Read, write, speak and listen are verbs – correct? So, when first presented with the concept of culture as the fifth language skill, I struggled to take it on board. Maybe as a result of doing the same old thing in the classroom for too many years? Maybe as a result of my age-related cerebral atrophication? But that is why I love teaching a language and working with teenagers: It challenges me constantly, it keeps me on my toes and holds my real age at bay!
Language is more than just words
On widening my reading to try and understand how and why culture might be considered a skill, I came across the following quotation by Jwaharla Nehr:
“Culture is the widening of the mind and the spirit.”
And then it clicked into place – culture is a thought pattern and “think” is a verb, and I understood.
Culture as a language skill
Integrating culture into our classrooms has a variety of advantages: “…in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, and Spain, a focus on communicative and intercultural learning has not only stimulated a productive discussion of teaching objectives, methods, and underlying rationales that are now reflected in curricula and textbooks, but has also resulted in increased oral and written proficiency for their students.” (Pufahl et al 2001)
Building on this, the Dutch psychologist, Geert Hofstede, refers to culture as the software of the mind. According to the definition taken from techopedia.com: Software, in its most general sense, is a set of instructions or programs instructing a computer to do specific tasks. If, metaphorically speaking, we are the computers, and our thoughts the software which instructs our words and actions – then the importance of this cultural skill becomes clear. The more expansive and better our software, the better our actions and words will become.
Then I realized that I have understood this fifth skill all along; that we have been teaching the associated skills of empathy, the skill of behaving appropriately in different settings, the skill of knowing what to say and do in different contexts — since the very moment we walked into our classrooms.
Related resource: How to deal with emotional bullies in the classroom
I believe we have been teaching these cultural/thinking skills all along, it is the research that is now catching up with us. Such teaching materials have not always been available but our curriculum is diverse, our resources vast and access to information now infinite. New technology like eKidz.eu combine language learning with cultural points of view which make the world a more understanding place. As I read poetry, myths and legends in other languages – I believe even more that we human beings are all essentially the same; we have the same needs; we have the same hopes and fears.
So in this ever-shrinking world, let us continue expanding our understanding of each other. We are not just teaching a language, we are teaching tolerance.
Reference: Pufahl, Ingrid,Rhodes, Nancy C. Christian, Donna. “What We Can Learn from Foreign Language Teaching in Other Countries.” ERIC Digest (2001)
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