Scholarly article on topic 'Culture: Is it an Avoidable or Adorable Concept in EFL Settings?'

Culture: Is it an Avoidable or Adorable Concept in EFL Settings? Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Ebru A. Damar

Abstract Inseparability of culture and language teaching has been the discussion of the field of ELT for many years now. The ‘culture’ perceptions of teachers and learners in EFL classrooms have been rarely addressed. Therefore, this study attempts to investigate Turkish EFL teachers’ and learners’ perspectives on the teaching of ‘culture’ in ELT classrooms. The participants of the study are 62 learners and 35 EFL teachers. The data were obtained by means of the learner and teacher questionnaires and the interviews which were prepared according to the field notes and unstructured observations by the researcher. The findings of the study, on the one hand, seem to present that learners and teachers employ favourable views on the learning and teaching of culture-general knowledge, behavior and attitudes. On the other hand, there seems to be an unawareness of the issue of culture- specific knowledge, behavior and attitudes on both parties. Furthermore, the teachers tend to adopt a reluctant behavior to implement the culture-general issues which hold the responsibility of learners’ becoming “intercultural beings” across cultures.

Academic research paper on topic "Culture: Is it an Avoidable or Adorable Concept in EFL Settings?"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

ELSEVIER Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 93 (2013) 752 - 755 -

3rd World Conference on Learning, Teaching and Educational Leadership (WCLTA-2012)

Culture: Is it an avoidable or adorable concept in EFL settings?

Ebru A. Damar

Abstract

Inseparability of culture and language teaching has been the discussion of the field of ELT for many years now. The 'culture' perceptions of teachers and learners in EFL classrooms have been rarely addressed. Therefore, this study attempts to investigate Turkish EFL teachers' and learners' perspectives on the teaching of 'culture' in ELT classrooms. The participants of the study are 62 learners and 35 EFL teachers. The data were obtained by means of the learner and teacher questionnaires and the interviews which were prepared according to the field notes and unstructured observations by the researcher. The findings of the study, on the one hand, seem to present that learners and teachers employ favourable views on the learning and teaching of culture-general knowledge, behavior and attitudes. On the other hand, there seems to be an unawareness of the issue of culture-specific knowledge, behavior and attitudes on both parties. Furthermore, the teachers tend to adopt a reluctant behavior to implement the culture-general issues which hold the responsibility of learners' becoming "intercultural beings" across cultures. © 2013TheAuthors.Published byElsevierLtd.

Selection and peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Ferhan Odaba§i Keywords: Culture; culture teaching; EFL; intercultural communication.

1. Introduction

In our constantly growing global society, culture seems to become one of the most crucial aspects in educational settings. Especially in EFL settings, where accuracy-oriented frameworks are generally implemented, the teaching of culture is rarely met. Tseng (2002, p.11) touches on the issue and indicates that 'culture is often neglected in EFL and ESL teaching, or introduced as no more than a supplementary diversion to language instruction.

As the culture has been frequently put aside in EFL classrooms, unfortunately many EFL learners do not develop good language skills because of unawareness about other cultures' assumptions, values and beliefs at the discourse level, and they experience pragmatic failures in international settings. To build awareness among the target audience, the present study aims to explore how EFL teachers and learners view the culture in language classes.

2. Literature review

2.1. Culture is defined as...

In order to understand cultural differences and develop an intercultural understanding, it is essential to know what culture is and what culture means for all the parties in language classes. As mentioned in the related literature, culture is one of the most difficult concepts to define, so two American anthropologists, Kroeber & Kluckhon, have identified 164 different definitions of the term culture (Ozkalp, 1989; Sabuncu & Emre, 1995; Gao, 2006). This is

a Uludag University.,Gorukle Campus,Nilufer,16140,Bursa, Turkey

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Ferhan Odaba§i

doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.09.275

because the word 'culture' has multiple meanings. For example, in anthropology it refers to civilization, the society itself and a theory of human and society. In science it refers to civilization, and in social sciences it refers to the whole process of education (Ozkalp, 1989; Güvenf, 1993). In its simplest meaning culture covers everything that people in a certain society learn and share. The things that are learned and shared include the language, religion, eating behaviors, social life, rules of etiquette, moral values, and even life after death. Culture helps us acquire many things when living in a certain society, such as what to do, what to eat, or who to respect. This complex nature of culture turns the teaching and learning of a foreign language into a challenging process as there are strong connections between culture and language (Jiang, 2000; Zaid, 1999). On this respect, language teachers have been required to exploit each behavior in order to be able to survive during the journey of language learning and thus intercultural communication.

2.2. Culture in language classroom

The first dimension of culture teaching is basically related to categorization of culture in the literature: culture-general learning and culture-specific learning. The culture-specific learning, within the scope of this study, involves acquiring knowledge, behavioral skills, and attitude related to a given target speech society. The culture-specific aspect is specified into both the Big 'C' and the small 'c' domains (Paige et al.,1999, 2003). The Big "c" domain represents a set of facts and statistics relating to the arts, history, geography, business, education, festivals and customs of a target speech society. It is, by nature, easily seen and readily apparent to anyone and memorized by learners, and has been utilized heavily by many L2/FL language practitioners to teach a target culture. The small "c" domain, on the other hand, refers to the invisible and deeper sense of a target culture (that is, the mainstream socio-cultural values, norms and beliefs, taking into consideration such socio-cultural variables as age, gender and social status).

The second dimension is the question of integration of culture into the language classrooms. The question of which approach would be adapted while tackling with the 'culture' issue has been attempted to be answered in different ways: 'contrastive approach' (Byram & Essarte-Sarriez, 1991), culture-aside approach (Chastain, 1988), and another personalized and individualized approach which sees culture as interplay between social and personal schemas (Guest, 2002). Similar to Guest's (2002), some other approaches related to culture teaching holds a social constructivist point of view by highlighting the reciprocal relation between individual culture and social culture (Tseng, 2002).

Throughout the literature, the last issue being revolved around recently is whether culture teaching means to exploit a second culture or to develop an intercultural understanding. Broadly speaking, most of the language learners do not use English to communicate only with native speakers. Since English became an international language, most of them use English to communicate with other non-native speakers in other parts of the world either for business, travel, or entertainment. Thus, in the classrooms, the importance of intercultural understanding should be emphasized by teaching about other cultures together with the Anglo-American culture with no specific emphasis on any culture, and intercultural communicative competence should be developed to help learners' intercultural beings ' to function well in both local and international settings'(Gao, 2006; Alptekin, 2002). The perception of target culture seems to be put one step further than teaching only target culture, namely Anglo-American culture.

3. Method

The study was conducted with 35 EFL teachers and 62 EFL learners who were high school students in Bursa, Turkey. Thirty two of them were female and 30 of them male. The ages of the learner participants ranged between 15-18 and the teacher participants' ages ranged from 29 to 45. Their years of teaching experience was between 5-20.

To reach the aim of the study, a five-point Likert-type questionnaire was developed. The development of the questionnaire was done through a literature review and field notes taken during the practicum observations by the researcher. The learner questionnaire with slight modifications was prepared. In order to re-ensure the validity of the questionnaire, the questionnaires were administered to a group of 17 EFL learners and 5 ELT lecturers (not included

in the group of participants) and pilot tested. The EFL learners were asked to provide feedback and suggestions in terms of clarity of the items and the comprehensiveness of the whole instrument since the concept of culture has somewhat complex nature for them.

The questionnaires consisted of two main sections. The first section includes open-ended items exploring for awareness on the concept of culture and the participants' perceptions of intercultural communication. In the second section, there are items concerning the various aspects of the teaching of culture in foreign language classrooms.

Since the present study is basically a qualitative research which is supported by quantitative measurement with numerical values, the questionnaire data was analyzed descriptively and represented in the form of percentages. As for the analysis of the interviews, content analysis technique was used. First, the researcher read through all the interview data to identify meaningful units based on the research questions. Each interview was examined for themes about the cultural perception and culture teaching.

4. Findings and discussion

As for cultural issues in language classrooms, participants were asked for their awareness of their conceptualization. The data reveal that most of the participants' cultural understanding is related to only Big 'C' domain. When the participants were asked to respond to questions exploring their perception of 'culture', target culture' and 'intercultural communication', their understanding seemed to be mainly limited to some aspects of the target culture such as national holidays, food and sports. The learner interviewees expressed that they were only familiar with the famous people in the target language society (i.e. '... to me culture is best represented by famous footballers such as David Beckham.' and '...Adele is my favorite. perfect English lady.' and the important dates or national holidays (i.e. '.Halloween and Christmas ceremonies .different from ours but interesting and funny. '). Almost all of the interview data related to cultural understanding is revolving around the Big 'C' domain of culture learning and mainly Anglo-American culture, and failed to express small 'c' domain. As Paige et all (2003) expressed, small 'c' domain is inevitably taught to avoid pragmatic failure in language use since using a language is a direct result of small ' c' which consists of socio-cultural values, norms, beliefs, and assumptions. When the teacher participants were asked why there were Big 'C' examples given by the learners, their answers varied from 'time limitations', 'lack of information about culture-specific learning' to 'lack of sources and materials addressing intercultural communication in an EFL context. The study of Gürsoy and Damar (2009) examining the cultural content of EFL coursebooks indicates that EFL teachers in public schools are using coursebooks full of examples of generally Big 'C' and all belonging to Anglo-American culture. Then, this is much more apparent why EFL teachers are aware of mostly Big 'C's of the target culture. As Alptekin (1993:142) states that coursebooks should not be confined to only Anglo-American culture, and writers should direct coursebook users, here EFL teachers and learners, to exploit 'universal concepts of human experience' and develop cross-cultural comprehension in EIL. Similarly, Sali (2008) and Wright (2000) state that EFL learners and teachers feel the need for much more appropriate cultural content than presented in their coursebooks.

The findings of the present study reveal valuable insights into the teachers' and learners' perspectives on culture teaching and learning. Most of the teachers (73%) and nearly half of the learners (49%) appear to believe in the importance of one's knowing own culture and cultural representations in language classes which help them to understand their own culture better. Similarly, almost all of the teachers (90%) and most of the learners (70%) state that contrastive approach is needed to develop an intercultural understanding. The interview data uncover the idea that there is a need to know the native culture as a basement to build a cultural understanding on it as it is in line with the findings and remarks of the studies of Gao (2006), Sali (2008) and Tseng and Chao(2012). As for developing intercultural communicative purposes, more than half of the teachers (61%) hesitate to admit that a foreign language teacher might be responsible of developing it as well as linguistic competence. The reason behind these ideas might be that the teachers fear that culture teaching may impede the learning of the linguistic features of the language. Without hesitation in culture teaching intercultural communicative competence (ICC) seems to go beyond communicative competence since English has become an international language and thus language learners as 'intercultural beings' (Alptekin, 2002; Scallon & Scallon, 1995).

5. Conclusion

With a global understanding of the concept of culture, the present study provides insights for EFL practitioners to develop intercultural understandings of the issues in language teaching. First, EFL teachers might be informed about the importance of knowing one's own culture as a prerequisite for developing intercultural awareness. The findings also seem to suggest that the role of culture, especially small 'c', in both verbal and nonverbal communication is inevitable to develop ICC. Presumably, some precautions, namely appropriate pedagogies and variety of instructional materials, might be employed by EFL practitioners, coursebook writers and curriculum developers. All the parties can also be informed that integrated culture teaching is a panacea which would override the effectiveness of so-called safe accuracy-oriented frameworks on the way to ICC. With such an integration of culture-specific learning to language classes, EFL learners would develop tolerance towards different assumptions, values and beliefs, and understand the effects of those in the discourse level while communicating in English in international settings. As a final remark, socio-cultural status of the language classes should be flourished by teaching other cultures together with the Anglo-American culture with no specific emphasis on any culture.

References

Alptekin, C. (1993). Target-language culture in EFL materials. ELT Journal,47(2), 136-143.

Alptekin, C. (2002). Towards intercultural communicative competence in ELT. ELT Journal, 56 (1), 57-64.

Byram, M. and Esserte-Sertiez, V. (1991). Investigating cultural studies in foreign language teaching. Avon : Multilingual Matters Limited. Chastain, K. (1998). Developing second-language skills: Theory and practice. Chicago: HBJ.

Gao, F. (2006). Language is culture-On intercultural communication. Journal of Language and Linguistics. 5(1), 58-67.

Gursoy , E. & Damar , A. E. (2009). The egg or the chicken?: How culture influences foreign language learning. International Congress on

Intercultural Dialogue and Education, Conference Proceedings, Bursa, Turkey. 50-59. Jiang, W. (2000). The relationship between culture and language. ELT Journal, 54(4), 328-333. Kramsch, C. (1996). Context and culture in language teaching. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.

Sali, P. (2008). A quest into EFL teachers' and learners' perspectives on culture teaching. LINCOM Studies in Second Language Teaching.226-234.

Scollon, R., & Scollon, S. W. (1995). Intercultural communication. Oxford: Blackwell. Tseng, Y. (2002). A lesson in culture. ELT Journal, 56(1), 11-21.

Tseng, C., and Chao, C. (2012). Teaching culture in Taiwan's EFL classroom. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences. 47, 1843-1846. Wright, D. A. (2000). Culture as information and culture as affective process: A comparative study. Foreign Language Annals, 33(3), 330-341. Zaid, M. A. (1999). Cultural confrontation and cultural acquisition in the EFL classroom. IRAL, 37(2), 111-127.