Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Language and Culture

There are some good post-chapter questions in the book I'm reading for my EAP course this quarter. The book is "English for Academic Purposes: an advanced resource book" by Ken Hyland.

One of the questions posed in a recent reading highlights the concepts of how culture influences language learning. Hyland (2006) asks:
In what ways are cultural factors likely to influence the ways students write and learn to write or to speak in an academic variety of English? Are these factors only likely to impact the writing of L2 students? How might you accommodate these differences in your teaching and assessments?

For one there is the notion of contrastive rhetoric, which says that there are differences based upon a students' L1(and cultural background) that inform what they know about writing or academic tasks. Some have posited that in China they write in a more circular way. But you can sum up that writing in Western standards do contrast with those from other cultures. However, with the fact that the world is an open space today it could be said that anyone around the world is learning in a universal manner...thus our students (although from a specific country) may not show signs of that particular form of contrastive rhetoric. So we have to be careful about this.

Yet, I would still say culture can influence the ways students write and learn. If they do come from a background where learning was strictly teacher-centered, with little-to-no group work or experience with cooperative or collaborative learning, then for sure students will find themselves in new learning situations. But that isn't to say this will have a negative impact on their acquisition. Instead we need to consider the processes students are going through when confronting this intersection of language and culture in their learning experiences. To do so, we could give students self-assessment tools and also have discussions on the subject.

I also strongly believe that students also come with more than just cultural backgrounds to the table but ideals and standards that relate to the communities of English they are memberships of. For example, they may feel they need a certain standard of writing they heard about or thought exists because of the community of practice they come from.

Language and culture is a very interesting topic and we have to consider not just the students' influence of their L1 but also that of the "native speaker" and "standard English" standards that play a crucial role in all of this process.

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