Why is it important to learn culture while learning a language?
All of us have experienced the process of learning a language. As children, we learned more than words, sounds and concepts; we learned our culture. For instance, those of us living in the UK are very aware of “afternoon tea”, while Spaniards live and die by the traditional siesta (especially during the hottest months of the year), proving that language and culture are inseparable.
The same logic applies to foreign language teaching: it’s not just about learning grammar, vocabulary or communication skills, but also getting acquainted with the culture and traditions of the target language. Today, the world celebrates Cultural Diversity Day and what better way to commemorate it than by highlighting the importance of teaching culture in language acquisition?
Why is it important to teach culture in language courses?
Learning a language goes beyond knowing how to greet others or ask for directions. You may know thousands of words in your target language, but you may be surprised at the result of trying to communicate with a native speaker for the first time. Misunderstandings are very common and can lead to awkward situations.
For example, imagine you have a company that is about to receive a Chinese delegation for dinner before signing an important contract. Your business has a “sit where you like” policy, so that’s what you offer your guest. Big mistake! In Chinese culture, hierarchy is important, so the head of the group would expect to sit at the head of the table and next to the most senior member of your team. If not, they would probably feel offended and humiliated and your business offer might fail before it has even begun!
So, it is clear that teachers should not separate culture from language in their lessons. Culture will help you understand the true meaning of what people say to you, especially when it comes to slang or conversational phrases which often cannot translate word for word. This is why world-class universities invest in cultural exchange programmes, where students go and live in a country to learn their target language in a real-world setting.
What our teachers say
Our teachers at Language Trainers take learning very seriously. That is why they always include a cultural component in their lessons, not only to make them more motivational and meaningful, but also to equip their students with crucial knowledge that will help them become truly proficient in their target language. Let’s see what some of them have to say about teaching culture in their lessons!
“The best and most effective way to teach about the Russian culture is through vocabulary in dialogues and texts. For example, every time I present a new lesson to my students, I focus their attention on categories of words (the family, house, and more) and the way people view those concepts in Russia,” says Vitaliy, one of our best Russian teachers.
“Also, I often explain cultural elements through how the imaginary characters in conversations and dialogues address each other and what they say. But of course, in addition to that, I also like to refer to culture by examining illustrations or gestures.”
Anime (computer-animated series) is wildly popular not only in Japan but throughout the world. That is why Hiromi, one of our teachers, decides to use it when teaching Japanese culture: “Usually, I teach Japanese according to the student’s interests. Sometimes I use business, sometimes I use anime. Also, we often talk about Japanese culture by comparing it to Western culture.”
Alessandra, one of our Italian teachers (who also teaches French) always tries to incorporate cultural activities related to festivities and events into her lessons: “I love teaching my culture, even via exercises. For example, I have grammar and vocabulary exercises which are interesting because they talk about the Italian culture, like festivities. I want [my students] to know how we live.”
The importance of greeting is also highlighted by Romina, one of our Spanish teachers from Colombia: “One of the aspects I always teach about Latin American culture is greetings. Latin Americans usually greet others with one or two kisses on the cheek, no matter if they know them or not. This can be a bit shocking to those unfamiliar with this tradition, such as Asian students, so I try to give them a heads up. This way, they’ll know what to expect if they ever visit Central or South America.”
It’s not impossible to speak a language without knowing about its culture, but it will certainly enrich your learning journey while helping you master the language in a shorter time. Plus, you will be able to avoid embarrassing situations or breakdowns in communication by understanding cultural aspects.