Lesson 2: Proficiency and Cultural Literacy

Cultural Literacy

In this section, we will explore examples of how cultural literacy, or the lack thereof, can affect how learners comprehend a foreign text.

Before you watch the video segment, read the opening paragraph from Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City.

Excerpt from Bright Lights, Big City


Discussion of Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City.

Duration: 02:59

Russian Film Example

Now watch a short clip from a very popular Russian film from the Soviet era (1975). This film is still shown on New Year's Eve throughout Russia today. In this segment, our hero, Zhenya, is about to be married on New Year's day. His friends want to celebrate his nuptials with a trip to the Russian banya, a kind of sauna that's very popular among all Russians. As you watch, take note of the cultural similarities and differences between this piece and Bright Lights, Big City. At what point(s) in either piece would comprehension be impeded by cultural differences?


Scene from "The Irony of Fate, or Have a Nice Steambath!"

Duration: 01:11

Now, take a guess at what happens right after the clip ends. What's in the briefcase?


Discussion of video example.

Duration: 02:48

We can all agree that there is an amount of cultural background required to "get" what is going on in each of these excerpts, as well as in everyday interaction. The question we should ask ourselves is how we can help our language learners to acquire that knowledge that comes naturally to native speakers.