The Definition of Culture

Table of Content

Culture is defined with different terms depending on the time and personal idea of the scholar and for that reason it is a really complex phenomenon. Kramsch(1998) defines culture as ‘membership in a discourse community that shares a common social space and history, and common imaginings. (p.

10). On the other hand, Liddicoat, Papademetre , Scarino and Kohler(2003) describe culture as a complex system of concepts, attitudes, values, beliefs, conventions, behaviours, practices, rituals and lifestyle of the people who make up a cultural group, as well as the artefacts they produce and the institutions they create. (p. 45)In a study by Yajuan (2009), the author defines and categorizes the term under two broad titles.

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The first one is called as ‘advanced’ or ‘formal’ culture, which is in connection with civilization. It is also referred to as ‘cultural knowledge information’. The second category is ‘popular culture’ or ‘deep culture’, which is more related to everyday life and living style. The Place of Culture in EFL Classes As an undeniable fact, language and culture have an interdependent relationship and this relation is described with different terms in some studies such as linguaculture (Friedrich,1989) and languaculture(Risager,2005).

Given the fact that the culture exerts considerable influence on language patterns and pragmatic use of it in a certain community, it is of great importance for a language learner to make great effort to develop his/her cultural awareness in that process. Mitchell and Myles(2004) express that ‘language and culture are not separate, but are acquired together, with each providing support for the development of the other’ (p. 235). In order to understand the details of the matter clearly, it is necessary to define term ‘culture learning’ because there has been a reat change in attitudes and approaches towards the incorporation of certain elements into ‘culture learning’ process.

Culture learning is described as the process of acquiring the culture-specific and culture-general knowledge, skills, attitudes required for effective communication and interaction with individuals from other cultures. It is a dynamic, developmental, and ongoing process which engages the learner cognitively, behaviourally and affectively(Paige,Jorstad,Siaya,Klein, & Colby,2003, p. 177).The influence of their own culture is to a great extent in developing and raising the learners’ cultural awareness.

The learner is to have the opportunity to find a ‘third place’ between cultures in order to decentre from his/her own culture. In that way, they have the chance of establishing their own understanding of the target language culture and bridging the gap between these two cultures. Furthermore, the cultural awareness of the TLC is evaluated in two different perspectives. The first one is ‘dynamic approach’ to the internalization process of cultural components.

In that view, the culture of a community is regarded to have an ongoing and changing nature. Oppositely, the developing nature of culture learning is not taken into account in ‘static approach’ because previously determined set of rules, rituals, pragmatic qualities of language are taught as the representatives of that culture without adding anything new in that process. The approach adopted by the instructor of the course determines the ways of acquiring cultural components in learners’ minds. According to Tomalin and Stempleski(1993, p.

), cultural awareness embraces three qualities: -awareness of one’s own culturally-induced behaviour -awareness of the culturally-induced behaviour of others -ability to explain one’s own cultural standpoint There has been a great concern for the dialectical relation between language and culture in the last a few decades and the pendulum has swung back to the other extreme. At the beginning of the century, only the importance of incorporating cultural elements into the language teaching curriculum was discussed.However, researchers and foreign language instructors have begun to realize the seamless connection between TLC and TL with the advent of Communicative Language Teaching in the late 1970s. Especially over the last decade, with the writings of some prominent scholars such as Byram(1989,1994,1997) and Kramsch(1988,1996,2001), most of the foreign language instructors espouse a view based on the fact that there exist an intertwined relation between language and culture.

On the other hand, some instructors keep on adopting Grammar Translation Method in their courses, nonetheless researchers agree that only the manipulation of syntax and lexicon is not sufficient for conducting an effective interaction with a native speaker. As a well-known fact, culture is one of the most significant elements of language learning process. Without adding the cultural and contextual differences of a language during the course, the teacher would be insufficient in presenting the pragmatic aspects of everyday language.Having a native-like fluency in one or two foreign languages is a contemporary need in today’s world , however if the cultural components are not integrated to that process, the speaker may sometimes find it difficult to convey the meaning in a communicational setting.

For that reason, culture is considered ‘as a fifth skill’ apart from the other skills in language learning process. (Savignon,1997). If the focus is only on the syntactic and lexical features of the foreign language, then the learners of that language would be candidates of becoming a ‘fluent fool’.According to Bennett (1993), A fluent fool is someone who speaks a foreign language well, but does not understand the social or philosophical content of that language (p.

9). In other words, the students may know the grammatical structure of the foreign language very well but that doesn’t mean that they would also be successful in communicating in that language. Due to the lack of cultural and contextual knowledge of the foreign language, the students may find difficulty in comprehending some expressions or texts. Given the importance f having a cross-cultural understanding in today’s multicultural environment, the students should be knowledgeable in TLC in order to overcome certain barriers in interacting with other people.

Some significant researchers in that field assert that culture and language are not separate entities, for that reason culture is an integral part of language learning process. A language consists of culturally loaded rudiments (Pennycook,1989; Alptekin 1996) and in that sense the learners of foreign language would need these elements in order to fully comprehend societal and contextual differences during communication process.The cultural background knowledge about that community would give students a chance of observing other people’s attitudes and daily life and they would automatically use their findings in their use of language. For that reason, culture classes have a motivating role in students’ learning process.

If this is not the case, they become culture-bound individuals who are possible to make inappropriate and inaccurate value judgements about others’ cultural characteristics. (Izadpanah, 2011)As a different point in that matter, Alptekin(2002) draws attention to the students’ intercultural communicative competence rather than native-like competence. The use of English as a world language removes the boundaries and for that reason focusing on the cultural features of English people is meaningless in that sense. We use English for some instrumental reasons and if one is fluent and successful in communicating his/her message, the considerations about pragmatics, discourse events etc.

are irrelevant. On the other hand, these cultural elements have a great impact on the students’ way of thinking and philosophy.Therefore, they may naturally internalize the cultural features of the community speaking target language as their native tongue. The teachers’ would find themselves in the dilemma of imposing target language culture and integrating cultural elements as an indispensable part of language learning process.

As English language is really dominant in the world arena and accepted as lingua franca in many countries and communities, the learning process of that foreign language may be a form of assimilation and for that reason some teachers of English efuse to integrate cultural elements during their courses. The Historical Changes in Terms of Incorporating Culture in EFL Classes During the last a few decades, ELT practitioners had different ideas about this subject and discussed it in a detailed way. In the course of time, the application of Communicative Language Teaching in the late 1970s caused a great shift because this method entails the use of interactive programs and cultural components during the language classes.With the writings of scholars such as Byram(1989;1994;1997) and Kramsch (1996;1998;2001), the seamless relationship between language and culture was studied in detail over the last decades.

According to a study by Pulverness(2003), educators taking part in that process have begun to understand the intertwined relationship of language and culture. Without giving enough importance and allocating the necessary time for the integration of cultural components in language classes, the teachers would observe the inaccurate and incomplete parts in students’ linguistic knowledge.According to Bada(2000), the need for cultural literacy in ELT arises mainly from the fact that most language learners, not exposed to cultural elements of the society in question, seem to encounter significant hardship in communicating meaning to native speakers. (p.

101) While examining the relationship between language and culture, we should mention most prominent scholars in that field such as Wittgenstein(1980;1999), Saussure(19669, Foucault (1994) and Chomsky(1968). However, the most significant scholars in that field are Sapir(1962) and Whorf ( 1956).The term ‘linguistic relativity’ is discussed in detail in their works and means the difference of perception in people’s minds depending on their native tongue. We use and categorize the differences in a language with the help of these perceptional differences.

During the internalization of lexical and grammatical features of a foreign language, the students would try to make a distinction between their native tongue and foreign language they are trying to learn. These distinctions and categories are the entities forming the framework of a language.Even though the discussion about the importance of culture in EFL classes has been going on over the last decades, the necessity for teaching culture was recognized at the beginning of 1980s. Especially in 1990s, the scholars and educators started to incorporate the cultural elements of the target language community in a more conscious way.

As a significant scholar in that field, Pulverness(2003) asserts that’ due to the undeniable growth of English as an international language, cultural content as anything other than contextual background began to be included in language teaching programmes’.This sentence refers to a significant fact about the importance of English as a lingua franca in the world arena and in order to comprehend the details and everyday use of that language, the students widely focus on functional differences in pragmatics. As mentioned before, a wide range of advantages of incorporating cultural side of the language in classes was generally accepted by the mid of 1980s , however the style of teaching such kind of elements was a significant matter and question for most educators. These questions were faced more and more in 1990s.

Kitao,2000). McKay(2003) also added that culture teaching has a great impact on language teaching in two ways: linguistic and pedagogical. In terms of linguistics, the pragmatics, discourse and syntactic features of the language could be mentioned because culture is embedded in language learning process with all these elements. On the other hand, pedagogical aspect of the matter is concerned with the textbooks used during the courses hence the teachers pay attention to the needs of learners in terms of culturally-embedded courses during the course book selection process.

While some materials and course books sufficiently present the cultural features of the community speaking target language in a detailed way, some others may be insufficient in providing necessary examples and activities in that aspect. Culture and Context In order to make the language learning process more meaningful, the contextual knowledge is needed in a foreign language class. Byram(1988) argued that language has no function independent of the context in which it is used, for that reason cultural context is accepted as the key term to chieve a native- like fluency in foreign language teaching. Cultural context refers to language patterns, linguistic etiquette and speech events altogether because one would choose the words and expressions according to social distance of interlocuters.

Undoubtedly, these combinations of elements always carry a different message and this point affects the language use of the speaker. While bearing in mind the contextual differences, the speaker has a background knowledge about the codes of the community.For that reason, the learners are influenced by the value system of another culture, and some of these values may be passed on to them(Is?k, 2003) Additionally, the learners would have a chance of forming a world view by being familiar with some other cultures and their some other features apart from language. Language would play a role in reflecting these features as Kramsch(2001) asserts ‘Common attitudes, beliefs and values are reflected in the way members of the group use language, for example, what they choose to say or not to say and how they say it.

Teachers’ Perceptions Language teachers often treat culture as supplemental or incidental to the ‘real task’(Fantini,1997) because they generally focus on the everyday speech patterns and practical side of communication. Also Reid showed that only one third of language teaching programs offer a course in culture. (1995/1996,p. 3).

Actually the importance of incorporating cultural aspects of the foreign language is a well-known fact for language teachers, there exist some problems appearing in the application of this knowledge.During the past decade, the instructors have started to contemplate on the problems stemming from not including cultural side of the foreign language. Given the fact that the background and previous knowledge of a language instructor directly affect the subject matter materials and methods used during the course, it is crucial that teacher educators in ELT programs are knowledgeable in target language culture. As most of them regard themselves as insufficient in target culture, it causes them to appreciate it much less n foreign language classes.

Having a positive attitude towards cultural elements together with an accurate knowledge of the community in which target language is spoken paves the way for the use of appropriate materials and design of the syllabus, which will enable students to internalize the use of language in everyday situations. Kramsch(2004) contends in his research that the contemporary foreign language teacher has an accurate knowledge of target culture together with being an expert in syntactic and semantic forms of that language.There exists research-based evidence that understanding the interplay between language and culture shapes the approaches used in language teaching process. Most probably, a language teacher who is knowledgeable enough in TLC would allocate more time to carry out activities which enable students to acquire native-like fluency in target language.

Positive perception of the TLC would not only arouse interest of the students in TL but also pave the way for academic achievements in that field. It is easy to spot the differences in language teachers’ perceptions shaped by previous experiences, childhood memoirs or their background in general.Some studies show that social,(inter) cultural, socio-economic and educational factors determine the attitude of a foreign language instructor. Bayyurt(2006:p.

243) contends that ‘the background of individual teachers influences their attitude towards the incorporation of culture into their language teaching’. Similarly, Ahlquist’s claim(2000) bolsters the importance and effects of social circles in our environment causing us to adopt chauvinistic ideologies which hamper the appreciation of other cultures.Faas(2008) expressed that’ having less access to the opportunities associated with European life style such as travelling, result in developing nationalistic identities which inevitably lead them to take part in various ethnic divisions. ’ In order to eradicate the hostile feelings towards TLC, the learners of that foreign language should be exposed to the cultural components of the language while experiencing it by direct contact.

When they have enough knowledge about their native tongue and target language together with their cultural sides, it would be easier to form a mutual understanding between these two cultures and communities.In addition to the effect of background knowledge and experiences in formation of different perceptions about TLC, one should note the different correlations between language and culture. The language teacher being deprived of intercultural connections and overseas experiences would find it difficult to present cultural information in language classes since being exposed to the daily speech patterns of the target language community in its naturally occurring ways is the determining factor in forming an understanding of the TLC.According to a study conducted by Villegas and Lucas(2002), intensive cultural immersion enables the individuals to evaluate and construe the world around them in a more meaningful way.

Nonetheless, having such an opportunity depends on the financial situation of the individual. Although the importance and effect of socio-economic status are not articulated in that field very often, it is shown that individuals having higher socio-economic status are more successful in appreciating different cultures and demonstrate a higher academic level of achievement. Arikan,2010) Language and culture are inseparably linked and most of the researchers in that field are of the same opinion about this fact. (Kramsch, 1988; Seelye,1984).

Some language teachers are well aware of the fact that there exists a continuous interplay between the linguistic and cultural elements of a foreign language. On the other hand, some researchers uphold that English as a lingua-franca should be taught in a culture-free context. Undoubtedly, the language instructors perceptions about TLC permeate in every part and phase of their teaching processes.For that reason, the integration of cultural elements into the language classes depends on the personal viewpoint of the instructor.

A. A Traditional or Intercultural Stance In this increasingly multi-cultural world, the instructors feel the need to help the students raise their intercultural skills and internalize linguistic forms and rules in a foreign language class. As a goal of language education, the syllabus and curriculum are designed according to the needs of the learners while they acquire the necessary skills for a cross-cultural understanding.Additionally, the cultural components in a language class aim at raising the students’ cultural awareness while engaging them cognitively.

If this is not the case, the learners have difficulty in conveying meaning in a certain setting and particular environment. The methods of Communicative Language Learning can be implemented during the courses in order to allow them feel comfortable and focus on everyday language. The development of intercultural communicative competence prepares the learners for the multi-cultural environments in today’s world.Undoubtedly, the linguistic competence of the foreign language learners is regarded as a prerequisite for the formation of an intercultural understanding.

However, some instructors are not of the same opinion about that matter because they prefer to allow the students make mistakes from the very beginning before being linguistically competent in that foreign language. In a study by Ho(2009), the researcher questions the teachers’ challenge of having a traditional or intercultural understanding in language courses.The results of the study shows that adopting an intercultural understanding is necessary if the aim is to help the learners internalize the inextricable relation between language and culture. This relation may be regarded as an abstract phenomenon, however cultural variables embodied by the referred foreign language are the concrete part of this process.

As the language can be defined as the symbols and words by which the culture and social norms are transmitted, it can also be referred to as the symbolic representation of the values and beliefs.It is surely beyond doubt that the internalization of an intercultural understanding necessitates being knowledgeable in one’s own native tongue while trying to comprehend the contextual differences in a particular setting. Kramsch(1993) contends that EFL learners have to gain insight into their own culture if they want to have an intercultural understanding. The use of the term ‘intercultural’ refers to the fact that the learner has to mediate between these two cultures if the aim is to form a mutual understanding.

At that point, it is meaningful to describe the term intercultural communicative competence with other words and it is defined s ‘the ability to ensure a shared understanding by people of different social identities, and the ability to interact with people as complex human beings with multiple identities and their own individuality’(Byram, Gribkova & Starkeyy, 2002, p. 10). In a similar vein, the intercultural competence enables the individuals to bridge the gap between their culture and the associated culture. The cultural components embedded in the language itself are reflected in every linguistic element composing the meanings and expressions.

These cultural features constitute the language barriers if they aren’t comprehended fully by the learners and mostly misunderstanding and miscommunication result from being not knowledgeable in pragmatic rules of the TL. The Importance of Culture Integrated Courses on Students’ Motivation In a qualitative study, Onalan(2004) showed that teachers’ main aim in giving cultural information in their classes is to ‘develop a global understanding of other cultures and people’. This point is really significant in motivating students because students would feel themselves inclined to learn the language just out of curiosity.While incorporating the cultural components of the language during the classes, the teachers use this aspect in order to evoke students’ attention.

Another important function of using cultural elements in these courses is to foster the communication, however this can be regarded as the next step after motivating and encouraging students to learn more. The influence of motivation in the field of FLE has been indicated by scholars like Gardner and Lambert( 1959;1965; 1972). In order to motivate and encourage students in that process, culture classes and such kind of activities have a great role in their understanding of cultural background.Such type of activities not only encourage them to learn more about the target language culture but also increase students’ interest in that field.

When the need for developing a cross-cultural understanding is considered, the contribution of culture integrated courses on students’ motivation is much more clear. If the appropriate methods for incorporating the cultural elements into language teaching are used, the students would find the courses more interesting. The flexible environment and rapport encourage students to learn more and become fluent in that foreign language.Due to the time allowance problems in terms of including culture-based elements, the teachers generally focus on the syntactic patterns and linguistic rules of the language.

However, they are aware of the fact that culture, as an integral part of language teaching process, enhances the students’ awareness and affects their academic achievement level. At that point, it is not a risk to state that the cultural peculiarities of the TL contribute to the development of tolerance towards other communities and bring about a full understanding of their own cultural background.The Influence of Course Books As a well-known fact, the prospective language teachers and learners of a foreign language are exposed to a wide range of ELT materials during the courses. However, the quality of these materials is discussed because some of them contains some prejudiced, hegemonic or chauvinistic ideologies which affect the perceptions of learners in a negative way while forming hostile feelings towards the community in which TL is spoken.

(Kachru, 1994)

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