solution: Even if teachers’ own knowledge is quite limited, their proper role is not to impart facts, but to help students attain the skills that are necessary to make sense out of the facts they themselves discover in their study of the target culture. Then, the objectives that are to be achieved in cross-cultural understanding involve Processes rather than Facts. A "facts only" approach to culture for which the only goal is to amass bits of information is ineffective.

The Third problem teachers are facing is: Dealing with Students’ Negative Attitudes.
When cultural phenomena differ from what they expect, students often react negatively, characterizing the target culture as "strange".
Solution: Just as teachers need to help students revise their "linguistic patterns," they also need to help them revise their "cultural patterns."

The Fourth problem teachers are facing is: Lack of Adequate Training.
Teachers may not have been adequately trained in the teaching of culture and, therefore, do not have strategies and clear goals that help them to create a viable framework for organizing instruction around cultural themes.

The Fifth problem teachers are facing is: How to Measure Cross-Cultural Awareness and Change in Attitudes.
It is very difficult for teachers to measure cross-cultural awareness and change in attitudes so that they can see whether the students have profited or not.
Solution :

Measuring Cross-Cultural Awareness :
Hanvey’s (1979) scheme for measuring cross-cultural awareness consists of four stages :

Measuring Change in Attitudes:
There are four techniques to measure attitudes :
  1. - Techniques
In order to translate these goals into classroom practice, we need to follow specific Techniques:
  1. Cultural Islands
  2. Culture capsules
  3. Culture clusters
  4. Culture assimilators
  5. Culture mini-dramas
  6. Cultoons
  7. Stimulating Discussion: Email & Listservs

* Cultural Islands

From the first day of class teachers should have prepared a cultural island in their classrooms. Posters, pictures, maps, signs, and realia of many kinds are essential in helping students develop a mental image. Assigning students foreign names from the first day can heighten student interest. Short presentations on a topic of interest with appropriate pictures or slides add to this mental image. Start students off by making them aware of the influence of various foreign cultures in this country. Introduce students to the borrowed words in their native language or the place-names of our country. This helps students to realize they already know many words in the target language (i.e. poncho, fiesta, rodeo). Some of the foods they eat are another example of the influence of foreign cultures (i.e. taco, burrito, chili).
A good introductory activity is to send students on cultural scavenger hunts to supermarkets and department stores and have them make lists of imported goods.

* Culture Capsules (developed by Taylor & Sorenson, 1961)

Culture capsules are generally prepared out of class by a student but presented during class time in 5 or 10 minutes. The concept was developed by Taylor & Sorenson (1961). A Culture capsule consists of a paragraph or so of explanation of one minimal difference between a Lebanese and an American's custom along with several illustrative photos and relevant realia. Miller (1974) has developed well-defined culture capsules into classroom activities.

In Ursula Hendron’s article on teaching culture in the high school classroom, she suggests using culture capsules. The culture capsule teachers through comparison by illustrating one essential difference between an American and a foreign custom (i.e. dating, cuisine, pets, sports). The cultural insights from the culture capsule can be further illustrated by role playing. For example, Hendron suggests teaching dating customs in Spanish-speaking countries by creating an illusion of a plaza mayor in the classroom with posters, props, music or slides. Students pretend to be young Latin-Americans and act out a Sunday paseo.
Brigham Young University also publishes culture capsules entitled “Culturgrams” for 100 different countries. Each “culturgram” is divided into sections on family lifestyle, attitudes, customs and courtesies, and history. After studying these, students can compare and contrast the foreign customs and traditions with their own. "Infograms" which cut across cultures with topics such as travel stress, keeping the law, and families, have been published.

Culture capsules are one of the best–established and best–known methods for teaching culture. They have been tried mostly in classes for foreign languages other than English. Essentially a culture capsule is a brief description of some aspect of the target language culture (e.g., what is customarily eaten for meals and when those meals are eaten, marriage customs, etc.) followed by, or incorporated with contrasting information from the students' native language culture. The contrasting information can be provided by the teacher, but it is usually more effective to have the students themselves point out the contrasts.

Culture capsules are usually done orally with the teacher giving a brief lecture on the chosen cultural point and then leading a discussion about the differences between cultures. For example, the information which a teacher might use about the grading system at U. S. universities is included in the appendix to this chapter. The teacher could provide all of the information at once or could pause after the information in each paragraph and ask students about the contrasts they see. Some visual information, such as in handouts or overhead transparencies or pictures, supporting the lecture can also be used.

* Culture Clusters (developed by Meade & Morain, 1973)

 A culture cluster is simply a group of three or more illustrated culture capsules on related themes/topics (about the target life) + one 30 minute classroom simulation/skit that integrates the information contained in the capsules (the teacher acts as narrator to guide the students). For example, a culture cluster about grades and their significance to university students could contain the capsule about how a grade point average is figured plus another about what kind of decisions (such as being accepted in graduate study, receiving scholarships, getting a better job, etc.) are affected by a person's grade point average.

Culture capsules and clusters are good methods for giving students knowledge and some intellectual knowledge about the cultural aspects being explained, but they generally do not cause much emotional empathy.

* Culture Assimilators (Developed by Fiedler et al., 1971)

The culture assimilator provides the student with 75 to 100 episodes of target cultural behavior. Culture assimilators consist of short (usually written) descriptions of an incident or situation where interaction takes place between at least one person from the target culture and persons from other cultures (usually the native culture of the students being taught). The description is followed by four possible choices about the meaning of the behavior, action, or words of the participants in the interaction with emphasis on the behavior, actions, or words of the target language individual(s).

 Students read the description in the assimilator and then choose which of the four options they feel is the correct interpretation of the interaction. Once all students have made their individual choices, the teacher leads a discussion about why particular options are correct or incorrect in interpretation. Written copies of the discussion issues can be handed out to students although they do not have to be. It is imperative that the teacher plan what issues the discussion of each option should cover.

 Culture assimilators are good methods of giving students understanding about cultural information and they may even promote emotional empathy or affect if students have strong feelings about one or more of the options.

* Mini–Dramas (Gorden's prototype minidrama, 1970)

Mini–dramas consist of three to five brief episodes in which misunderstandings are portrayed, in which there are examples of miscommunication. Additional information is made available with each episode, but the precise cause of the misunderstanding does not become apparent until the last scene. Each episode is followed by an open-ended question discussion led by the teacher. The episodes are generally written to foster sympathy for the non–native of the culture the "wrong" that is done to him or her by a member of the target culture. At the end of the mini–drama, some "knowing" figure explains what is really happening and why the target culture member was really not doing wrong.

 With mini–dramas, scripts are handed out and people are assigned to act out the parts. After each act, the teacher asks students (not necessarily the ones performing in the drama) what the actions and words of the characters in the drama mean and leads them to make judgments about the characters in the play. After all of the scenes have been portrayed and the "knowing" figure has made his or her speech, students are asked to reinterpret what they have seen in view of the information which the knowing figure provided.

The first time mini–drama is used in an ESL classroom, it should promote quite a lot of emotional feeling of the kind that really happens in intercultural misunderstandings. Mini–dramas always promote knowledge and understanding, but the great emotional impact usually only happens the first time. Mini–dramas work best if they deal, therefore, with highly charged emotional issues.

Brislin et al. (1986) prepared 100 critical intercultural incidents in English.
Intercultural Interactions : A Practical Guide (Cross Cultural Research and Methodology) (Hardcover)
by Richard W. Brislin, Kenneth Cushner, Craig Cherrie - 1986

* Cultoons

Cultoons are like visual culture assimilators. Students are given a series of (usually) four pictures depicting points of surprise or possible misunderstanding for persons coming into the target culture. The situations are also described verbally by the teacher or by the students who read the accompanying written descriptions. Students may be asked if they think the reactions of the characters in the cultoons seem appropriate or not.

 After the misunderstandings or surprises are clearly in mind, the students read explanations of what was happening and why there was misunderstanding.

 Cultoons generally promote understanding of cultural facts and some understanding, but they do not usually give real understanding of emotions involved in cultural misunderstandings. The cultoon in the appendix to this chapter deals with surprises which a student from Hong Kong encounters as she lives with U. S. students.

There is no question that the successful integration of culture and language teaching can contribute significantly to general humanistic knowledge, that language ability and cultural sensitivity can play a vital role in the security, defense, and economic well-being of this nation, and that global understanding ought to be a mandatory component of basic education.