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September (Joseph Shaules) The Intercultural Mind and the Linguaculture Classroom

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Read CH 10 of The Intercultural Mind and answer these questions in the forum:

- What do you see as the link between language and culture?
- Comment on the Discussion Quotes found on the last page of the chapter. Which do you agree/disagree with?
- How can embodied simulation inform language education?


Skim through The Linguaculture Classroom and answer these questions in the forum:

- What is linguaculture?
- What is a "phenomenological approach" to language and culture learning?
- How do you incorporate cultural learning in your language teaching?

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Many teachers will tell you that language and culture are closely related, yet have trouble articulating just what that relationship is. An understanding of how the brain creates meaning can help make that link clear, and give clues for how to incorporate cultural learning into classroom teaching. I look forward to hearing how you approach these issues in your teaching!

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The Intercultural Mind
 
It is clear that there is a link between culture and language, though it seems less obvious which one influences/shapes the other.  In some ways, I think culture influences the development of vocabulary of a language.  There seems to be vocabulary representative of the environment and the way a society has adapted to it.  Some cliché examples of this would be all of the Eskimo words for ‘snow’, Japanese words for ‘rice’.  This vocabulary would not have developed in a hot tropical country without snow, or in a climate where rice could not be harvested.  There is also some vocabulary that seems to reflect cultural values (outside of environment) such as all the Japanese words for ‘perfect’ and English words for ‘money’.  In the case of considering vocabulary, it seems that language is the result of cultural influences.  On the other hand, there is also seems likely that language can influence culture, particularly when considering the overall discourse of a language.  Turn taking, socially acceptable topics to discuss during greetings, and directness in conversation all seem to vary from language to language.  Growing up accustomed to a particular type of discourse could certainly shape the way one relates to friends, family, acquaintances, or even how one would relate to the world in general.
 
Of the discussion quotes, I identified well with Bergen’s quote:
 
‘The embodied simulations we construct when understanding language depend on the experiences that we’ve personally had. When those experiences differ systematically across cultures, this can in principle lead to the same words being interpreted differently.’
 
I think this quote is important to understand for people who teach and/or communicate across cultures.  When priming students for new materials or when emphasizing a point, we often lead our listeners with examples and imagery.  It is important to know what kind of emotional tagging or value the listener has attached to the imagery that we use.  This can be tough to do when communicating to a room of 20+ people at a time.   In my personal teaching context, I have the advantage of having students of very similar background.  They are all Japanese, between the ages 18-20, from rural areas, and they are all female.  The predictable environment of students’ shapes our curriculum design in terms of the topics and themes we cover and examples we use.  But even with all their similarities, it is clear that the students all process the information in their own way.

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4 Linguaculture on Thu Oct 02, 2014 3:00 pm

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. You bring up many different areas where culture and language are reflected in each other, and I too like that Bergen quote. In the part that I've quoted here, you say that language is the result of cultural influences and also that language can influence culture. Thinking of language and culture in terms of one influencing the other really speaks to the heart of the question "How are they related?" Is influence the right word? Or are they two sides of a same coin? Using the word influence makes it sound as though they are somehow separate. Language without culture is possible, of course, if you think of "dead" languages. The term "linguaculture" can be used to capture the sense that they are inseparable. Put differently, when language teachers separate linguaculture into component parts (by focusing, for example, on language forms such as grammatical patterns) something dies--language becomes disembodied (there's that word) from the cultural community from which it emerges.

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Thank you for your response, Joseph.  
I can appreciate the metaphor of language and culture being "two sides of the same coin". And while, I think studying grammar for SLA is an important component, as a communicative tool, language goes beyond grammar.  I agree...
Though, I feel this brings the concept of cultural ownership of English (as an international language) into question.  Once upon a time, we could have said that English belonged to England.  And for an even shorter period of time, one could have argued that the US was the main English speaking country, influencing international entertainments, the internet, and global economy.  However, anymore, English as a lingua franca does not belong strictly to any one country. There are so many countries in the world that use English as one of their official languages, and English native speakers around the world who live in culturally different backgrounds. As a TESOL teacher, I find that I walk a fine line connecting English to culture without asserting any cultural authority over other countries that use English.  What do you think of the culture of English as a lingua franca?

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Linguaculture Classroom
 
After reading the Linguaculture Classroom, I have the following impressions of the topic:  Linguaculture is a perspective that language and culture are part of the same learning process.   The Phenomenological Aproach to Learning (PAL) is a way of conceptualizing language and culture learning as one in the same learning process.  It places the learner’s experience as central in this approach and it questions the learner’s relationship to foreign languages, cultures and their own learning process.   Shaules outlines the elements of a Linguaculture Classroom with vision, a roadmap and community.  The vision is the learning objectives, the roadmap is how the learning activities relate to the objectives, and the community represents the learners working together toward their shared vision (objectives).
 
The paper, Linguaculture Classroom, covers an enormous topic in one paper.  I am sure that each person who reads it might walk away wanting to have read more about a related subject.  For me, I was interested in reading more about the ‘cognitive architecture’ that resists, then grows with the learning experience.  How is the cognitive architecture challenged?  Which functions of the brain are troubled with processing a new culture and language?  How would this experience vary when studying a language in one’s native country as opposed to overseas?  Do epigenetic influences aid in this learning process?  If so, wouldn’t this have different implications for students who are studying in their home country as opposed to studying abroad?  What implications does this have for a classroom or a curriculum?
 
As far as my own working culture is concerned, I think there are many ways my collegues and I incorporate culture into the learning process without even premeditating it.  The other language teachers in my department are from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.  We all share in common a ‘western’ way of engaging students and eliciting output.  As a result, our lessons are often supported by opinionated discussions, group work, asking the students questions, and high expectations for homework.  These are some classroom dynamics that I believe are cultural, though they were not planned to be.  On a lighter note, culture is incorporated into our classes with activities for the holidays that the teachers all have in common (Christmas, Halloween).
 

(I am sorry this post is so late!)

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7 Culture of English as a lingua franca on Wed Oct 08, 2014 6:33 am

Semmelroth wrote:Thank you for your response, Joseph.  
I can appreciate the metaphor of language and culture being "two sides of the same coin". And while, I think studying grammar for SLA is an important component, as a communicative tool, language goes beyond grammar.  I agree...
Though, I feel this brings the concept of cultural ownership of English (as an international language) into question.  Once upon a time, we could have said that English belonged to England.  And for an even shorter period of time, one could have argued that the US was the main English speaking country, influencing international entertainments, the internet, and global economy.  However, anymore, English as a lingua franca does not belong strictly to any one country. There are so many countries in the world that use English as one of their official languages, and English native speakers around the world who live in culturally different backgrounds. As a TESOL teacher, I find that I walk a fine line connecting English to culture without asserting any cultural authority over other countries that use English.  What do you think of the culture of English as a lingua franca?
Very important point. Many teachers get stuck on the idea that including culture in a language class entails providing students with some sort of expertise about a particular cultural community. This is an attempt to turn culture into content, much as we turn language into content when we teach grammatical rules. If this is one's starting point, it will feel rather hopeless to teach culture in the context of English as an international language or lingua franca. In practice, however, it's very difficult to turn culture into content, even if we know where students will be using English. It's very difficult to talk about "American culture" or "Australian culture" in a way which doesn't trivialize or overgeneralize. (I think it can be done, but it's not easy.) I think, however, that we can flip this whole argument on its head. If we are teaching English as a lingua franca, then we are FORCED to focus not on culture as content, but on the culture learning process itself. The basic stance is: whenever you use English outside the classroom, you will be dealing with foreign situations. As an English learner, you need to be ready for that. "Being ready" includes reflecting on one's feelings about English, one's sense of self when using English, an understanding of cultural adjustment stresses, an understanding that the nervousness one feels in classroom English practice is closely related to the stresses of using English in the "real world", the existence of culture difference, the need to understand and explain one's own cultural background, and on and on. The classroom can then be characterized as a sort of cultural learning zone where we have a chance to deal with these issues in a safe space. That means focussing on reflective activities that get students thinking about their own learning processes. In my experience, students feel that there is something somehow wrong with them if they feel nervous using English. On the contrary, I tell them, feeling stress as one experiments with a foreign way of communicating is a profound cultural learning process. In my own teaching, I am GLAD to be teaching English as a lingua franca because it allows me to tell students that they have to be prepared to use English in many different sorts of foreign environments and situations. I don't want to be limited to trying to reduce culture to a skill or set of things to know. To my mind, cultural learning is much more profound than that.

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Semmelroth wrote:Linguaculture Classroom
 
After reading the Linguaculture Classroom, I have the following impressions of the topic:  Linguaculture is a perspective that language and culture are part of the same learning process.   The Phenomenological Aproach to Learning (PAL) is a way of conceptualizing language and culture learning as one in the same learning process.  It places the learner’s experience as central in this approach and it questions the learner’s relationship to foreign languages, cultures and their own learning process.   Shaules outlines the elements of a Linguaculture Classroom with vision, a roadmap and community.  The vision is the learning objectives, the roadmap is how the learning activities relate to the objectives, and the community represents the learners working together toward their shared vision (objectives).
 
The paper, Linguaculture Classroom, covers an enormous topic in one paper.  I am sure that each person who reads it might walk away wanting to have read more about a related subject.  For me, I was interested in reading more about the ‘cognitive architecture’ that resists, then grows with the learning experience.  How is the cognitive architecture challenged?  Which functions of the brain are troubled with processing a new culture and language?  How would this experience vary when studying a language in one’s native country as opposed to overseas?  Do epigenetic influences aid in this learning process?  If so, wouldn’t this have different implications for students who are studying in their home country as opposed to studying abroad?  What implications does this have for a classroom or a curriculum?
 
As far as my own working culture is concerned, I think there are many ways my collegues and I incorporate culture into the learning process without even premeditating it.  The other language teachers in my department are from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.  We all share in common a ‘western’ way of engaging students and eliciting output.  As a result, our lessons are often supported by opinionated discussions, group work, asking the students questions, and high expectations for homework.  These are some classroom dynamics that I believe are cultural, though they were not planned to be.  On a lighter note, culture is incorporated into our classes with activities for the holidays that the teachers all have in common (Christmas, Halloween).
 
   
(I am sorry this post is so late!)
Thanks for your insightful review and feedback. You picked up on some important points. First of all, you are absolutely right that it tries to cover an enormous topic in a very short space. It really is a book-length topic, and many areas could be elaborated on more fully. I am, in fact, now in discussions with a publisher to write a book about the linguaculture approach. I have yet to decide if I should cut this paper down by reducing its scope. As for the "cognitive architecture" that resists and grows, this topic is talked about by different specialists in different ways: open systems theory, foreign language self, motivation studies. I have been dissatisfied with much that is written in that area for reasons that are more complicated than I can explain here. Perhaps the person whose writing in this area that jibes most closely with my intuition about it is that of Earl Stevick. He is sometimes described as having a humanist approach to language education. He puts the learners struggle to maintain and develop a positive sense of self while learning a foreign language as a central concern. I'm thinking in particular of the first chapter of "Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways" in which he talks about his view of the language learner.

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