I need to discuss teaching culture in Foreign Language (FL) education. To what extent may the approaches advocated by Byram et al. (2002) be said to be different from more “traditional” ways of...

I need to discuss teaching culture in Foreign Language (FL) education. To what extent may the approaches advocated by Byram et al. (2002) be said to be different from more “traditional” ways of teaching culture in FL education?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my experience, the traditional approach towards culture in foreign language teaching has been centered on language proficiency rather than on intercultural awareness. Traditionally, language teaching has focused on culture as a collection of sterile or even static facts, divorced from the reality of its dynamic nature. Even worse, traditional foreign language teaching has ignored intercultural perspectives.

It's often easier for teachers to relate to other cultures through the familiar perspective of their own cultures. However, ethnocentrism makes it difficult to understand and correctly interpret the nuances in foreign languages. Without this understanding, it can be difficult to communicate successfully and effectively in that foreign language. As such, to be successful as educators, we must combine intercultural communicative mastery with linguistic skill.

Michael Byram advocates the benefits of "intercultural communicative competence," where perspectives of the target culture are as valid as those of the native culture. Byram's approach favors neither eclipsing the target culture nor elevating its unique qualities above that of the native culture. At the same time, the native culture is not marginalized but accepted as another valid facet of bilingual education. It's a rather unique paradigm.

Traditionally, teachers mainly focused on students achieving linguistic competence in the target language. So, students who demonstrated fluency in reading, writing, and speaking the foreign language were deemed to have made sufficient progress in learning that language. There was little focus on understanding or exploring the cultural factors that inspired the way ideas or emotions were communicated in the target language. Today, based on Byram's approach, teachers are introducing cultural pluralism into their classes by discussing intercultural issues pertaining to gender, race, and class. In light of the current debate regarding immigration, Byram's revolutionary approach is more important than ever.

Source: Routledge Encyclopedia of Language Teaching and Learning edited by Michael Byram and Adelheid Hu.

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