The Importance Of Culture Teaching Cultural Studies Essay

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Nowadays, college English has become one of the most important compulsory courses in universities and colleges in China. Most of college English teachers consent that the goal of CET is to equip students with ICC so that foreign language teaching should involve target culture teaching.

Due to the close relationship between language and culture, in both western and eastern countries, it is common to stress culture teaching in language instruction. Moreover, a body of researching has appeared in favor of culture teaching as a means of improving learners' language proficiency and other capabilities.

Culture teaching in the west was first started as early as the medieval times when Roman history, geography and people's daily life were introduced in the classic literature course. (HuWenzhong&GaoYihong, 1997) But it was not until the late nineteenth century that culture teaching was recognized as an important part in modern foreign language education. In 1890, the Report of the Committee of Twelve of the Modern Language Association of America officially acknowledged the teaching of European civilization and recommended it to school curricula. (Modern Language Association of America, 1900, quoted in ChenShen, 1999) According to ChenShen, from then on, the teaching of culture in foreign language education has experienced three stages.

• Knowledge-Based Approach

The Two World Wars stimulated and promoted many countries' efforts in international understanding and foreign language teaching. At that time, there was a strong belief that content about foreign countries and peoples must be added to language programs. After World War II, achievements in anthropology and sociology began to deeply influence foreign language education. In the United States, "Area Studies" which derived from anthropological view was introduced into some American universities. (Hall, 1947) By "Area Studies", language educators believe that understanding foreign culture and comparisons between cultures are necessary components of language education. (ChenShen, 1998)

It is clear to see that adding explicit content about a foreign culture to a language program is fundamentally knowledge focused. The knowledge learned by the students lays a foundation for their further exploration of foreign culture. As Robinson says: "...that cross-cultural understanding involves more than knowledge of how and why other people think and behave as they do.. .Understanding someone from another culture involves modifying one's own cultural repertoire..." (Robinson, 1985)

'Behavior-Based Approach

The 1970s and 1980s can be regarded as the era of communicative teaching. Communicative language teaching was a European-British phenomenon though it quickly spread to North America and then to the world. Many linguists put forward their propositions according to experiments.

D. Hymes, the well-known American socio-linguist, proposed the concept of


"communicative competence" in 1972. Following the theoretical premise of communicative competence, the practice of teaching for communication has been implemented. One of earliest and most well-known endeavors is the Functional-Notional syllabus. (Wilkins, 1976) This naturally brings culture into the teaching of language since the content of language must be associated with a particular culture.

A concern for learners' communicative needs has prompted language educators to design "learner-orientated" syllabus in which language content should be more specified. This endeavor has resulted in the "task-based' syllabus, according to which, the tasks allow us to integrate the teaching activities for learning language as well as culture.

The communicative approach is obviously behavior-focused. Because it has strengthened the assertion that foreign culture is taught through teaching language learners to behave; in other words, to use the target language for communication. (ChenShen, 1999)

•Meaning-Based Approach

A new discipline known as "Intercultural Communication" has been promoted since the late 1970s in the United States, which has shed the new light on the issue of teaching culture. (HuWenzhong, 1994) Based on this discipline, large numbers of publications have emerged in the discussion of how to teach culture through foreign language education in the 1980s and 1990s.

Byram provided a systematic analysis on how to treat first language, foreign language, home culture and target culture learning at different stages and on different levels. His study broke the limitation of additive cultural information by introducing the concept of learner's internal cultural knowledge and by trying to answer how to help learners gain this knowledge so as to achieve ICC. Byram's propositions have great influence on second language cultural teaching. (Byram, 1989)

Kramsch (1993) viewed language as a social signifying practice and extended the notion of "context" which covers five dimensions: linguistic, situational, interactional, cultural and intertextual. In her opinion, text and context are mutually defining. She provides many examples of case studies to demonstrate her strategies of how to teach culture in foreign language classroom.

The study of this period lays a special eye on the implicated cultural meaning of a person, so the study of this period can be called "meaning-based approach".

In china, many scholars also contributed much to the study of culture teaching. Casting a historical review of culture teaching in China, we can find many questions such as whether the foreign culture should be taught, how to teach the foreign culture in the foreign classroom, etc. The solutions to those questions are largely determined by China's relations with other countries and political factors in China. (ZhangYong, 2002) Due to this reason, the teaching of culture in foreign language classroom in China has not been very consistent or systematic.

It was not until 1978, with the open-door policy and the development of researches on applied linguistics, that foreign language teachers and linguists in China have paid more and more attention to culture teaching in foreign language education.


Huge numbers of Chinese students have begun to go overseas to learn advanced science, technology, business management, and even applied linguistics. When they contacted the foreign culture directly, many of them had experienced "cultural conflict" or "cultural shock" and realized the importance of culture study in foreign language learning. Therefore, since the middle of 1980s, many scholars have paid more attention to the relationship between language and culture and the influence of culture on foreign language teaching.

Since the late 1980s, a special attention has been paid to the teaching of foreign culture in foreign language education. Many monographs and theories on foreign language and culture were published, such as, Language and Culture by DengYanchang and LiuRunqing (1989), Culture and Communication edited by HuWenzhong (1994), Foreign Languages Teaching and Culture by HuWenzhong and GaoYihong (1997), Intercultural Communication written by JiaYuxin (1997), The Teaching of Cultures in Foreign Education by ChenShen (1998). In these works, most scholars focus their attention on the following topics: the relationship between language and culture in terms of anthropology and socio-linguistics; the influence of culture on the foreign language learning; contrastive analyses on Chinese culture and foreign cultures; how to carry out cross-cultural communication; how to avoid cross-cultural pragmatic failures; how to foster the foreign language cross-cultural awareness and ICC and so on.

Entering the new century, with the issuing of "College English Curriculum Requirements", ICC is regarded as one of essential competences for all language learners. Many schools have realized the importance of culture teaching and begun to integrate culture teaching with language teaching in their English classrooms. Moreover, enlightened by their experiments with culture teaching, some colleges have worked out some strategies of culture teaching that really work in language classrooms within a Chinese Context. (LiuZhenguo&HaoGuoqiang, 2000; HangAiping, 2004)

This brief and incomplete overview of the history of culture teaching both abroad and at home serves only to set the scene for our discussion of the current problems existing in the teaching in English language classrooms. In order to facilitate college English teachers with more knowledge and practical skills about integrating culture teaching with language learning, the author will introduce the reasons for incorporating culture in CET from theoretical view, the cultural contents that should be incorporated into English language teaching, the prerequisites for culture teaching and some effective strategies for integrating these culture with English teaching in his thesis.


Chapter Two Generalization of Culture and Communication

2.1 Culture

2.1.1 Definition of Culture

Simply put, culture is a system of meaning. (Linen davis, 1999)

As we have seen, culture is ubiquitous, multidimensional, complex, and all-pervasive. Many definitions have been suggested for culture. Different scholars from different fields perceive culture differently. Even within the same field of foreign language teaching, culture has been approached from a number of perspectives in relation to language teaching. It is no wonder that Eli Hinkle (2001) said: "It may not be an exaggeration to say that there are nearly as many definitions of culture as there are fields of inquiry into human societies, groups, systems, behavior, and activities"

The notion of culture here is similar to the first modern technical or anthropological definition put forward by Edward B. Tylor in 1871. Tylor's definition has probably been quoted more often than all others. "Culture or civilization.., is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society."(Tylor,1871) Tylor's definition is regarded as "wide" and "thorough".

In considering any culture, two main categories are frequently distinguished: the material and the non-material. If the broad notion of culture is accepted, culture must include `on the one hand, the whole of man's material civilization, tools, weapons, clothing, shelter, machines, and even systems of industry; and, on the other hand, all of non-material or spiritual civilization, such as language, literature, art, religion, ritual, morality, law, and government" (Ellwood, 1927).

We define culture as the deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, actions, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and artifacts acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.

2.1.2 Characteristics of Culture

There have been a great deal of agreement concerning the major characteristics of culture. Examining these characteristics can help us make a better understanding about culture.

•Culture is pervasive.

Like the ubiquitous air we breathe, culture penetrates into every aspect of our life and influences the way we think, the way we talk, and the way we behave. Culture combines visible and invisible things around us. Kohis (1994) pointed out that culture pervades all these areas: arts, beliefs, behaviors, ceremonies, customs, morals, myths and legends, religions, rituals, social institutions, tools and values. Culture is the total sum of human society and its meanings.

'Culture is learned.

Because culture is a shared symbolic system within a relatively large group of people, the only way for group members to contact, reinforce, and co-create this shared symbolic system is through a learning process. Without the knowledge we learned from those who lived before us, we would not have culture. In fact, "the group's knowledge stored up (in memories of men; in books and objects) for future use" is at the core of the concept of culture. (HuWenzhong, 1990) All of us are born with basic needs to learn our culture consciously and unconsciously through the process of socialization of human beings.

We learn our culture in many ways and from a variety of sources. The most common way is the interaction with members living around us. Other sources for learning culture include schools, mass-media, art, folk tales, legends, myths and proverbs, etc.

'Culture is transmitted from generation to generation.

If a culture can exist and endure, it must ensure that its crucial messages and elements are passed on. In other words, communication makes culture a continuous process, for once cultural habits, principles, values, attitudes, and the like are formulated, they are communicated to each member of the culture. "So strong is the need for a culture to bind each generation to past and future generations that any break in the learning chain would lead to a culture's disappearance." (Samovar, Porter&Stefani, 2000) This comment points out clearly to us the character of transmission of culture.

•Culture is subject to change.

Culture is dynamic system that does not exist in vacuum, so it is subject to change. The pattern of culture is often connected with a certain period of history. For example, in the long history of China, Chinese culture has been experiencing significant changes.

Culture is also subject to fluctuations, and seldom remains constant. According to Samovar and Porter (1995), culture changes mainly through three mechanisms. The first is innovation which refers to the discovery of new practices, tools or concepts that many members of the culture eventually accept. The second is diffusion which is the borrowing by one culture from another. The last one is acculturation which occurs when a society undergoes drastic culture change under the influence of a more dominant culture.

•Culture is the guideline of people's behavior.

Culture is compared to "the software of human mind." (HuWenzhong, 1999) That is to say, culture dominates people's conducts. What we say and what we do are both determined by our culture. Our way of life is surely confined to a certain culture. For example, not only do we dress differently in different seasons, we also dress differently on different occasions. On western funerals, people usually wear dark clothes, while in China, white clothes are acceptable. Just as HuWenzhong (1990) pointed out, culture regulates our lives at every turn. From the moment we are born until we die, there is, whether we are conscious of it or not, constant pressure upon us to follow certain types of behaviors. This constant pressure is culture.

2.1.3 Classification of Culture

There exist various ways of classifying culture. One of the ways is to group culture under three headings: high culture, popular culture and deep culture. HuWenzhong (1999) specified the three terms. High culture refers to philosophy, literature, fine arts, music and religion. Popular culture includes customs and habits, rites and rituals, ways of living (which incorporate housing, dressing, eating and drinking) and all interpersonal behaviors. Deep culture refers to the conception of beauty, definition of sin, notions of modesty, ordering of time, tempo of work, patterns of group decision-making, approaches to problem-solving, roles in relation to status by age, sex, class, occupation, kinship, body language and so on.

As HuWenzhong pointed out, high culture, popular culture and deep culture are not three separate watertight compartments. On the contrary, they are closely related, though the relationship is not always easy to specify. For instance, a particular custom may have its roots in the deep culture of a people, which is in turn crystallized in philosophical terms in high culture.

The most influential classification of culture in China is to divide it into "culture in communication" and "culture as knowledge", which was first put forward by ZhangZhanyi. Since then these two terms have undergone several modifications. At present it is generally accepted that "culture in communication" refers to the verbal and nonverbal cultural factors that directly interfere with the proper transmission of message when people from different cultural backgrounds are interacting with each other. "Culture as knowledge" refers to the verbal and nonverbal cultural factors that indirectly interfere with the proper transmission of message in the interaction process. (ZhangZhangyi, 1990) The discussion initiated by the proposal of "culture in communication" and "culture as knowledge" provides some insights into the teaching of culture in language classrooms.

2.2 Communication

2.2.1 Definition of Communication

The term "communication" has been used in many ways for various, and often inconsistent purposes. Communication----our ability to share our ideas and feelings----is the basis of all human contact. Understanding human communication means knowing something about what happens when people interact, why it happens,

Viewing communication as a process implies that things are changing, moving, developing, and evolving.

Like the old adage "You can't stand in the same stream twice," the very same message may be interpreted very differently when said at different stages of the communication process.

•Communication involves shared meanings

The interpretive and transactional nature of communication suggests that correct meanings are not just "out there" to be discovered. Rather, meanings are

created and shared by groups of people as they participate in the ordinary and everyday activities that form the context for common interpretations. The focus, therefore, must be on the ways that people attempt to "make sense" of their common experiences in the world when they communicate with each other.

2.3 Relationship Between Communication and Culture

The study of communication cannot be divorced from the study of culture, and the study of culture will be one-sided without the concerning of communication. Culture and communication cannot be separated. The relation between culture and communication can be elaborated as follows:

Culture influences communication. Communication is a social and cultural behavior. It occurs within society and is affected by social cultural factors such as value system, social structure, the social status of the interlocutors, place and time of communication, etc. To understand what a foreigner says, we must understand his cultural background and ways of living.

Communication reflects culture. Communication is a part of culture. Both of them are symbolic systems. The difference is that communication is the encoding system of culture. It is the most important system for culture to be transmitted and stored. During the process of communication, cultural symbols are encoded or decoded by the communicators.

The acquisition of communicative competence and people's socialization occur at the same time. On the one hand, it is through communication that people become members of their culture. On the other hand, it is during the process of socialization----consciously or unconsciously acquiring such cultural factors as value concepts, thinking patterns, social norms, etc. that people acquire communicative competence.

The relationship between culture and communication is the key factor for the understanding of intercultural communication. Once people from different cultures meet, their communicative practices differ from those of people in the same culture, which may lead to communicative problems. "Communication is a risky business." (Brown, 1990) It is quite reasonable, especially, in intercultural communication. Due to different cultural backgrounds, people at times hold quite different viewpoints towards the same message. Occasionally, the interlocutor even draws a conclusion which is completely different from what his/her conversational counterpart expects