English language learning and teaching involves more factors than cognitive functioning or phonetic development. Cultural influence of both the native and target cultures impact learning styles, instruction approached and language skills such as listening or speaking. Cultural education provides insight to the relationship between cultural backgrounds and language learning; awareness of cultural impacts on English language learning can influence classroom decisions and lead to an increase in positive learning outcomes.
Though culture has always been an element in English language learning, it was during the 1960s when psychologists, linguists and educators began to place cultural education at the forefront of language learning. Most experts believed that cultural education in language learning should focus on educating the learning about the language of the target or foreign language (English). In 1974, Howard Nostrand presented the Emergent Model of language learning that established six categories of influence for language learning; the first category was culture, and his model provided a framework for English language teachers to incorporate comprehensive cultural education into the English language learning classroom. In the 1990s, researchers Michael Byram and Carol Morgan published a report that asserted the importance to recognizing the learner's cultural background as well as the culture of the target language.
Many researchers recognize the important of cultural education in English language learning. Researcher Erdogan Bada wrote in the "Cukurova University Journal of Social Sciences" that "the need for cultural literacy in [English Language Teaching] arises mainly from the fact that most language learners, not exposed to cultural elements of the society in question, seem to encounter significant hardship in communicating meaning to native speakers.” Additional studies have supported his assertion that a lack of cultural knowledge of both the native culture and the target culture contributes to poor learning outcomes for English language learners.
A student's or teacher's cultural background dictates their expectations for learning as well as their preferred learning or teaching styles. Cultural difference can negatively impact learning outcomes if they are not addressed during instruction or assessment. Cultural expectations are often coded or implicit.One of the largest concerns of cultural difference in an English language classroom is the tendency for language problems to be misdiagnosed as learning problems. For example, for a student whose cultural language tradition involves mostly oral story telling, reading text may be difficult. A teacher unfamiliar with the oral language tradition of the student's culture may incorrectly identify his reading troubles as signs of a learning problem when in reality it is the result of a cultural difference.
Several cultural differences influence an English language learning classroom. The most obvious influence is the language of the native culture; a student brings to the classroom particular grammar, syntax and language rules from the native language that do not always translate directly to the English language. Word order and gendered language is one of the most common language difficulties a non-native speaker encounters when learning English. Another cultural influence is learning or teaching style. Students may have different cultural expectations regarding the length of the school day, student-teacher relationships or appropriate classroom behavior; all of these variables may interfere with instruction or learning and result in negative learning outcomes.
Cultural education is the most important step in alleviating the potential cultural conflicts that may arise in an English language classroom. Teachers should be educated in diversified instruction that responds to an English language student's individual needs in terms of instruction, assessment and feedback. Classroom time should be dedicated to explicit cultural education for English language learners; lessons about body language, eye contact, academic language and conversational language should be core elements of the curriculum.
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