miércoles, 14 de septiembre de 2016

Is Culture the Fifth Language Skill?

By Mayra Yaranga. 

Nobody can deny the vital importance of the presence of culture in every lesson we teach. However, the question of when to teach it and how to approach it are still aspects which need to be carefully considered.

On one hand, the traditional apportionment of language in four skills makes it hard for teachers to identify the aim of a lesson. Perhaps this is why trying to insert the teaching of culture in class might be misconstrued as teaching it ‘independently’ and, although a chance to teach culture may seem hard to identify, in reality it is always present regardless of the contents given.

This could become evident when working on a reading exercise, for instance. Students read about important street markets in the world, which, apart from generating discussion on whether students know them or like them and the reading micro skills they develop, can also open up the debate on how different or similar these street markets are to Peruvian ones and the reasons why they are organised in a certain way and the way people interact with them in one part of the world or another. A key principle here is that culture should not be understood simply as the “target language culture,” but as a contrast between the diverse lifestyles and views likely to appear in every teaching context.

For our students to succeed in developing communicative competence, they don’t only need grammar or isolated vocabulary but content, and this is what culture provides. When learning a language, students also have the great opportunity to learn about the way in which others think, feel and interact. This is not limited to native English speakers alone, but, since English is spoken all around the world, scenarios emerge in which speakers of other languages might also turn this language into an effective tool for cultural communication. Therefore, fostering the inclusion of culture can greatly enhance the opportunities for meaningful lessons.

Now it’s YOUR turn

Do you teach cultural aspects in you class? How do you approach it?


Mayra Yaranga (1985) has completed Doctorate studies in Education at UNIFÉ; she holds a Master’s Degree in Media, Culture and Identity from Roehampton University (London)  revalidated by PUCP, a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from UPCH and the Professional Title of Licenciada from IPNM. Currently she works as Pedagogical Specialist, Cambridge Oral Examiner  and Member of the Research Area for Universidad del Pacífico Language Centre. She is also ESP coordinator and an Associate Professor at UNIFÉ. She has published papers in the fields of English Language Teaching and Cultural Studies.