Hitting the Target: Finding Sherwood

Why is it important to "learn" about other cultures? Let's fin out...
Why is it important to “learn” about other cultures? Let’s find out…

At the beginning of 2010, when I had my first encounter with the ESL groups I was teaching back then, I heard something from a student that made me think about the serious flaws we carry as teachers.

As part of my class program, I proposed that the students were going to develop a cultural celebration, ritual or festivity they find interesting and appealing to them and the class in general. My surprise was that a student said: “Why do we need to learn about cultures? We only need to learn to speak.”

On that moment, I started explaining the intertwined relation that exists between language and culture, and even though, some of them could choose celebration very distant to the American Culture, it was important for us to be able to learn and understand differences among cultures. All in all, I finally convinced the student that this activity was important and useful for his goal, which is learning a second language.During the class I was thinking about this student’s question and I was surprised to see how we sometimes, as teachers, do not give an integral teaching. We sometimes stick too much to the book and the topics to be covered and students are getting accustomed to this.

But, you might say: “Well, this guy is overgeneralizing just because ONE student didn’t know culture and language were connected.”
I can see your point, but I can’t stop wondering if in each of the groups we have there is a student like him. Maybe there is and maybe in some groups there is more than one. This, makes other question to arise: “Where do we, teachers, put culture in our classrooms if we already know culture and language are linked?”
Even tough Culture is difficult to label and to explain, it is also easy to teach and to perceive.From teaching when it is considered rude to arrive late or when it is considered rude to arrive on time; to teaching the history behind Halloween, we are teaching culture. Culture is so rich that in our daily explanations of grammar and language contents, we can also include topics that are going to make students aware of the differences between their native language and culture and the target ones their are willing to learn. Moreover, we must give our students the elements we possess for them to go out and search for “Sherwood” (their understanding of language and culture) and be able to build their perception of their EFL/ESL integral learning.
 In my opinion, if we start making students more conscious of the link among culture and language, they are going to be able to identify in a better way the aspects that hinder their progress towards the target language/culture. If they start from the very beginning separating their own culture from the culture of the target language, they are going to overcome easily some problems such as fossilization and grammar mistakes that are sometimes triggered because students tend to adapt the target language to their native language just to avoid feeling it as something distant and difficult to learn.
As a conclusion, if we want our students to hit the target language/culture, we are the ones who are responsible for guiding them to achieve that goal. If we do not provide them with the tools to perfect their “aim” they are going to face rough situations in their road to Sherwood.

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