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Language and culture

July 05, 2005

I am very interested in how cultural values influence behaviour.

Greetings once again.

I have been racing around the UK and France for the past week so it's good to be back at my desk.

As you will know if you have read some of my earlier earlier entries, I am very interested in how cultural values influence behaviour. This is also true of our linguistic behaviour. The way we use language shows preferences for some types of communicative behaviour while discouraging others. Culture will affect, for example, the extent to which we speak loudly and animatedly or quietly, whether we use lots of "I" statements, whether we choose very explicit language or whether we are indirect. Intercultural, or cross-cultural, pragmatics is the contrastive or comparative study of such communicative norms aiming to reach a better understanding of the cultural value or values that underpin them and it is a filed we can learn from.

When we help business English students to operate internationally, we might usefully consider the role of communicative styles as part of the familiarisation process. The awareness raising could usefully consider both styles of communication: for example, the very explicit language used by low-context cultures—speaker-based cultures— as opposed to the imprecise and ambiguous language favoured by high-context cultures—hearer-based cultures.

Situation also dictates language choice. In linguistics various terms have been coined for certain types of key expressions that are related to specific contexts or situations. These conversational routines/prefabricated expressions/politeness formulae/situation-bound utterances could well be useful in raising clients’ awareness about the relationship between language and culture. In essence, they are expressions whose linguistic meaning is distorted because of the role they have in a specific situation: linguistic meaning versus use. When a British English speaker asks the question: "how are you?" s/he doesn’t expect a lengthy reply about the state of the respondent’s health. If an American says "let’s get together some time", s/he may be saying no more than "goodbye". If a Japanese speaker says "yes" in a meeting, it is as well to understand that this is the politeness dictated by the situation and in no way indicates agreement or an undertaking to act.

Do you agree with me that this fascinating area is neglected in our teaching programmes and, indeed, in our teacher training? Let me know what you think.

Back soon,


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» When English Teaching Promotes Cultural Imperialism from [The] ENGLISH-BLOG [.com]
With regards to the teaching of the English language and non-English speaking cultures, how does this fit in to the concepts of "McWorld"[or] the Disneyfication of the planet? If imperialism of any kind is dangerous and undesirable then why do we continually hear of cases when a thriving language market, like that of Post-Communist Europe for example, seems to want this element... [Read More]

Tracked on December 24, 2005 02:33 AM


  1. Sampson Ewurum Says:

    Your article on Language and Culture is very interesting. As an ESOL teacher you are faced with a mixture of different cultural backgroung and language. In reality, people's culture affects the way they speak or do things. Teaching a language involves two things.
    (a) The culture and tradition
    (b) Second language learning in line with first language requires alot of effort.

  1. ghart27 Says:

    The work possibility exists, even without a certification. Your university degree is very useful in teaching English. It would probably be good to also emphasize any practical experience at teaching in other regards - such as teaching swimming, or giving university seminars, etc. I have experience similar to this in Bolivia, where I got several jobs without having my certification (at that time). However, Bolivia tends to have salaries that are only survival-level, not such as would allow much savings over the requirements of daily life. I can't specifically rate the likelihood of getting jobs without certification in other countries, although I am inclined to think that chances are pretty good in Perú and Ecuador also.

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