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Language and Culture - a thesis
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
- 7

CONCLUSION
By way of conclusion, we should reiterate the main premise of the present study: the teaching of culture should become an integral part of foreign language instruction. 'Culture should be our message to students and language our medium' (Peck, 1998). Frontiers have opened and never before have nations come closer to one another-in theory, at least. As a result, people from different cultures weave their lives into an international fabric that is beginning to fray at the edges by virtue of miscommunication and propaganda. In order to avoid this ignominious cultural and political disintegration, and foster empathy and understanding, teachers should 'present students with a true picture or representation of another culture and language' (Singhal, 1998). And this will be achieved only if cultural awareness is viewed as something more than merely a compartmentalised subject within the foreign language curriculum; that is, when culture "inhabits" the classroom and undergirds every language activity. According to Singhal (1998), language teachers ought to receive both experiential and academic training, with the aim of becoming 'mediators in culture teaching' (ibid.). At any rate, culture teaching should aim to foster 'empathy with the cultural norms of the target language community' and 'an increased awareness of one's own 'cultural logic' in relation to others' (Willems, 1992, cited in Byram, Morgan et al., 1994: 67). This cultural logic, though, is achieved through 'a recognition of 'otherness', and of the limitations of one's own cultural identity' (Killick & Poveda, 1997).

On a practical note, culture teaching should allow learners to increase their knowledge of the target culture in terms of people's way of life, values, attitudes, and beliefs, and how these manifest themselves or are couched in linguistic categories and forms. More specifically, the teaching of culture should make learners aware of speech acts, connotations, etiquette, that is, appropriate or inappropriate behaviour, as well as provide them with the opportunity to act out being a member of the target culture. Equipped with the knowledge that such notions as "superior" or "inferior" cultures are nothing but sweeping generalisations emanating from lack of knowledge and disrespect to other human beings with different worldviews, learners can delve into the target language and use it as a tool not only to communicate in the country where it is spoken but also to give a second (or third) voice to their thoughts, thus flying in the face of cultural conventions and stereotypes. To this end, language educators should 'not only work to dispel stereotypes [and] pockets of ignorance…but…contribute to learners' understanding that begins with awareness of self and leads to awareness of others' (Singhal, 1998).
There is certainly room for improvement, and things bode well for the future. Beyond current practice, there are still some areas, such as the ones identified by Lessard-Clouston (1997), that need further investigation. For example, is there such a thing as a 'natural order' in L2/FL culture acquisition? What cultural patterns do foreign language students need to learn first and at what levels? Furthermore, are these patterns best learnt by means of immersion in the target culture, or are there any techniques obviating this need? Most importantly, are these acquired patterns maintained over the long haul, or is there some kind of regression at work? Once these besetting issues are investigated, the next step is to do some research on content and materials design for cultural syllabuses (see Nostrand, 1967).

It goes without saying that foreign language teachers should be foreign culture teachers, having the ability to experience and analyse both the home and target cultures (Byram, Morgan et al., 1994: 73). The onus is on them to convey cultural meaning and introduce students to a kind of learning 'which challenges and modifies their perspective on the world and their cultural identity as members of a given social and national group' (ibid.). Unfortunately, by teaching about other cultures, foreign language educators do not necessarily nip prejudice in the bud, so to speak; cultural bias can still plague the very aspects of the target culture which teachers 'choose to indict or advocate', as Cormeraie (1997) insightfully remarks. It is hoped that the present paper has contrived to clarify most of the issues it set out to investigate, and has helped contribute to a better understanding of culture and its importance in the foreign language classroom.

 

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Biodata

Dimitrios Thanasoulas studied English Literature and Linguistics at Athens University and then did an MA in Applied Linguistics at Sussex University. After that, he earned an MBA from Mooreland University and is currently finishing the second year of my PhD studies in Education at Nottingham University. His academic interests include fostering cultural awareness and learner autonomy, as well as such issues as language and ideology, Critical Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics, Sociolinguistics, and the Psychology of Education.

Dimitrios

Dimitrios can be contacted at:
akasa74@hotmail.com

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