Is Cultural Knowledge and Language interconnected?


Culture and Language

One of our teachers recently wrote this article questioning how cultural knowledge fits in the language learning process.  It’s a nice follow on from an article on the BBC and brings up quite a few questions. What are your thoughts?

“I recently came across an article on the BBC website that made me rethink how I teach.

The article looks at the question of communicative abilities and how far language level/ability is superseded by cultural knowledge – which could mean, among others, a shared business knowledge, shared company values, shared technical knowledge.

This is a question that comes up with many EFL teachers who teach around the world – many do indeed go to live and work in a country where they have some knowledge of the language and they wish to be more fluent in it. However, a surprising number of us just follow the work!

To give an illustration, I’ve worked in France, Mozambique, Poland, Austria, Germany, and only in France did I have a working knowledge of the language.

So, although I have emergency vocabulary in Portuguese, Polish, German (for food, drink, hello, goodbye, please, thank you and the like, as well as ‘bad’ words – as I say to my students “I speak bad French well, and good French badly!”) I don’t have conversational skills in those languages.

Of course, I’m at fault here. But on the other hand, I survived well, by understanding the culture of life (for example, when ordering steak in a restaurant, you know the next phrase will be the equivalent of “How would you like your steak?” to which “medium” always works!)

In life, in business, we ‘negotiate’ our way around not just with language, but with understanding the situation (at least that’s how I got through school!); sure we can also misunderstand and thus miscommunicate, but it is surprising how well we do ‘negotiate’ by understanding the situation, the culture, so to speak.

Maybe we all need more intercultural communication training.”

What are your thoughts? Please leave your thoughts below.