Scholarly article on topic 'Teachers⿿ Perceptions on Using Popular Culture when Teaching and Learning English'

Teachers⿿ Perceptions on Using Popular Culture when Teaching and Learning English Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Irina Rets

Abstract This article describes the findings of two subsequent interdisciplinary research studies on popular culture conducted by the author. The first study was focused on revealing the features of popular culture by analyzing a corpus of 2000 neologisms that appeared in English in the last few decades. The second study was aimed at eliciting university teachers⿿ perceptions on the role of popular culture in English language classroom. This study was supported by the survey carried out in the framework of the research featuring 50 participants ⿿ instructors at university language teaching departments and the analysis of three language textbooks in terms of appearance of popular culture. The author argues that popular culture having global supranational character, giving priority to fashionable uses of words and emotionalism might serve as a stronger encouragement of language acquisition. The article gives insight into such issues as language features of popular culture, its representation in English language classrooms on the tertiary education level and the awareness of teachers concerning the benefits of using materials on popular culture. The results outlined in the article have a potential to further motivate students towards learning English as well as improve their communicative and socio-cultural competences.

Academic research paper on topic "Teachers⿿ Perceptions on Using Popular Culture when Teaching and Learning English"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 232 (2016) 154 - 160

International Conference on Teaching and Learning English as an Additional Language, GlobELT 2016, 14-17 April 2016, Antalya, Turkey

Teachers' Perceptions on Using Popular Culture when Teaching and

Learning English

Irina Retsa*

aSakarya University, Education Faculty, 54300 Hendek, Turkey

Abstract

This article describes the findings of two subsequent interdisciplinary research studies on popular culture conducted by the author. The first study was focused on revealing the features of popular culture by analyzing a corpus of 2000 neologisms that appeared in English in the last few decades. The second study was aimed at eliciting university teachers' perceptions on the role of popular culture in English language classroom. This study was supported by the survey carried out in the framework of the research featuring 50 participants - instructors at university language teaching departments and the analysis of three language textbooks in terms of appearance of popular culture. The author argues that popular culture having global supranational character, giving priority to fashionable uses of words and emotionalism might serve as a stronger encouragement of language acquisition. The article gives insight into such issues as language features of popular culture, its representation in English language classrooms on the tertiary education level and the awareness of teachers concerning the benefits of using materials on popular culture. The results outlined in the article have a potential to further motivate students towards learning English as well as improve their communicative and socio-cultural competences.

© 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the organizing committee of GlobELT 2016

Keywords: Popular culture; fashionable usage of words; neologism; teaching strategy; language teaching.

1. Introduction

One of the biggest controversies in academia has been the differentiation between popular culture and high art - a distinction that is becoming more difficult to draw as there is gradual fusion of the two. The phenomenon of popular

* Corresponding author. Tel.+90-264-295-3548 E-mail address: irinarets@sakarya.edu.tr

1877-0428 © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the organizing committee of GlobELT 2016 doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.10.040

culture has a complex character but on a bigger scale it is associated with daily life, the mainstream and that which is forefront and broadly accessible, in other words - culture displayed in mass communication. Presently, there is no consensus among researchers concerning the value of culture produced for the masses but since popular culture is such an essential part of everyday life having an impact on a broad range of aspects starting from entertainment and fashion to grocery shopping and in view of its potential connection with education and ability of modern society to access knowledge, in this article I argue in favor of the importance of its scholarly exploration.

2. Literature review

Popular culture is the subject that most individuals are familiar and engage with on daily basis. The idea in favor of using it in language classroom was first advocated in late 1980s (Cheung, 2001) together with globalization and teachers giving priority to authenticity and actual language use in their materials. The earlier studies focused on integrating certain products of popular culture into language lessons such songs and films (Viswamohan, 2004; Baoan, 2008), anime (Fukunaga, 2006) or technology (Thornton & Houser, 2004). A few recent studies provide a more holistic picture of popular culture and consider its implications for classroom use (Cheung, 2001). All of these studies emphasize the positive effects this phenomenon has on students and their second language acquisition.

As for the participants and target audience literature review showed that most studies on popular culture in ELT focused so far on secondary school level and on students rather than on teachers and their perceptions (Baoan, 2008; Rowsell & Pahl, 2015).

Nowadays there is no unanimity among researchers regarding the definition of popular culture. The word 'popular' or 'popularis' was originally used in Latin in legal and political discourse meaning 'belonging to the people' (Cheung, 2001). Although it is difficult to produce a precise definition of popular culture due to its interdisciplinary usage in my research I define it as a social phenomenon, differentiation of modern culture that includes ideas, values, activities, products appealing to a large audience.

The elements of popular culture can be observed in history and date back to the earliest civilizations but most researchers agree that popular culture in the sense that we understand it now appeared hand in hand with the ideas of postmodernism and was brought to life by the processes of industrialization, urbanization, democratization of culture, technological progress, the increase of literacy and development of information society.

3. Methodology and data analysis

This paper is based on the results of two subsequent interdisciplinary studies. One was conducted in 2014 and was aimed at eliciting the features of popular culture by analyzing the corpus of 2000 neologisms - new words that appeared in the English language in the last few decades (Rets, 2014). Neologisms by continuous sampling method were selected from dictionaries, online collections of new words such as WordSpy (available at: http://www.wordspy.com/) and the lists of recent updates to Oxford Dictionary (available at http://public.oed.com). The second study conducted in 2016 was aimed at eliciting teachers' perceptions on using popular culture in language classroom. The survey featuring questions on the definition of popular culture, its representation in classroom materials, teachers' awareness concerning the benefits of using it as well as specific activities based on popular culture materials and the textbooks most commonly used in class was distributed to 50 participants, teachers of Education Faculty of Sakarya University (Turkey) and Philology and Intercultural Communication Faculty of Volgograd State University (Russia). Participants were 50 in number, 12 males and 38 females. All of them are English teachers whose age ranges from 24 to 65. Three textbooks on general English most popular among the respondents of the survey were analyzed in terms of representation of popular culture in compliance with the features of popular culture elicited in the first study.

Thus, the current paper synthesizes the findings of the studies in two closely connected fields - linguistics and language education which accounts for its theoretical and practical significance.

4. Findings

4.1. Definition and features ofpopular culture

Most English teachers who took part in the survey (71%) generally emphasized the entertaining component of popular culture and narrowed it to 'social media, television programs and popular music'. Some respondents (22%) highlighted the idea of popular culture being 'trendy' and 'widespread' and 7% of the respondents found it difficult to define this phenomenon.

The analysis of the elements and features of popular culture contributes to a better understanding of this notion. Following the opinion of a linguist V.A. Buryakovskaya, I differentiate such features of popular culture as its accessibility, recognizability, commerciality, global super-national character, emotionalism, individualism, orientation at youth, conformism, entertaining setting and electronic media as a paramount channel of its circulation (Buryakovskaya, 2014).

4.2. Language of popular culture

To be able to use popular culture in language teaching effectively, it is necessary to also analyze its language and conceptual features. My research showed that most neologisms (namely 70%) were generated in the discourse of popular culture such as mass-media and mass-communication and reveal the aspects of popular culture mentioned above. For example, a significant number of neologisms group around the notion of 'electronic means of communication' such as face time 'time spent interacting with someone in person, rather than via electronic link' (available at: http://www.wordspy.com/); password fatigue 'mental exhaustion and frustration caused by having to remember a large number of passwords'; or Skype sleep 'to create a Skype connection with a far away partner and then fall asleep together'.

Another feature - global super-national character of popular culture can also be demonstrated through neologisms - the element 'global' showed an increased derivational ability in the last few decades and brought to life such words as Globish, globality, globocrat, globesity etc. A number of researchers of national languages mention a broad usage of English words in popular culture discourse which also accounts for its global reach (House, 2003; Rets, 2014).

According to the research results, another feature of popular culture manifested in neologisms appeared to be emotionality. A number of neologisms are built with the help of intensifiers - such prefixes as mega-(megadiversity, megacab), super- (superdistribution, supertaster) or are used as evaluatory words (eyebroccoli 'unattractive person'; omnishambles 'a situation or person that is a mess in every possible way').

Orientation at youth, which was listed among the characteristics of popular culture above, can also be illustrated through neologisms. My research results show that a big number of neologisms (65%) are marked as informal or slang words and in general can be classified as 'youth talk': one-handed food 'food that is small enough to hold in one hand and can be consumed while driving'; facebook facelift 'cosmetic surgery designed to improve how a person looks in photos posted to social networking sites'.

According to my research results, the language of popular culture operates fashionable words. Some neologisms that constituted the analyzed corpus were chosen as the 'words of the year', words or expressions which were selected through a set of assessments and reflect the most popular and important concepts in the public sphere during a specific year. Thus, for example, such words as selfie, to google, unfriend or omnishambles are not only neologisms but also are the words of the year.

4.3. Application of popular culture to classroom activities

The survey carried out within my research showed that more than half of the respondents (76%) have a negative perception of popular culture. As an answer to the question about the adjective associations this notion evokes the English teachers gave such associations as 'simple', 'easy', 'not sophisticated', 'temporary', 'constricting', 'trivial', 'accepted by force', 'average'. Although approximately all of the respondents (99%) find popular culture useful and stated that they use some elements of it in the classroom (up to 90% of the materials) this survey revealed that they feel wary about doing so. It is worth noting that the age of the respondents didn't affect these data significantly.

There was relatively the same number of teachers who started their career recently and who hold a negative perception of popular culture (49%) as opposed to senior teachers (51%).

4.3.1. Benefits of using popular culture in language classroom

The idea of edutainment has been around since 1970-s and popular culture with the characteristics analyzed above prove to be an essential element of such an educational setting. My research results show that most English teachers (82%) agree on two benefits of using popular culture in language classroom, namely 'popular culture is easier to understand ' and 'materials on popular culture are more entertaining and engaging' than those involving high art. This research aspires to promote popular culture among English teachers and raise their awareness about other advantages of using it in English classes.

As it has been stated in other studies, materials on popular culture make the classes more student-centered, the end result of which is a more responsive and active involvement of the students in the education process (Luo, 2014; Rowsell et.al. 2015). This also complies with the present increasing tendency towards individualism in the society. Furthermore, this kind of materials expose students to the most current and state-of-the-art cultural and social phenomena, thus they appeal to the interests of the students to the greater extent and at the same time keep them informed about the things that happen in the society right at the moment of speaking. The latter constitutes an important part of the formation of socio-cultural competence of language learners. Although the students may master grammar and pronunciation rules as well as acquire the communicative competence, in other words they may learn what an 'appropriate' usage of the language is, without socio-cultural competence they may still lack context to have a successful communication with native speakers. This also brings the issue of authenticity of materials. 70% of the respondents of my survey claimed that they teach English using authentic materials. Since texts on popular culture are topical and resemble real life, most of them are also authentic except when intentionally made graded by the teachers. The authenticity of materials on popular culture can make learners more independent and encourage them to read in English outside of the classroom.

One teacher stated the idea in my survey that popular culture bridges the gap between teachers and students. This assumption proves to be true-to-life as teachers are not digital native in their majority and it might be challenging for them to catch up with the flow of hyperlink experiences that their students encounter in their daily life.

Classroom learning, 'does not often provide motivation for learning by itself, except in the special case of intrinsic motivation' (Biggs & Watkins, 1993). Students can set clearer objectives when what they learn in class has direct personal benefits for them and can be applied to real life. Thus, there is a strong evidence for the teachers to use popular culture in language classroom when aiming to motivate students through specific choice of teaching strategies and learning materials.

4.3.2. Limitations concerning using popular culture in language classroom

There are many concerns as well as preconceived ideas about using popular culture in formal teaching setting. The most widespread idea for the distaste of popular culture is that it is low and transient as opposed to high culture (Rowsell et.al. 2015) which makes it not worthy for school teaching. The same tendency can be observed in my research results. Most teachers (72%) stated as a disadvantage of using popular culture in language classroom the idea that it doesn't contribute to the development of students' critical thinking abilities as much as high art and the notion that it 'doesn't broaden students' outlook'.

The second biggest concern that I have evidence for among my survey results is the teachers' perception of popular culture as 'one-sided mentality' that promotes 'the ideas, conduct, attitudes and problems of the Western society' and is 'eurocentric' in its nature (15% of the respondents). Among the opinions expressed in the survey was the idea that students might feel 'protective of some elements of their culture' and 'this situation may cause certain severe discussions in the classroom'. This view holding strong position among English teachers can be explained through the analysis of the development of popular culture. As claimed above, it evolved hand in hand with such phenomena as globalization and democratization of culture which themselves have contradictory character. In a number of sources the term 'globalisation' is used at least synonymically if not interchangeably with such terms as 'americanization', 'cultural imperialism', 'internationalization' and 'mcdonaldization' (Booij, 2001; House, 2003).

For one reason such striking diversity in terms can be observed because there is no unified terminological system concerning the phenomenon of globalization due to its complex interdisciplinary nature. Secondly, not all researchers and language teachers welcome globalization especially in the countries and contexts where English is not the mother tongue in the fear that together with optimizing communication and unifying social practices, it disfavors the national identity and makes it seem inferior. In this research I follow the opinion of G. Booij who argues that globalization can't be threatening as this phenomenon does not represent only one nation or state but rather has a supranational character and involves processes that organize life in almost every country (Booij, 2001).

Although there is positive evidence that opposes the mentioned perceptions as explained above there are still other issues that need to be taken into consideration when using popular culture in language classroom.

Firstly, materials on popular culture that lack human sympathy and contain ideas connected with violence or strong social taboos may lead to hate speech in the classroom especially towards the students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Since it is a teacher who plans the lessons and prepares the information that will be delivered in class he/she is entitled to choose the materials that promote peace, tolerance and respect while at the same time addressing the topics relevant to the youth.

The second issue concerning using popular culture in language classroom is the domain of slang that it involves sometimes including swear and offensive vocabulary. On the one hand, there is a common belief that there is no place for 'bad language' in the classroom but, on the other hand, swear words are part of everyday spoken English and films or songs contain numerous examples of it. The biggest difficulty for language learners is realizing the strength of the vocabulary they use. This difficulty emerges when students compare the swear word they hear to the equivalent in their native language which may have a very different and often contrasting strength. The role of the teacher in this case is while filtering the words that can be discussed on popular culture in class may also be to explain the context (in which social situations it is appropriate to use the swear word and in which it is not) as the well as their strength (which vocabulary units are more offensive than others).

4.3.3. Representation of popular culture in textbooks and classroom activities

In order to analyze how often and in what way popular culture is used in language classroom I included a question in the survey that gathers data on the textbooks that my respondents prefer to use when teaching various aspects of general English at university and the strategies they choose in order to incorporate popular culture in their lessons. According to the survey results there are three most commonly used English textbooks among my respondents: English Result Intermediate (Hancock & McDonald, 2009) by Oxford University Press, Face2Face Upper-Intermediate (Redston & Cunningham, 2013) and Unlock 3 (Intermediate) by Cambridge University Press (Ostrowska, 2014). Intermediate and Upper-Intermediate English turned out to be the most popular language proficiency levels that the teachers orient their classes at. I analyzed the student's books in these textbook sets in terms of representation of popular culture. The key features of popular culture described in the previous sections of the research served as the basis of my analysis. The Arabic numerals listed in the table stand for the number of pages in each textbook which display the features of popular culture.

Table 1. Analysis of representation of popular culture in textbooks on general English

Name of Features

textbook

Language Content and Images

neologisms emotional slang fashionable multi- modern urbanisation youth recognisability

intensifies words cultural technology

English Result 0 1 0 0 12 9 70 56 8

Face2Face 0 5 0 0 16 11 45 74 50

Unlock 0 3 0 0 38 12 30 39 5

The analysis in Table 1 shows that the language of popular culture is underrepresented in English textbooks currently used in university language classrooms of my respondents. No neologisms were included in the paperbacks. As for emotional intensifiers, there were mostly present in such words as 'plenty'/ 'abundant' (in place of 'a lot'), 'terrified' (in place of 'afraid') or 'freezing' (in place of cold) etc. These vocabulary units match popular culture in their degree of emotionality but not in their morphological structure or evaluative markedness. In terms of slang, mostly contractions and phrasal verbs are used which are more features of informal language rather than slang. Fashionable words also appeared to have a lack of representation in the analyzed textbooks. For example, the word selfie was chosen as the word of the year in 2013 and now has about 200 million search results on the Internet but it is not included in either of the analyzed textbooks published in 2013 or in the subsequent years.

As for the representation of popular culture in terms of content and images, all three textbooks depict mostly urban life and have young people at their centre, the majority of whom though are in their late twenties and early thirties. Approximately one-third of the textbooks give information about various cultures and countries where English is not used as a mother-tongue. In all analyzed textbooks multi-cultural information is spread equally among different parts of the textbooks rather than organized only in one unit about customs and traditions or history. In two out of the three textbooks most names used in dialogues or texts belong predominantly to English native speakers. In contrast to this fact, in the last textbook (Ostrowska, 2014) multi-cultural information was also present in personal names that seem to have originated in different parts of the world (e.g. Dr. Kuryan, Aisha, Yildiz, Hakan, Liam, Eva etc.). It is notable that none of the textbooks contain as many examples of modern technology as young people are exposed to in real life. According to a survey conducted in 2014, undergraduate students spend up to three hours per day on social networks alone (Mail Online, available at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/). Most materials in the analyzed textbooks include only some photos of phones (not necessarily smartphones) or depict telephone conversations or radio programs without involving any activities or information on social media or other popular technology platforms. Finally, two out of the three analyzed textbooks do not always display a high degree of recognizability i.e. they do not necessarily inform the readers about celebrities and famous public figures, popular brands or places.

Regarding the strategies of using popular culture in language classroom, 67% of the respondents reported on incorporating it in the form of conversation starters and warm-up exercises which may help the teacher to create a welcoming environment, get the attention of the students and encourage interaction. 12% of the respondents claimed that they show images on popular culture to teach vocabulary to the students and 5% of the university instructors stated that they use lyrics from songs as well as scripts from films or TV series to teach aspects of grammar and vocabulary. At the same time 13% of the respondents admitted that they do not use materials on popular culture in class with the learners of the above mentioned language proficiency levels but instead with beginners because they find such materials 'easy' and not sophisticated enough, although the latter idea must most probably refer to the intellectual maturity of the students rather than their language level. 3% of the teachers also stated that they do not incorporate popular culture in their lessons for the reason of it being 'challenging to find popular culture materials to support each topic that they are trying to cover'.

5. Discussion and suggestions

Popular culture constitutes an intrinsic part of our lives no matter whether we are teachers or students. Having the potential of making the students more responsive and active in class as well as contributing to the development of their socio-cultural competence, popular culture may bridge the generation gap between the students and teachers and put forward the ideas and topics that are meaningful to the students as opposed to abstract declarative knowledge typical of formal educational setting.

Just like any other phenomenon in life, popular culture has an immediate reflection in human language. My research results show that the language of popular culture is characterized by an excessive use of neologisms, emotional intensifiers, slang and fashionable words. Among the key concepts that define popular culture in the time frame of the last few decades are globalization and communication through electronic media.

My research also indicates that although 99% of university teachers in two different countries who took part in the survey find it useful to incorporate popular culture in language classroom, the analysis of their awareness of the benefits of using it, their associations with this phenomenon as well as their concerns proved that overall they have a

negative perception of popular culture in relation to classroom practices. The biggest disadvantage of using popular culture in class, in the opinions of the respondents, is that they are 'less sophisticated' than those on high art and are not applicable for the development of students' critical thinking skills. Furthermore, 3% of the teachers admitted that they are unable to find materials on popular culture for each topic covered in language lessons.

The analysis of the three authentic English textbooks that the respondents reported to use in class showed that while these textbooks depict urban youth and have predominantly global multi-cultural character, the language features of popular culture, recognizability of the texts and images along with the information on electronic media appeared to be underrepresented. At the same time the inclusion of language and conceptual features of popular culture in the textbooks may add to the authenticity of teaching materials, inform and educate the students about the current trends in the society.

In the light of these research findings, it is essential to dispel the stereotype of popular culture as something merely entertaining and raise awareness of university teachers and textbook editors concerning the advantages of using it in language classroom.

Acknowledgements

I gratefully thank the instructors of Education Faculty of Sakarya University (Turkey) and Philology and Intercultural Communication Faculty of Volgograd State University (Russia) for their assistance in data collection process.

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