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.

I like vampire stories very much. The love for this started from a TV show called “Buffy the vampire slayer”. From that time, I have enjoyed many vampire related TV shows from ‘Angel’, ‘Moonlight’, ‘Blood ties’, and ‘True blood’ to now ‘The vampire diaries’. You will be surprised when you realize how similar story plots vampire stories in western cultures and Kumiho(nine tailed fox) stories in Korea. Just taste a korean legend a little bit!

The kumiho (literally “nine tailed fox“) is a creature that appears in the oral tales and legends of Korea. According to those tales, a fox that lives a thousand years turns into a kumiho. It can freely transform, among other things, into a beautiful girl often set out to seduce men. As the mythology of the Kumiho evolved it was later believed that a Kumiho had to consume human hearts in order to survive. In later literatures they are often depicted as flesh-hungry half-fox, half-human things that wandered the cemeteries at night, digging human hearts out from graves. Another version was that the Kumiho must eat human livers. This was because the liver contained the energy of a human, meaning that it processes the food and gives energy, thus making it the container of the working force/life of a human.

Do you like vampire stories? It is a little bit similar. There are good vampires and bad vampires. So are Kumihos. Among Kumihos, there tends to a good kumiho girl who rejects to eat human livers and survives killing hens or cows. In this legend, she encounters a good man who is in danger by other Kumihos and saves him. He saw her and she made him swear not to tell anyone what he saw that night for 1000 days. There is a secret here. To become a human, Kumiho needs 1000 days and during that time and nobody should see her real shape. He swore and went back home.  Later, she realizes that she loves him and transforms and gets married to him. Of course he has no idea about her real identity. They lived very happily for a while. In some legends, they even have babies.

Anyway, strange things happen in their village. Many hens and cows are killed. One night, when the husband woke up and found out that his wife was missing. He has suspicion and decides to follow her. The next night( usually on the 999th day), he saw her eating hens and was shocked. He realized her real identity, but he could not kill her because he loved her very much. In another version, on the 999th night, husband tells the story of the night to his wife (Kumiho). The sad thing is that she cannot be a human forever and go back to the woods again with a lot of pain and grief. The man regrets what he has done, but too late. The legend is about sad hopeless love between human and Kumiho. It gives us a lesson about the imprudent human nature and disbelief. Very Sad! If you enjoy this story, try this korean TV show!http://www.mysoju.com/nine-tailed-fox/

Can you picture yourself in a situation where you cannot understand the language being spoken around you? Due to the limited language proficiency, you might not make friends and participate in the classroom activities and it may make you fearful and frustrated. Many English Language Learners are likely to feel this kind of frustration. When it comes to teaching content areas to ELLs who struggle to grasp the content, teacher can play a pivotal role in bridging many gaps by tapping into the background knowledge that students bring with them, making the content more accessible based on ELLs’ experiences and cultural expectations, and providing ELLs’ parents with the information they need about their children’s progress in school. Even though there are a number of effective approaches, Two Way Immersion (TWI) program seems to be one of the most effective approaches to help ELLs make transitions as smooth as possible and deepen their understandings about the content areas as much as possible because language learning in TWI programs takes place primarily through content instruction and communication using both languages.

It’s because, TWI program integrates fairly equal numbers of language minority and language majority students for all or most of the day, and provides content area instruction and literacy instruction to all students in both languages. In other words, TWI programs strive to provide all students with the opportunity to develop bilingualism, biliteracy, and cross-cultural awareness in their second language. These three factors are key assets that will help participating students meet the demands of the society they belong to as well as the needs of the individuals to be well-educated citizen of the 21st century as a whole.

It is very important for all teachers involved in program to have a uniform philosophy about the benefits of TWI programs and have a shared vision for implementation. I’ll cherish the dedicated TWI teachers to try to make the content comprehensible to the nonnative speakers, while still making the lessons stimulating and challenging to the native speakers. Due to the integrated nature of TWI programs, TWI teachers also need to possess strong interpersonal skills that allow students to function well in cross-cultural environments. In other words, not only do TWI teachers need to be able to promote student outcomes, instructional strategies, and positive cross-cultural relationships among students in their classes, they also need to be able to work effectively with other staff members and parents involved from both cultural groups. Therefore, I’ll ask teachers to attend the planning or substantive training sessions mandatorily to be qualified and skilled teachers with the help of veteran teachers and try to adjust disagreements among staff regarding program features to facilitate the work of two-way teachers, improve dual-language teaching skills through collaborating with team members, and renew enthusiasm for teaching. In addition, I’ll hire a bilingual coordinator and parents who are bilingual to support staff and facilitate the need for positive cross-cultural attitudes among all school staff.

TWI programs are additive bilingual programs which help all students maintain and develop oral and written skills in their first language while simultaneously acquiring a second language. In that sense, TWI programs are very effective in promoting equity for the two groups of students and working to equalize the status of the two languages and the two language groups of students. This can lead to high self-esteem, motivation to study hard, belief in academic competence, perception of a positive school and home environment, and so on. In sum, TWI programs are very efficient to promote bilingualism and biliteracy, grade-level academic achievement, and positive cross-cultural attitudes and behaviors in all students.

Most beginning learners who are limited in English proficiency are struggling to read texts through word recognition strategies, language knowledge, memorization, and so on. For those students, effective instruction and practice covering all areas of reading are needed. In fact, the Language Experience Approach is frequently recommended for beginning readers. It can help the students to interact with text with fun if the teacher uses a variety of strategies. The Language Experience Approach begins with a shared experience. It is an approach to reading instruction based on activities and stories developed from personal experiences of the learner. The more exciting and novel experiences the students have, the better the approach works.

 I worked with a second grade boy who is from Korea. He can read English but he mainly uses word recognition strategy for reading. To begin with, I asked him about the most memorable recent experience. And he started to talk about the Tornado we had a few weeks ago. I told him we were going to make a story book for tornado. Making Story books is a great way to encourage the students to involve in reading and writing simultaneously. To do so, we tried to find some articles about tornado with pictures through the internet. As soon as he saw the pictures he tried to talk about his experience using a lot of gestures. I just explained the new vocabulary in the article briefly to give him background knowledge. And then, I gave him some pieces of colored paper, a pencil, an eraser, and lined paper.

Next, I asked him to write down his experience in his own words and language in the lined paper. When he finished his writing, we reviewed it and read it together. He seemed to be proud of what he accomplished. I encouraged him to draw the picture of tornado on the margin. While his drawing, we had conversation about tornado and I could repeat some words in natural way. And we read the article again, when he met some words he didn’t know he tried to guess the meanings in the context. If he didn’t have any clues, I asked him to circle the word. And then, I asked him to tell the story again and I wrote down what he said. After the dictation, we draw some pictures on the margin of every page. Finally, we made two short books about tornado by the cooperation. He was so happy with the books. And we read the article again pointing to the words he circled. By this time his reading was much better. When he reread his own book, he seemed much more enthusiastic about reading than ever before.

Even though language-experience approach is very useful in motivating students for reading and writing, but it does not mean that the teacher only depends on this approach. Pattern books are also very useful and effective tools for teaching young learners rhythm, rhyme, and frequently used words with the help of big printed text and related pictures.

There is no perfect approach!

It is often said that experience is the best teacher. In other words, firsthand experience is the best and effective way of learning and acquiring another language. From my experience, I was able to improve my English more than ever when I visited America and Canada for two months in 2004 and 2005. This is because I had to use English in real communicative settings to communicate with native speakers and people from other countries. I’m sure that many people who still have troubles in learning language in school context can improve their language skills a lot if they are exposed to natural circumstances of the language.

Looking back on my school days, I focused on grammar and vocabulary more than anything else to enter the university and get a good job later. English was just one subject like math and science which I had to study and memorize, not language alive. Through that kind of study, I was only able to enhance my grammar skills rather than listening and speaking skills. Even though I knew the importance of communicative competence in theory, there was always an excuse. I still remember the moment I met a man from Canada when I was a university student. I was so surprised that he really spoke English. English is real! Wow! English is a real language like Korean. To my sadness, I couldn’t follow his speaking speed at all. It was literally twice as fast as far as I thought. What I learned in the classroom context until then wasn’t that helpful to catch what he said although I practiced English using some cassette tapes. In terms of communicative competence, I seemed to stand still or even go backwards as time went by in spite of many years of study. And I realized that there was a limit in my home country to acquire English because real language environment is very different from virtual one. So I wanted to have opportunity to be in the English speaking countries to get face-to-face experiences.

When I visited America in 2004 and 2005, I felt that interacting with others in English surrounded by a lot of new idioms, humors, slangs, and jargons and exposing myself to different culture and environment could be the best way to be a successful English learner. In spite of many mistakes and misunderstanding, those real and vivid experiences to speak English like ordering food in the restaurants and buying some things at the shopping malls improved my speaking and listening skills a lot. From that time, I have been trying to make my English learning fun by watching some English dramas like Monk, Criminal minds, Kyle xy, and Prison break through the internet without subtitle not to lose my linguistic sense. And it really works. But it isn’t enough. I still need at least two or three years of academic immersion to achieve a high-level of fluency in English. That is why I’m here.

In conclusion, everybody knows that successful language learning needs exposure to the language over and over. But there are still some other language aspects like idioms, slangs, cultural nuances, and pronunciation which can only be learned by experiencing it directly on a daily basis for some time. If I need to learn a language to get a job in another country, going to the country to learn the language and experience the culture in person would be the best way to increase my chances of getting hired.

There is common belief that the language shapes the thoughts of people who speak it, but not only language but also culture is involved in the way people think and talk. As one organic whole, the language, the thought habits and the culture affect all together. Thus, learning another language gives insight and understanding about another culture rather than changes the way of thinking.

If we don’t know the language well, it is impossible to understand the subtle nuances and deep meanings of the target culture. Films and TV shows can be the best sources to help students have indirect experiences about the culture. For example, to teach how to greet each other in Korea, I will let students watch and listen to video clips taken from a television show or a film in Korean. After that, I can let them describe the behaviors they observe and discuss which of them are similar to their native culture and which are not including body languages like gestures, eye contact, facial expressions. And then, students can do activities like a scavenger hunt or an interview to find some cultural relevant objects or information around them in pairs or groups to deepen their understanding about the culture. Role play in the target language can be followed to practice it and internalize the culture a little bit more. Finally, I will ask them to write a brief essay about what linguistic and cultural insights they get from those activities and give chances to present in front of class. Will this helpful for teaching  language and culture at the same time?

Try this site.


Personally, my favorite korean Tv show is “Chuno”  It means” Slavehunters” in English.

I can’t wait to watch another Episode. I downloded every episode. I wactched 20 episodes until now. only 4 more episodes are left.

If you need English subtitles, try this site. It only has 3 episodes until now. But, more episodes will be added.


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