The Importance of Language and Culture in the L2 Classroom

Essay, 2003

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The Importance of Language and Culture in the L2 Classroom

How shall I talk of the sea to the frog, if it has never ไeft his pond?

How shall I talk of the frost to the bird of the summerland, if it has never left the land of its birth?

How shall I talk of life with the sage, if he is prisoner of his doctrine?

Chung Tsu, 4th Century B.c. (Fantini n.d., 26)

Judging from the above quote, it would appear that being able to understand another person’s viewpoint is essential for effective communication. As the perceptions of most human beings are shaped by culture, the most important contribution intercultural communication studies have made for second language teaching is to increase instructor’s awareness of the intricacies of managing a multicultural or a monolingual classroom in a foreign learning context, improving teaching and classroom quality for second language students. In support of this argument, this paper presents a brief background on the influence of culture on language, the benefits of studying L2 for cultural acquisition, the importance of recognizing different cultural motivations for L2 acquisition, intercultural differences that lead to misunderstandings and poor leaming/teaching, the prevalence of ethnocentrism, and lastly, methods and approaches that may be useful in second language teaching.

Kaplan (1966) was the first author to develop a detenninistic hypothesis, suggesting that people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds organize discourse differently, as a reflection of their native language and culture. (Gonzalez, Chen & Sanchez 2001) Culture through language, thus, both reflects and affects one’s worldview, serving as a sort of road map to how one perceives, interprets, thinks about, and expresses one’s view of the world. (Scheu &, Sanchez 2002; Landis 2003, 283) Therefore, culture, among other things, affects how one speaks, reads and writes.

Through L2 study, it is believed that students gain a knowledge and understanding of the cultures that use that language. However, intercultural communication studies show that in order to achieve higher developmental levels in ESL/EFL learning, students need to understand the socio-cultural and pragmatic nonns of a particular cultural way of thinking. (Gonzalez, Chen & Sanchez 2001) Research indicates that explicit instruction in cultural pragmatics (Goddard 2002) helps students make sense of the values, attitudes and communication nonns taken for granted in many language textbooks, oral presentations and letter writing. (Lo Bianco, Liddicoat & Crozet 1999, 135) Studies also demonstrate that understanding the reasons for the behaviour of L2 speakers enables learners to accept cultural differences more easily and thus, creates a more positive attitude towards the target language.

Studies also show that the needs of different learners must be considered and must reflect different approaches in the L2 learning environment. For example, in a case study examining the motivations of Japanese college learners, the most significant motivations for ESL/EFL turned out to be; a wish for foreign travel; the desire for greater contacts with foreigners; English media use, personal development; and interest in cultural comparison. Low value was placed on learning English for instrumental reasons. (McClelland 1998, 48) For the teacher, once the exact nature of the learner’s orientation toward the goal of learning English has been clarified, they are in a better position to decide about which strategies to utilize for promoting motivated behaviour. Ideally, these findings can then be used to infonn the design of the syllabus and classroom procedures, so that the needs and interests of the students are better fulfilled. (McClelland 1998, 7)

In this way, intercultural communication studies are significant in identifying the motivations of various types of learners and in assisting the development of appropriate strategies to achieve communicative competence.

In addition, studies have proven to be very useful in illustrating differences that exist in turn taking, degree of directness, attitudes to the acceptability of disagreement and direct criticism, fonns of address, verbal and non-verbal feedback, appropriateness of topics and adjacency pairs such as in greetings, apologies, compliments, requests, leave taking, etc. Different conversational styles are generally, culturally detennined. Thus, an awareness of different styles and preferences can help prevent negative evaluations of ability and personality for instructors, as well as students. In fact, it is believed that most of the current learning in an intercultural classroom should be built around incidents of cross- cultural misunderstanding. (Scheu & Sanchez 2002) Instructors should make second language students aware that native speakers may not always be prepared to accept the validity of differing styles of communication which may result in communicative attempts being misunderstood or rejected. Students should be prepared for this possibility being careful not to take such behaviour personally or be discouraged by it.


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The Importance of Language and Culture in the L2 Classroom
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language, culture, L2 acquisition, identity, cultural acquisition, multicultural, ESL, EFL, instrumental motivation, intrinsic motivation, communication styles, cultural values, classroom, intercultural communication
Quote paper
Ian Akbar (Author), 2003, The Importance of Language and Culture in the L2 Classroom, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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