The 5th language skill: I’d been teaching it unknowingly for years….

Michael Krause
Michael Krause ist Lehrer für Deutsch. Auf der Seite gibt es Blogs mit Grammatik und Tipps zum Erlernen der Sprache.
2000 2000 Michael Krause

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!

quote by jawala nahar

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 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

children learning culture in 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 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)

Note: The Wikipedia link above was shortened with, a free-to-use service.

Leave a Reply