The author examines ways of teaching culture in a language classroom. The article is aimed at giving an overview of the methods and techniques of culture studies and suggests the possible ways of introducing culture into language study.
Keywords: culture, intercultural approach, teaching methods, competence-based approach.
Different approaches to the teaching of culture as well as activities and techniques associated with them have been suggested by several scholars. However, it is equally important to remember that the choice depends on many factors: the situation in which the language is taught; learners’ age and command of a foreign language; the teacher.
Stern  distinguishes between three situations in which the teaching of culture can take place:
- Culture is taught in language courses, where students are physically and often psychologically removed from the reality of the second culture. In this case culture teaching provides background and context and helps the learners visualise the reality. This seems to be the most common situation for teaching culture in many countries.
- Culture is taught in a situation, which prepares a student for a visit or work in a new environment. Even though the student is physically far away from the culture, he/she is psychologically better prepared and also more motivated to learn.
- Culture is taught in the cultural setting (e.g., to immigrants, students studying in a target language community). In this case, students need more help to come to terms with the foreign environment to avoid cultural misunderstandings. Brown  considers this situation the best for second language and culture teaching.
Each situation determines the aims of teaching culture and the range of topics that are considered important to be taught. When the main aim is to provide cultural knowledge, as it is often the case in the first situation, the most suitable activities might be, for example, watching videos and films, reading and discussing literary and newspaper texts. In the case of the second and third situations, learners need various skills of cultural practices. These can be best developed, for example, through role plays, dialogues and drama. Secondly, one has to bear in mind students’ age, maturity, command of language and educational level. Besides, the choice of an approach and a method often depends on the teacher and his/her preferences as well as the level of preparation. Teachers have to be prepared to deal with students learning facts or opinions that may conflict with their own or what they regard as natural. Byram  states that «the teacher should be aware of the nature of the challenge to learners’ understanding of their culture and identity». In order to achieve best outcomes all the factors have to be considered.
In language teaching, an approach means «the theory, philosophy and principles underlying a particular set of teaching practices (Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics 2002). However, in the literature on teaching culture, the term is used in a more relaxed way: only a few of the so-called approaches seem to constitute a theory or a philosophy. In the present thesis, the original terminology is used.
In the history of the teaching of culture different approaches can be noticed. Some of them have lost ground; some have had and still have dominant positions. The approaches can be classified in different ways. In very broad terms, they can be divided into two: those which focus only (or mostly) on the culture of the country whose language is studied (the mono-cultural approach) and those which are based on comparing learners’ own and the other culture (the comparative approach). The so-called mono-cultural approach is considered inadequate nowadays because it does not consider learners’ understanding of their own culture. The comparative approach, on the other hand, emphasises that that foreign culture should be related to learners’ own. The comparative approach draws on the learner’s own knowledge, beliefs and values which form a basis for successful communication with members of the other culture. While the essence of the comparative approach is to provide a double perspective it does not mean that learner’s need to evaluate which culture is better. Instead, students learn that there are many ways of doing things and their way is not the only possible one. So the comparative approach involves evaluation but not in terms of comparison with something which is better, but in terms of improving what is all too familiar.
The intercultural approach is based on the idea that culture is best learned through comparison. Though the focus is on the target culture, the intercultural approach deals with the relations between the learners’ own country and the country/countries where the language is spoken. It may include comparisons between the two and it develops learners’ understanding of both. The aim is to develop learners’ intercultural and communicative competences, which would enable them to function as mediators between the two cultures [1, с. 84]. The approach has become increasingly recognised since the 1980s. However, Risager  considers this approach inadequate as it is «blind to the actual multicultural character of almost all existing countries or states» and suggests that teachers should use the multicultural approach.
The multicultural approach draws on the idea that several cultures exist within one culture. The multicultural approach includes a focus on the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the target country/countries as well as on the learners’ own. As in the intercultural approach, comparison is important. Risager  also stresses that a balanced and anti-racist view of cultures should be involved. This approach emphasises the principle that cultures are not monolithic.
The third approach suggested by Risager is the transcultural approach. The basic idea behind this is that in the modern world cultures are interwoven due to extensive tourism, migration, world-wide communication systems, economic interdependence and globalisation. It is also reflected by the fact that many people speak foreign languages as lingua francas. The transcultural approach, therefore, deals with the foreign language as an international language. Its main aim is to teach learners to use it for international communication. In this case, it could be argued that it is not necessary at all to link the foreign language to any specific culture.
The mono-cultural approach in Risager’s list is represented by what he calls the foreign-cultural approach. It is based on the concept of a single culture and focuses on the culture of the country where the language is spoken. It does not deal with the learners’ own country and the relations between the two. The teaching aim is to develop the so-called native speaker communicative and cultural competence. The approach was dominant until the 1980s and is criticised nowadays because of the lack of relationships between cultures.
Galloway provides some other examples of the mono-cultural approach , the most wide-spread of which are the following four:
- The Frankenstein Approach.
- The 4-F Approach: Folk dances, festivals, fairs and food.
- Tour Guide Approach: Monuments, rivers, cities etc.
- By-The-Way Approach: Sporadic lectures or bits of behaviour selected indiscriminately to emphasise sharp differences.
All these approaches provide learners mostly with factual information and only offer an «interesting sidelight» to the foreign culture because of their very limited nature, they should not be encouraged. In addition to the above-discussed approaches, there are a number of approaches that are centred around various aspects of a given culture or concentrate on developing certain skills in learners.
The following approaches concentrate on both giving knowledge and understanding of the country’s culture and encourage students to compare it with their own.
The theme-based or thematic approach to the teaching of culture is based around certain themes, for example, symbolism, value, ceremony, love, honour, humour, beauty, intellectuality, the art of living, realism, common sense, family, liberty, patriotism, religion, and education, which are seen as typical of a culture. However, it is sometimes thought that the theme-based approach provides learners with a segmented view of the target culture. It might be difficult for them to see individual people and understand social processes and values from this perspective and could lead to stereotyping.
The topic-based approach concentrates on more general and cross-sectional topics which involve various cultural issues. As  argues that the topic-based approach to the teaching of culture brings life to class and develops a more holistic and integrated view of the target culture. She goes on to say that «knowing about the people who use the language, understanding their behaviours, beliefs and customs increases cultural awareness and promotes greater personal interest both in the language and the culture». Durant , who is also in favour of the topic- based approach, stresses that learning should take place «on the basis of analytic and comparative methods».
The problem-oriented approach aims at getting learners interested in the other culture and encourages them to do some research on their own. Seelye  sees the teacher’s role in defining the problem that interests learners. He claims that the more precise a problem is the easier it is for a learner to reach the desired outcome. The teacher should also guide learners in the bibliographic work. He claims that rather than be told to read a book on the general topic chosen, students can be taught to skim and to read carefully only limited sections that are germane to their specific area of interest. Otherwise, the student will fast become bogged down in the fantastic explosion of knowledge that threatens to engulf all scholars, especially those in science and social science. This is an important remark to consider, given the amount of material that is accessible to learners today. The result of student research should be a report, either written or presented orally.
The task-oriented approach is also based on learners’ own research. Learners work in pairs or small groups on different aspects of the other culture. They share and discuss their findings with others in order to form a more complete picture. Lastly, learners interpret the information within the context of the other culture and compare it with their own . The skill-centred approach differs from the above-given approaches in a sense that it is more practical and might be useful for those who need to live within the target-language community. It aims at developing learners’ skills, which they may need to manage the issues involved in (mis) communication between cultures/societies. It does not primarily mean knowledge of the other culture. The skill-centred approach emphasises awareness and skills as much as content, the present and future as much as past and, lastly, similarities in cultures as much as differences. He goes on to say that methodologically this means:
the raising and exploring of open questions rather than answering of the closed ones;
what can be done at the end of a lesson is as important as what is known;
the process of an activity is as important as the product;
cultural input is insufficient, cultural outcomes are essential;
the learners’ involvement is as important as the material the teacher provides;
investigatory attitudes to develop the skills of finding, evaluating, analysing andfinally communicating aspects of culture;
teachers and learners working alongside one another to common goals.
No matter which approach is used, it is important that the teaching of culture never lose sight of the individual. The focus should be on how societal values, institutions, language, and the land affect the thought and lifestyle of someone living in the culture we are studying compared to our own.
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- Brown H. D. 2000. Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. Fourth edition. London: Longman. Pearson Education Limited, p. 189.
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