What role should culture play in choosing a selection around which to build activities?
Culture can be defined as the shared patterns of the thoughts, behaviors, languages, and beliefs learned by a particular group and transmitted from one generation to the next. Among these, language is the most representative element in any culture because language and culture are inextricably interrelated. So, it would not be an exaggeration to claim that understanding the target culture plays a pivotal role in second language learning. And L2 teachers should try to build activities in multiculturally appropriate ways taking into account the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students. Without understanding cultural diversity, L1 learners as well as L2 learners might be stressful in deciding when, where, what, and how to say each other. So, bilingual teachers should be a pioneer to bridge the gap and choose multiple sources encompassing verbal and non-verbal multicultural information, invoking interest and curiosity of students, helping open students’ eyes to the similarities and differences, and deepening their understanding and interpretation of the other cultures.
What criteria might you use to guide your choice?
The first criterion will be communication techniques such as how to greet, speak to older people, make requests, and give compliments. If a teacher wants to enable students to communicate effectively in second language, he/she should arrange activities to make students foster understanding the cultural context of ordinary conversational conventions. It means understanding the various forms and usages of the language rather than just being able to produce grammatical sentences. The second criterion is about paralinguistic and nonlinguistic behaviors such as gestures, and facial expressions which are the most obvious forms of non-verbal communication so that students can interpret them easily. For example, in Korean culture, making strong eye contact with seniors or strangers, calling someone with an index finger, and passing an item to someone with one hand are all considered very rude and unacceptable. In addition, giving information or an explanation about idioms and interesting expressions from TV or magazines can be appropriate criteria to develop communicative competence of L2 students.
Include important constraints that culture might present for individuals and/or groups.
First, teachers often fail to teach the target language culture, due to the reasons such as, fear of their insufficient knowledge and preconceptions about the culture and their lack of training to teach culture. Second, limited hours for cultural education can also be another constraint. In addition, L2 learners have different expectations and willingness to participate in various kinds of learning activities according to their own experiences, their needs, and social backgrounds.
What might be the consequences if such constraints are ignored?
If teachers have preconceptions about one culture and present it in a judgmental way, learners cannot incorporate and explore the target culture and language appropriately. Insufficient cultural education time and not taking into account different expectations of students can also cause the lack of acknowledgment and acceptance of cultural differences and often lead to misunderstanding, communication breakdown, conflict, and even fear. For example, Koreans consider teachers to have a great authority, so calling them using first names may make the teacher embarrassed. The consideration of special needs of students is also indispensable. For some students, their educational success in second language is seen as vital to their future economic advancement. If a second language learner is already living in the country where the target language is spoken, it is especially important for him/her to understand the target culture and not to ignore the cultural constraints of the community to become a member of it.