Introduction to the Culture Module
Welcome! I'm Tom Garza, an Associate Professor in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies, and the Director of the Texas Language Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Besides coordinating the program in Russian here at UT, my research interests are primarily focused on incorporating culture and cultural information into language teaching. While the two seem to be inextricably connected, we somehow forget, as teachers, that language without culture is not communication.
So, what have the last two decades told us about the cultural quotient in our teaching? First, when the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages introduced the first-ever provisional proficiency guidelines in 1984, they included guidelines for cultural competence. And even though these guidelines were eventually scrapped, they left a lasting impression on the subsequent thinking and research that followed on the place of culture in the overall foreign language proficiency.
Now, there now seems to be agreement that culture should be regarded as an essential component of all competency-based language instruction, a kind of "fifth skill," if you will. Indeed, we know that even with superior knowledge of the grammatical structure of a language, and mastery of a large basic vocabulary, without cultural competence to give relevant meaning and significance to otherwise "correct" utterances, communication does not occur. We all know examples of the cultural faux pas that our students and we blunder into, even when the linguistic content of their speech is correct! How often do we find ourselves wondering why the native speakers are looking at us with disbelief and non-comprehension after we think we've made a perfectly correct statement? But there is more to cultural competence than merely talking about it in our classes. We need also to consider how best to integrate cultural information into our already over-committed hours of language instruction.
So second, we need to understand how much time we realistically have for instruction, what our goals are for a given level of instruction, and then, finally, what we can do to maximize each and every minute to get the most benefit in teaching not just the language, and not just the culture, but "linguoculture." We need to begin to embrace the power that certain educational applications of technology can have on what we can do in the classroom. In this module, I will suggest to you that the incorporation of video, internet, and digital technology may hold a key to getting more out of the precious minutes we have with our students in class, and even transform what they do with the language when they're not in class. While teaching culture cannot be a "one-size-fits-all" proposition, I will suggest that there are certain guidelines and models that might help us all to bring the languages that we teach closer to the languages that are actually used around the world.
It was culture expert Ned Seeley who said that we teach culture as long as we have students to teach; I suggest a slight amendment: As long as we teach culture, we will have students to teach!
- 1 Culture? What Culture?
- Explores the definition of culture and how it is currently taught in language classrooms.
- 2 Proficiency and Cultural Literacy
- What is cultural competence, as implied by the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines (2001)?
- 3 The Case for Visual Media to Teach Culture
- How to use video materials to present authentic information about the target country, and to increase the quantity and quality of time spent on task.
- 4 Rockin' Russian: A Web-Based Approach to Language and Culture
- How to use a web-based program like Rockin' Russian to integrate language and cultural content to facilitate proficiency gains.