Teaching "The Big Bang Theory". Countering Stereotypes about Foreign Cultures by Using TV Series as Part of Web 2.0 Cultures in the EFLC

Term Paper, 2016

18 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

List of Figures

1. Introduction

2. New Media in the English Foreign Language Classroom

3. Teaching about Stereotypes

4. Using TV Series in the EFLC
4.1 Benefits of Teaching TV-Series
4.1.1 Intercultural Communicative Competence
4.1.2 Text- and Media Literacy
4.1.3 Language Awareness
4.2 Challenges of TV-Series
4.3 Cultural Awareness through TV Series as a Key Competency

5. Teaching with “The Big Bang Theory”
5.1 Didactic Analysis – The Pilot
5.2 Didactic Analysis – The Maternal Capacitance and The Plimpton Stimulation – Gendering, Intelligence and Sexuality
5.3 Teaching Unit
5.3.1 The First Double Lesson
5.3.2 Second Double Lesson
5.3.3 Third Double Lesson
5.3.4 Fourth Double Lesson

6. Conclusion

Works Cited

List of Figures

Figure 1 - Intercultural Communicative Competence. Adapted from Byram, Michael. “Teaching and Assissing Intercultural Communicative Compezence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. 1997. p. 34

Figure 2 - Dr. Beverly Hofstadter meets Penny for the first time. In: The Maternal Capacitance. Season 2 Episode 15. Adapted from: Flow Journal. Web. 23 Jun. 2016. http://www.flowjournal.org/2011/06/gendering-intelligence/

Figure 3 - Dr. Elizabeth Plimpton and Lennard. In: The Plimpton Stimulation. Season 3 Episode 21. Adapted from: Flow Journal. Web. 23 Jun. 2016. http://www.flowjournal.org/2011/06/gendering-intelligence/

1. Introduction

The television and internet, which enables permanent access to television shows, are one of the most popular media of our millennium and thus, play a significant part in people´s private area as well as in the occupational area. Thus, a transition of industrial society into an information society has been fulfilled since the end of the 1960s and includes a digitalized and interconnected world for the greatest extend (Bastiaens et al 2012: 11). Those changes affect the whole everyday reality; an increasingly number of all ages spend their time in front of monitors inside a virtual reality.

Furthermore, the kind of learning has changed as well. For the young generation – the so called “digital natives” – the constantly networking and opportunity of gaining knowledge easily became obviously. The digital learners should not “consume” rehashed knowledge anymore but, need to be able to have the ability to use available knowledge and information, screen those usefully and thus, reach efficient learning outcomes. Hence, media literacy becomes a key qualification to participate in the information society (Bastiaens et al 2012: 13).

The combination of both, the television as a part of our lives and new digital learning, enables absorption and participation in foreign cultures, values and perceptions by the digital learners (Stevens 2010). Especially American lifestyle is influencing us in our everyday life. We see films and series from America and we use American products; but students are not always aware of how they adapt to the American lifestyle through watching American films or series. “The Big Bang Theory” is a good example of how the Americans and foreigners who live in America present themselves and how we get prejudices against other cultures with different cultural background which are presented in episodes of the series (Dreifus 2013).

In the course of lifelong learning and concomitant increasingly compulsion to flexibility of learning, series as a form of e-learning can represent an efficient media to realize a new culture of teaching and learning about cultures. By considering the aspects of education and intercultural learning written in the scholastic standards, it is necessary to examine the series “The Big Bang Theory” concerning its features and potentials, possible applications in the English foreign language classroom and finally, to provide theory into a practical and realistic teaching unit of a 12th grade at a German advanced level of a high school.

2. New Media in the English Foreign Language Classroom

A learner in the twenty-first century may have an extraordinary selection of inducements for learning a foreign language compared to the learner of the previous pre-Internet era. These tools, limited earlier millennium to paper (books, copybooks, letters, diaries), video or audio recordings, have been developing since 1990s and are called “web 2.0”. The burst of technological development, especially the advent of the Internet, has largely affected the area of foreign language education, where the application of multimedia might be viewed within the domain of computer assisted language learning (CALL), understood originally as “the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning” (Levy 1997: 15). As Szyszka reports:

Although this process may be performed with or without an overt user’s intention to learn a foreign language, EFL learners are aware that a range of multimedia may be used as a medium in social communication or as a tool to get information in a target language” (2014: 4).

The data of the 2009 PISA report (Wastlau-Schlüter, 2005) shows that less than 1 % of students taking part in the study have never used a computer. Therefore, it is assumed that nearly all adolescent European foreign language learners have already been in contact with a computer. Beyond, “digital-natives” are able to use information and communications technology (ICT) not only to learn and work but also to socialise, to get information and to entertain (Stevens 2010). In other words, adolescent EFL learners constitute the age group particularly prone to purposefully exploiting the multimedia and technological applications for international communication and learning, which may directly or indirectly lead to the development of their foreign language skills. Barbara Bray claims that:

With more people and crowded conditions, new technologies will be necessary to support and sustain us. Video, audio, images, and interactive features open doors to worlds and cultures that children could never learn in a book. […]. It is [teacher´s] duty as educators to guide students and other educators as they become innovative producers, teach them to become cautious consumers, and learn how they can use these tools to reach their fullest potential. Furthermore, it is necessary to […] value each other’s culture. [Designed digital ways are able] to connect us not only to each other but to promote our values, to respect each other, and to encourage innovation as we develop a place for ourselves in the 21st century. (2007)

3. Teaching about Stereotypes

Stereotypes, or “pictures in our head’ as Lippmann called them firstly in 1922, are mental representations of social groups and their members which contain enough detail to allow us to know what group members are like without ever meeting them. Like the mental representation we hold of many other things (e.g., animals, furniture), these representations contain attributes and traits, both positive and negative, usually ascribed to the group and its members, and expectations about the behaviour of members of the group (Reynolds 2001: 108).

Stereotypes are part of prejudices, which also include discrimination, ethnocentrism and social distance, to name but a few. Typically though, prejudice or related terms refer to negative attitudes or behaviours towards a person because of his or her membership of a particular group. However, use of such terms also conveys, more or less explicitly, a value dimension that such treatment is bad and unjustified (Reynolds 2001: 23).

Since the middle of the 20th century a vast amount of research has addressed the development of ethnic prejudice in children. Since middle childhood is an important period for the formulation of social understanding and social attitudes, values established or crystallized during this phase of development may endure into adulthood. Nevertheless, the development of ethnic prejudice in children is simply intriguing because a clear picture of the nature of the developmental process has yet to emerge (Szyszka 2015: 38).

Stereotypes abound in popular culture, and helping students to learn how to identify and problematize them is one of the most important tasks of educators. For the educational process it is necessary to detach the young learners from fear of stereotypical thinking in order to discover new aspects and interact with other cultures, which is one main goal of learning a foreign language (Bray 2007).

4. Using TV Series in the EFLC

4.1 Benefits of Teaching TV-Series

In order to explain the possible teaching application for TV series in the EFLC the benefits and challenges are necessary to be explained. First of all, TV series raise the motivational level of the student´s tremendously. While simultaneously represent a complex topic on an abstract entertaining level. In addition to that TV series as authentic cultural product also provide insight into the foreign culture. Also the usage of authentic language represents a great tool to get students in touch with another culture while they simultaneously train the pronunciation skills (Urisman 2014). Furthermore, students can connect TV series or movies to their personal life, which also raises their motivational level. All in all, there are plenty of different skills involved in teaching English as a foreign language with TV series, such as interpretational skills, text- and media literacy, listening comprehension, intercultural communicative competence and language awareness, which are explained in detail in the following.

4.1.1 Intercultural Communicative Competence

Intercultural communicative competencies are directed upon understanding and actions in contexts, in which the foreign language is used. Students deduce information contained in foreign-cultural texts and reflect them on the background of their own cultural and social contexts. This occurs in cooperation with the student´s functional communicative competencies, their linguistic consciousness as well as the student´s text- and media literacy. These include the student´s ability to comprehend and indicate texts and contexts sophisticatedly, without valuing such information prematurely. Hence, students acquire the qualification to develop both, cultural empathy and critical distance towards judgement about own communicative actions and to frame communication appropriate to the situation and the addressee. Furthermore, the process of intercultural awareness is based on the interaction of knowledge, consciousness and attitudes (Bildungsstandards für die fortgeführte Fremdsprache (Englisch/Französisch) für die Allgemeine Hochschulreife 2012: 19).

The standards of this domain are generally valid for the foreign language classroom of the German “gymnasiale Oberstufe”; the targets apply to all students. Thus, the introduced teaching unit enables the achievement of following learning targets, by which the students are able to:

- understand differences and misunderstandings of intercultural awareness and to discuss about those
- realize their own awareness and prejudices, to question and to qualify them
- fulfil a change in perspective, to compare and weigh on various perspectives
- recognize values and attitudes of the foreign communication partner and classify considering the foreign cultural background
- interpret and evaluate foreign-language texts and discourses in their own foreign-cultural dimension
- get involved into intercultural communicative situations despite own limited communicative devices and to reflect on own linguistic behaviour regarding its impact

(Bildungsstandards für die fortgeführte Fremdsprache (Englisch/Französisch) für die Allgemeine Hochschulreife 2012: 20).

4.1.2 Text- and Media Literacy

Text competence and media literacy involve the ability to understand texts independently and purposefully as well as in their historical and social contexts, to interpret those and to support interpretations with reasons. These fundamental skills allow both, understanding and interpreting continuous and discontinuous texts - also audio and audio-visual based texts – in their relations and conditions. Beyond, recognizing conventionalized and culture-specifically characterized texts and media as well as the application of these characteristics by producing own texts and reflect on own process of production becomes possible. To sum up, by working with the introduced blog students are able to:

- analyse and interpret literary and non-literary texts with the help of linguistic, content-related and stylistic-rhetorical knowledge and to prove takeaway statements by working with the text
- continue and interpret textual sources by drafting own texts
- state and reflect on own process of interpretation and production (Bildungsstandards für die fortgeführte Fremdsprache (Englisch/Französisch) für die Allgemeine Hochschulreife 2012: 20).

4.1.3 Language Awareness

Language awareness implies sensitivity for and mediation on language and linguistically provided communication. This kind of awareness allows to the foreign language learners to use diverse expressions and variations; this includes a sensitivity to style, register and culturally determined forms of linguistic usage such as colloquialism. Reflection on language is directed towards role and usage of languages in the world, e.g., in the context of cultural and political influence.

Since languages are always shaped by sociocultural features, language awareness leads to a sensitive creation of linguistic-discursive relations with other people. Hence, language awareness is basal for the development of foreign language competence and leads beyond that to both, intercultural learning and personality formation (Bildungsstandards für die fortgeführte Fremdsprache (Englisch/Französisch) für die Allgemeine Hochschulreife 2012: 22)

4.2 Challenges of TV-Series

Anyway, there are also a lot of difficulties which need to be mentioned. The most difficult part is to instruct the student with a useful task which they can complete while watching the movie in order to keep them busy. If the students just watch the series or movie they might become passive viewers. Also working with TV series in the classroom can be very time consuming. Another problem that might occur is loss of imagination (Urisman 2014). This mostly happens when switching from literature to TV series or movies. In addition to the complex lesson planning the teaching also needs to make sure he or she has license and the required technical equipment. Lastly, TV series cannot provide the teacher with any form of performance differentiation as other methods could (Grant 2013).

4.3 Cultural Awareness through TV Series as a Key Competency

In order to explain the upcoming teaching unit, it is necessary to briefly explain the rather complex topic of Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC). In 1997 Michael Byram established a new model about how ICC works and skills it includes (see Fig. 1). The combinations of the following five skills represents the concept of ICC: In the context of ICC “attitudes” describe the mindset one person has about another. Mostly, these mindsets are overwhelmed with prejudices or stereotypes, which is the central topic of the upcoming teaching unit (Byram 1997: 31). Therefore, the impression and a successful communication is poisoned. The key to overcome the stereotypical way of thinking is to decentre yourself, to detach from your former attitude in order to experience something new.

Beyond this, Byram separates the second domain, “knowledge” into two parts: mainly the society-knowledge and secondly the individual knowledge. He claims that the relationship towards a certain topic determines whether you as a learner can take the knowledge for granted in a specific situation. So knowledge is always situation-dependent. Another important domain of ICC are the skills themselves (Byram 1997: 35).

The skills “interpret and relate” and “discover and/or interact” are essential in order to become an expert in communicating with people from another culture. Not only it is necessary to interpret and relate but also to detach yourself from fear of stereotypical thinking in order to discover new aspects and interact with other cultures. Therefore, it is important to leverage yourself from prejudices and to emphasize with people from another culture for the purpose of changing a perspective and explore new aspects (Byram 1997: 37).

Finally, the educational process is a significant point because political education can arise a lot of prejudices and stereotypes but is also capable of the spelling system. It is also extreme reveal to provide a possibility for raising conscious, critical, cultural awareness for students. The bottom line is that the concept of ICC is probably the most promising key to overcome prejudices which is necessary to participate in the contemporary English foreign language classroom (Byram 1997: 54).

Figure 1 - Intercultural Communicative Competence. Adapted from Byram, Michael. “Teaching and Assissing Intercultural Communicative Compezence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. 1997. p. 34

illustration not visible in this excerpt

How the concept of ICC is transferred to the conceptualized teaching unit is presented in section 5.3.2.

5. Teaching with “The Big Bang Theory”

First of all, the popular and famous TV series “The Big Bang Theory” awakes the student´s interest in the lesson. The realistic use of language and the academic correctness supports the student´s language and understanding abilities. In addition, typical everyday life situations are illustrated in the series, with which the students can identify themselves: intercultural diversity is demonstrated via the characters, who are American, Indian or Jewish; the characters also embody social diversity relating to the character´s jobs, as well as their character trade. All these aspects facilitate the student´s intercultural communicative competence. Furthermore, the most important aspect of being an outsider, which is the heart of The Big Bang Theory, has universal appear. Finally, the series awakes the student´s interest in scientific problems rather than in the social status (Grant 2013).

5.1 Didactic Analysis – The Pilot

Taking a look at the potential of didactic usage with focus on the first episode of the series - the pilot – it is common in the first episode that the main characters of the series are presented. They are realized through the five characters Penny, Lennard, Sheldon, Howard and Rajesh. Every character is showed with his or her behaviour and characteristics, so the audience is capable of adapting to the extraordinary and special protagonists combined at the beginning and the development of the plotline. In the pilot, stereotypes are already mentioned, when you take a look at Penny, the beautiful blonde girl, which is labelled as very dumb. Although she is not very intelligent, she twists the audience and the boys around her finger with her charmed and her cuteness (Grant 2013).

On top of that she has a tighter connection to the people in front of the screens because not many people can identify with the genious minds of Sheldon Cooper or Lennard Hoffstadter. With Howard Wolowitz and Rajesh Coothrapali the four men represent very intelligent characters with deficits of a nerd, which is the main topic of working with the pilot in the EFLC. A nerd is seen as intelligent person, but he or she might have problems with behaving in the society or a social group. Rajesh, for example, is not able to talk to women and he suffers from his anxiety (The Big Bang Theory 2007 – 2016: S01E02 14:48).

Sheldon Cooper is showed as a man, who shares most of the aspects and prejudices of a nerd. Once seen in the pilot clarifies that, because Sheldon goes with Lennard to a sperm bank, so he would earn money which he wants to spend on faster internet (The Big Bang Theory 2007 – 2016: S01E01 04:12). But he then changes his mind out of the reason that it is not guaranteed that their sperm would generate high IQ offspring and he cannot live with that thought, so both men leave. After Sheldon and Lennard get to know Penny, Lennard is so overwhelmed of her hat he wants to invite her for dinner. Sheldon is not pleased with this idea because he already has 212 Myspace-friends and he is very happy to not know a single one of them personally. This is another aspect of nerdy behaviour (The Big Bang Theory 2007 – 2016: S01E01 09:42). In the scene it is presented, that Sheldon is an introvert; he is happy to stay for himself and does not need much social contact.


Excerpt out of 18 pages


Teaching "The Big Bang Theory". Countering Stereotypes about Foreign Cultures by Using TV Series as Part of Web 2.0 Cultures in the EFLC
Teaching English as a Foreign Language
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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The Big Bang Theory, Stereotypes, Web 2.0, New Media, EFLC
Quote paper
Olesja Yaniv (Author), 2016, Teaching "The Big Bang Theory". Countering Stereotypes about Foreign Cultures by Using TV Series as Part of Web 2.0 Cultures in the EFLC, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/341364


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