Exploring and Analyzing Cultural Phenonema
and Applying These Analyses to Teaching Contexts
In Sociolinguistics, we learned the explicity of analyzing cultural phenomena, and in
Intercultural Language Teaching, its application to our teaching. Some cutural phenomena in language teaching, which affect language learning, can comprise speech acts and style, subject context, class, expectations for students, and how they view the values a target language brings to their own culture.
There are also contexts a nation’s educational policies impose.
In an elective course, Adult Education, we were led through immigration processes of the USA. These included cultural revelations by the immigrant, and we were able to study examples of how people from cultures very different from ours, managed their transitions to life here. Certainly, for those whose native lands differed widely, there were often immoveable, internal barriers to their adjustment. Some never adjusted. Some committed suicide. (bhutanesecommunitynh.org)
These people need individual, long term help with their transition to this new life.
With my experience teaching refugees from Nepal, Bhutan, Syria, and Congo, in my internship, countries in which much of what we take for granted does not exist, I found my language teaching needed to be grounded in our cultural differences. For every aspect: syntax, grammar, phonology, etc., I used comparisons and analogies. If I didn’t know enough about a difference - linguistically and/or socio-culturally - between their L1 and their culture and English and ours, and couldn’t find a translator, I would look it up. When I needed to express an idea with perfect clarity, I would find the vocabulary in their L1 to initiate a discussion between that and EN.
Language is a cultural phenomenon. Often, an official language is determind by political imposition. Socio-economic and political culture are changed by colonialism, but - as I learned in SOC - so is the lingua franca. For this short essay, I will use examples of a woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and six men from Syria.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Belgium had ruled and French is now the official language, there are 213 local languages spoken. The four national languages, Kikongo, Lingala, Luba-Kasai, and Congo Swahili are taught in school until the third year, when French is introduced. Thereafter, in secondary and tertiary education, all classes are taught in French. With my Congolese student, I had to navigate a maze of cultural minefields. I could not know her experiences or what formed her reluctance to speak, as she knew little English. At times, I used my meagre French, but her cultural separation from us was obvious. She was reluctant to speak aloud and when I encouraged her, would giggle and look embarrassed. Her expressiveness indicated a high intelligence. Her shyness endeared her to the class. To encourage her to speak, I played around with different approaches until I hit on extreme and direct acknowledgement of her intellect.
She and her husband came to class when they could. They brought their very small, well behaved children, whom I set up with crayons and paper in an adjacent room. I wish I had had the chance to speak with her about her journey. They were quiet and loving. I can only imagine the horrors they may have experienced.
My six Syrian students were voluable, engaging, and funny. They let me know they were interested in learning about the language itself. They were constantly asking questions about linguistics as well as vocabulary. Almost immediately, I promoted 3 of them to the next level. All married with children, deeply concerned for their families’ welfare, they were proactive about creating a new life. (http://brook.gs/2uP1iVs)
After the first Trump immigration order, some started arranging a move to Canada. In this very beginning language class, every one of us found it difficult to converse about our many cultural lives and customs as we wished. I took advantage of this, and taught the language, using this hunger to learn our mores, by giving lessons in our cultural differences and expectations, along with as much English as possible.
Other students were interested, but they were either too inhibited to try to let me know what they wanted, or simply could not find a way to ask for help. All of them had constraints of a very limited vocabulary and comprehensible output.
Every one was completely engaged and eager to learn about this strange, and complicated, USA.