Culture Background Knowledge And English Teaching Cultural Studies Essay

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Language is a mirror which reflects the entire culture, and every nation has its own culture. Language learning is inseparable from the understanding of cultural background knowledge. It is necessary for teachers to pass on cultural background knowledge to students.

Abstract: Language is a mirror which reflects the entire culture, and every nation has its own culture. Language learning is inseparable from the understanding of cultural background knowledge. It is necessary for teachers to pass on cultural background knowledge to students.

Key Words: cultural backgrounds, Language, language teaching

I. Introduction

Language is a product of society, cultural differences led to many difficulties language learning, if you want to learn English as well, you must grasp cultural knowledge. Language learning is inseparable from the understanding of cultural background knowledge. It is necessary for teachers to pass on cultural background knowledge to students.

II. Cultural background knowledge and English teaching

1. Problems aroused by different cultural backgrounds

An American was visiting the home of a Chinese. As the visitor saw the host's wife, he said, "Your wife is very beautiful." The host smiled and said, "Where? Where?"-which caused the American's surprise, but he still answered: "Eyes, hair, nose…" the host feel a bit puzzling. The surprising was caused by different cultures. "Where? Where?" meaning "thank you"in Chinese is a kind of humble saying. But the American understood it as "Which parts of the body are beautiful?" So, the reason for both sides' misunderstandings was differences in customs and habits.

Events like these are fairly common when people of different languages and cultures communicate. Because of cultural differences, misunderstandings may arise, although the language used in communication may be faultless. The same words or expressions may not mean the same thing to different peoples. Because of cultural differences, a serious question may cause amusement or laughter¼›a harmless statement may cause displeasure or anger. Language is a part of culture and plays a very important role in it. On the one hand, without language, culture would not be possible. On the other hand, language is influenced and shaped by culture; it reflects culture. In the broadest sense, language is the symbolic representation of a people, and it comprises their historical and cultural backgrounds as well as their approach to life and their ways of living and thinking.

Each culture is unique. Learning a foreign language means more than merely mastering the pronunciation, grammar, words and idioms. It means learning the ways in which their language reflects the ideas, customs, and behavior of their society, learning to understand their "language of the mind". Learning a language, in fact, is inseparable from learning its culture. We can see the following dialogues in many textbooks:

1. A: What's your name?

B: My name is Li Hong.

A: How old are you?

B: I'm twenty.

2. A: Where are you going?

B: I'm going to the library.

3. A: Are you writing a letter to your parents?

B: Yes, I am.

A: How often do you write to your parents?

B: About once a week.

All the above dialogues are roughly the combination of Chinese thinking and English form. Although such forms are correct, they are not appropriate. So in language teaching, we should not only pass on knowledge of language and train learners' competence of utilizing language, but also enhance teaching of relative cultural background knowledge.

2. Importance of cultural background knowledge in language teaching

In teaching of aural comprehension, we find many students complain that much time has been used in listening, but little achievement has been acquired. In order to improve competence of listening comprehension, some students specially buy tape recorders for listening and spend quite a few hours every day on it, but once they meet new materials, still, they fail to understand. What is the reason? On the one hand, maybe some students' English is very poor and they haven't grasped enough vocabularies, clear grammar or correct pronunciation, or maybe the material is rather difficult, etc. On the other hand, an important reason is that they are unfamiliar with cultural background of the USA and England. Aural comprehension, which is closely related to the knowledge of American and British culture, politics and economy, in fact, is an examination of one's comprehensive competence which includes one's English level, range of knowledge, competence of analysis and imaginative power. Maybe we have this experience: when we are listening to something familiar to us, no matter what is concerned, usually we are easy to understand. Even if there are some new words in the material, we can guess their meanings according to its context. However, when we encounter some unfamiliar material or something closely related to cultural background, we may feel rather difficult. Even if the material is easy, we only know the literal meaning, but can't understand the connotation, because we lack knowledge of cultural background. "red-letter days"-which is a simple phrase and is easy to hear, meaning holidays such as Christmas and other special days. But students are often unable to understand them without teacher's explanation.

Speaking is not merely concerned with pronunciation and intonation. Students can only improve their oral English and reach the aim of communication by means of enormous reading, mastering rich language material and acquaintance of western culture. Therefore, in oral training, teachers should lay stress on factuality of language and adopt some material approaching to daily life, such as daily dialogues with tape, magazines, newspapers and report etc., because the material is from real life, and it helps students to be well acquainted with standard pronunciation and intonation, to speak English appropriate to the occasion, to understand western way of life and customs etc. Otherwise, misunderstanding and displeasure are inevitably aroused. In English, there are so many euphemisms that sometimes it's hard to know the other one's actual mood. So we should pay attention to our answer. For example, when one ask: "How do you like the film?" and the other answer: "I think it's very interesting", it shows he doesn't like it very much instead of the literal meaning "very interesting". When one asks: "What do you think of my new coat?" and the other answers: "I think the pocket is very nice", it also shows his dislike.

Reading English articles requires a certain language basis, but the competence of reading comprehension is not entirely related to one's language level. Knowledge of cultural background is also important. Reading is a process affected by integration of one's language knowledge, cultural background knowledge and other professional knowledge, and a process of continuous guesses and corrections according to available language material, cultural background and logical reasoning. However, when we read English articles, differences between Chinese and western cultures often bring us many difficulties.

Following, effect of cultural background on reading will be discussed, with some common terms or expressions in reading material, which is often not understood by Chinese learners unfamiliar with western culture, as illustration.

Many allusions drawn from history, religion, literature etc., often appear in English works and have become common household terms. But without the knowledge of western culture and history, such allusions are not always easy to understand, and without understanding there can be little appreciation .For example: a Herculean task-task requiring great power of body or mind. Hercules was a powerfully built hero of ancient Greek mythology. As punishment for a serious misdeed, he was ordered to do twelve virtually impossible tasks. Hercules succeeded in doing all and was rewarded with immortality. Example: It was a Herculean task, but he managed to do it.

David and Goliath (from Bible)-David was a shepherd boy; he killed the Philistine giant Goliath with a shot from his sling and later became king of the Hebrews; in metaphorical use, David and Goliath stand for a contest between two persons, enterprises, countries, etc., in which one is much smaller and/or weaker, but in which the smaller/weaker one wins out.

Some of these allusions may be looked up in the dictionary, but with the continuous development of society and language, new allusions have appeared.

Writing and translating cannot be separated from cultural background knowledge.

In translation, even the very simple expressions cannot be dealt with without any consideration of specific context and customs.

We shall take the word "dog" as an example.

To English-speaking people, the dog does not carry the same associations as it does to Chinese. The dog is considered to be derogatory, for example, "Lai Pi Gou" and "Sang Jiazhiquan'' are often used to describe disgusting people. But dog in English, especially in proverbs, is a commendatory term. If we translate dog into Chinese "dog" without exception, we may make jokes. For example:

1. Every dog has his day.

2. You are, indeed, a lucky dog.,

3. Last night my father came home dog-tired.

Because some learners are not well aware of the cultural differences, they take it for granted that the three sentences should be translated into the following:




In fact, the right translations are as follows:




In writing, cultural background knowledge is also important. Why is it that one can fairly easily tell whether an article was written by a Chinese or by a native speaker of English? On the one hand, it is probably because most Chinese students have not yet mastered the language; On the other hand, it is probably because of differences in Chinese and English writing styles that reflect cultural differences.

"I walked joyfully along the path that was lit up by the golden rays of the morning sun. Beautiful flowers of many colors were blooming. How fragrant they smelled! Little birds were singing in the trees, as if greeting me 'Good morning! Good morning!'… my heart was bursting with happiness…" One of the common faults in this matter is the tendency of Chinese students to use too many adjectives. Adjectives, of course, are necessary in good writing. But if not used with care, they can have the opposite effect-quickly kill interest and produce boredom.

From what had been said, it is clear that cultural background knowledge is necessary in language teaching. Teachers should help students to solve the difficulties in language as well as in culture. Thus, further improve our quality of teaching. It is not easy to teach cultural background knowledge. Firstly, teachers must be acquainted with the differences between the two linguistic cultures. Teachers can provide cultural information, as well as make students express themselves correctly in different occasions, and the latter is more important.

3. How to carry out the teaching of cultural background knowledge

Firstly teaching material is important. A proportion of foreign material and authentic material should be used, especially dialogues, next, teachers should explain cultural factors involved in the material with purpose. Below is a dialogue between two English persons:

Helen: Hello, Susan.

Susan: Hello. I am going to get a magazine and some chocolate. Would you like to go with me?

Helen: OK. Let's go to that newsagent in the corner. I want some cigarettes.

Susan: I want to go to the one down the road. I want to got to send off this parcel and there is a post-office in that one.

This dialogue tells us in England some newsagent‚those shops not only sell sweets and cigarettes, but also install post office where people can send off letters and parcels. But in China, there are not such shops. If teachers don't give the explanations, students may feel puzzled.

Secondly, encourage students to read extensively, including novels, magazines, and newspapers etc. To most Chinese learners, acquisition of knowledge of western culture, mainly depend on reading material, while literal works is the most rich material through which we can know something about a people's psychology, cultural characters, customs and habits, social relations etc. Teachers should guide students to accumulate relative cultural background knowledge when reading material. Through enormous reading, students' understanding of culture will become ripe and complete.

Thirdly, in the classroom, teacher should pay attention to proper language forms as well as suitable use of language. One way of classroom teaching is to ask students to make similar dialogues to the text. A student inevitably needs to play a role and carry on a conversation according to a certain role. Teacher should attract the student's attention to his role and point out his expressions which are improper for his character or the occasion. Furthermore, remind students to pay attention to details such as pronunciation, intonation, countenance wording, gesture etc.

Fourthly, use good native English videotapes and films in teaching, and then organize discussions. When watching videotapes or seeing a film, students and teachers should pay much attention to the scene of daily life, such as conversations between shopkeepers and clients, dialogues on the telephone, chat in the street, etc. After that, teachers and students may exchange views and replenish each other.

Fifthly, encourage students to communicate with native English speakers. But so far, we haven't carried out such activities enough. In contact with native speakers, students can be deeply impressed by the differences between two cultures at first hand. Moreover, in such relaxed conversations, students can learn much knowledge, which cannot be learned in the classroom.

Sixthly, hold some lectures about cultures and customs, comparing Chinese culture with western culture.

In teaching, teachers should attach importance to cultural differences and study these differences. As English teachers, we should not only help students to learn a foreign language, but also to learn social and cultural background knowledge. Only so, students can widen their knowledge and thus further learn English well.

III. Conclusion

Language is a mirror which reflects the entire culture, and every nation has its own culture. Language learning is inseparable from the understanding of cultural background knowledge. Language is a product of society, cultural differences led to many difficulties language learning, if you want to learn English as well, you must grasp cultural knowledge. It is necessary for teachers to pass on cultural background knowledge to students.