In recent years, the concept of culture has become an integral component of English language teaching and learning. In fact, Damen (1987) defines culture as “the fifth dimension” of language teaching in addition to other four language skills.
Defining intercultural competence is a complex task. However, its essence lies in the preparation of individuals to interact appropriately and effectively with those from other cultural backgrounds. The use of the term “intercultural” reflects the view that EFL learners have to gain insight into both, their own and the foreign culture (Byram & Planet, 2000). It refers to the “ability to ensure a shared understanding by people of different social identities, and ability to interact with people as complex human beings with multiple identities and their own individuality” (Sercu, 2005, p. 3). Moreover, this competency highlights the negotiation between different cultures, the ability to look at oneself from an “external” perspective, analyse and adapt one’s own behaviours, values and beliefs (Moran, 2001).
However, to integrate the cultural dimension into the language learning process, educators need to keep in mind that social interaction among people from the different cultural background will be successful only if “they bring to the situation their knowledge about their own country and of the others’ (Bayram & Planet, 2000).
Thus, here are some ways how teachers could integrate the cultural dimension into the language learning process:
- Cultural awareness of one’s own culture
One of the aims of intercultural approach to language teaching/learning is to facilitate learner’s exploration of their own culture. For example, learners can be engaged in pair or group discussions and use some brainstorming or mapping techniques to gather different ideas of their understanding of a particular cultural concept. This task will show the diversity in awareness within learners and exchange with some unknown views or information. Learners can also develop their cultural awareness through associations they have when they think about a particular topic which will reflect the learners’ own culture. For example, the word cow may produce associations with food or milk, or chocolate or even God, depending on the culture. Or the topic of social networks must be very close to learners as social networking is very popular among their peer group. They can discuss the attitudes towards spending time socialising virtually or positive or harmful effects on health and education. So reflecting on thought and ideas is very important in terms that learner will now have a general idea on a cultural issue and prepared to acquire knowledge about other cultures.
- Cultural awareness of other cultures
An important aspect of language teaching/learning is creating an authentic meaningful situation (Byram & Planet, 2000) where language can be learned. Also creating an authentic situation or bringing real objects will increase learners’ interest, motivation and curiosity for culture learning. For example, teachers can create an account in a social network that learners frequently use and create a group where students can share what they found or learned about target culture with classmates. Or a teacher may give students a task to find a pen friend from other country and conduct an interview and then discuss it in class. Another useful tool in facilitating cultural awareness of other culture is watching videos. From videos, students develop their ability to observe the cultural behaviour of people. Or an interview with a native speaker can serve as a great source of cultural information and be a real intercultural situation where learners can practice their intercultural competencies. Such activities will make the lessons more interesting and learners will feel more motivated in learning about the target culture.
- Comparing cultures
First of all in order to compare cultures learners need to have an understanding of their own culture because “no-one can be sure to know enough about his/her own culture” (Byram & Planet, 2000). This is regarded as a foundation for learning the target language culture. Culture always changes and students should be aware of this so that they can have a better understanding of their own and the target culture. Each culture has different values and none of the values in one culture is better than the others in another culture.
In conclusion, I want to say that learning the foreign language should move beyond teaching just grammar and factual knowledge about the western cultures such as “London is a capital of Great Britain”, but involve and embrace the diversity and foster the development of attitudes of openness and tolerance in learners.
Byram, M., & Planet, M.T. (2000). Social identity and European dimension: Intercultural competence through foreign language learning. Graz: Council of Europe Publishing
Damen, L. (1987). Culture learning: The fifth dimension on the language classroom. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Moran, P.R. (2001), Teaching Culture: Perspectives in Practice, Boston, Mass.: Heinle and Heinle
Sercu, L. (2005) Testing intercultural competence in a foreign language. Current approaches and future challenges. BELL (Belgian Journal of Language and Literature)