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Culture in Second/Foreign Language Teaching and


Abderrahmane Babni
It is crystal clear understanding the nature of the relationship between language and culture is
central to the process of learning another language. Liddicoat, Papadermetre, Scarino, and Kohler
(2003) claim in this regard that learning to communicate in an additional language involves
developing an awareness of the ways in which culture interrelates with language whenever and
wherever it is used. The scope of this paper was two folds. First, it listed the benefits of culture
teaching and learning. Second, it highlighted what culture can offer to language teachers and

Paper's Premises
"there are rules of use without which the rules of grammar would be useless" (Hymes, 1971: 278).
1. One cannot go about teaching a second/foreign language without offering some insights
into its speakers' culture.
2. One cannot go about enhancing his/her students' communicative competence without
taking into account the different views of people in different cultures which may promote or inhibit

1. Introduction

One of the most significant changes in language teaching and learning over the past few
decades has been the recognition of the cultural dimension as a key component. The ultimate goal
of language learning is no longer defined in terms of the acquisition of communicative competence,
which refers to a person's ability to act in a foreign language in linguistically, sociolinguistically
and pragmatically appropriate ways (Council of Europe, 2001). Rather, it is defined in terms of the
intercultural competence, which can be defined as "the ability of a person to behave adequately in a
flexible manner when confronted with actions, attitudes and expectations of representatives of
foreign cultures" (Mayer, 1991: 138).
By the same token, language teachers and educators have always been concerned with the
dialectical relationship between language and culture. This means that teaching a second/foreign
language is incomplete and inaccurate without the study of its culture.
Many scholars argue that the acquisition or learning of a new language means a lot more
than the manipulation of syntax and lexicon. 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" (101).
2. What is culture?
Culture is a highly complex phenomenon which is difficult to define. The American
anthropologists, Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952) critically reviewed concepts and definitions of
culture and compiled a list of 164 definitions.
Kramsch (1998:10) describes culture as "membership in a discourse community that shares
a common social space and history, and common imaginings" in (Thang, 2009:3).
According to Liddicoat et als (2003: 45), culture can be defined as "a complex system of
concepts, attitudes, values, beliefs, conventions, behaviours, practices, rituals and lifestyles of the
people who make a cultural group, as well as the artifacts they produce and the institutions they

From the two aforementioned definitions, one may state that culture is an umbrella term
which encompasses various concepts.
3. The importance of culture in second/foreign language teaching and learning
Culture learning refers to "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, Jorsad, Siaya, Klein, and Colby, p. 177) in
(Thang, 2009: 3).
Many scholars claim that the acquisition or learning of a new language means a lot more
than the manipulation of syntax and lexicon. 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" (101).
Kramsch (1993) asserts in this concern that learning a second/foreign language is not just
learning how to communicate, but also discovering how much lee-way the target culture allows
learners to manipulate grammatical forms, sounds, and meanings and reflect upon, or even flout
socially accepted norms at work both in their own or the target culture.
Crozet et al. (2001:1) hold the same view contending that culture learning has become an
important focus of language education. This importance was the outcome of "the acknowledgement
and understanding of the links between language and culture as well as the understanding of how
communication works across cultures" in (Thang, 2009).
One is led to claim that there is an inseparable relationship between language and culture.
Language, then, cannot be taught and learned far away from culture.

4. Views of culture teaching

There are two main views as far as the process of culture teaching/learning is concerned. In
(Thang, 2009).
4.1. The static view
This view does not recognize the link between language and culture. It restricts the teacher's
job in merely transmitting cultural information to learners, and ignores the constantly developing
nature of culture (Liddicoat, 2002).
4.2. The dynamic view
This view requires learners to engage actively in the process of culture learning, rather than
only learn cultural information of the target language in a passive way. It requires learners to have
knowledge of their own culture and an understanding of their own-culturally shaped behaviours
(Crawford and Mclaren, 2003).
5. The benefits of culture teaching and learning
Kitao (2000), giving reference to some authors, lists the following benefits of culture
teaching and learning. In (Genc and Bada, 2005).
(a) studying culture gives students a reason to study the target language as well as making
the study of the language meaningful (Stainer, 1971),
(b) studying culture increases learners' not only curiosity about and interest in countries of
the target culture, but also their motivation to go on learning the language (Gardner and Lambert,
1959; 1965 and 1972),
(c) studying culture gives a liking for the native speaker of the target language. It also plays
a vital role in general education. By studying culture, one can also learn about the geography,
history and arts of the target culture (Cook, 1970), and
(d) studying culture would help learners relate the abstract sounds and forms of a language
to real people and places (Chastain, 1971).

From what has been said, one may draw the following conclusions:

culture classes are important in enabling individuals to see themselves from a different
angle or perspective,
culture classes have a humanizing and motivating effect on the language learner and the
whole teaching and learning process, and
culture classes help learners observe similarities and differences among various cultural
6. What can culture teaching offer to language teachers and learners?
Bilal Genc and Erdogan Bada conducted an empirical study whose aim was to find out what
students belonging to the ELT department of Cukorova University in Turkey think about the effects
of the culture class they attended in the fall semester of 2003-2004 academic year. With regard to
the contribution of that class to the teaching process, the two researchers came to these results:
Familiarization with the target society
Nearly all the participants believe that culture classes help learners be acquainted with the
target society. Also, it helps them gain more insights about the culture of the native speakers of the
language being taught.
Assistance in teaching and learning grammar
Some participants think that culture classes would help teachers teach grammar more
efficiently. They would be able to give their students examples from real life. In other words, they
would be able to put what they are teaching in its real context.
Enhancing communicative competence
The participants are aware that culture classes help both teachers and learners develop their
communicative competence. Also, they would become efficient listeners, speakers, readers and

Expanding vocabulary

Culture teaching helps learners enrich their vocabulary repertoire and aid them in using the
newly learned words in a meaningful way. Learners also become familiar with specific words used
in a given context or situation.
Developing culture awareness
Culture classes help teachers to raise learners' awareness about their own and the target
Changing attitude towards the target culture and native speakers of the language
Culture classes have a positive effect on learners' attitudes vis--vis the target culture as well
as the native speakers of the language being taught and learned.
8. Conclusion
Culture proves to be a fundamental component of the process of language teaching and
learning since it has a great deal to offer to the development of learners' communicative competence
as well as other skills in the instruction of any language.
9. References
Gao, F. "Language is culture-On intercultural communication" in Journal of Language and
Linguistics, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2006, pp. 58-67.
Genc, B and Bada, E. "Culture in language learning and teaching" in The Reading Matrix,
Vol. 5, No. 1, April 2005, pp. 73-84.
Hymes, D. H. (1971). "On communicative competence" In J. Pride and J. Holmes (Eds).
Sociolinguistics. Penguin, 1975. (Excerpt from the paper published 1971, Philadelphia: University
of Philadelphia Press.
Meyer, M. (1991). "Developing transcultural competence: Case studies of advanced foreign
language learners" In D. Buttjes and M. Byram (Eds). Mediating Languages and Cultures.
Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Thang Keit Ho, S. "Addressing culture in EFL classrooms: The challenge of shifting from a
traditional to an intercultural stance" in Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, Vol. 6,
No. 1, 2009, pp. 63-76.
Thanasoulas, D. (2001). The Importance of Teaching Culture in Foreign Language
Classroom. Online documents at URL