World Languages Mandarin Chinese - World: Guānxì Resource Center

Language Instruction and Student Engagement - Cultural Connections

Language is considered by many scholars-such as linguists, cognitive scientists, evolutionary biologists, anthropologists, and others-to be a result of human beings’ need to cooperate with each other in order to survive. Language, whether spoken, written, or gestural (as in sign language), is a fundamental part of human social interaction.

The term culture, as it relates to language acquisition, refers to the totality of learned behaviors that have evolved based on the perspectives and experiences that allowed a particular group to survive. These behaviors have, therefore, become the norm for that particular group of people. This includes practices such as language, religion, cuisine, music, government, etc., along with the products of the culture’s people such as architecture, furniture, or clothing. Culture matters in the acquisition of language for many reasons, but especially as related to communicative competence and pragmatics: understanding cultural allusions; knowing when and how to say what you want to communicate; and correctly gauging when to change registers depending on audience and purpose.

Excellent world language teachers embed cultural connections in their lessons and go far beyond the “fun, food, and fiestas” that exemplify a superficial approach to diversity and cultural sensitivity. Bruce Baron, a principal in Irvine, California, is quoted by Marcia Brechtel, co-founder of Project GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Design), as saying “People don’t learn cultural sensitivity and respect by celebrating Cinco de Mayo.” He said such activities simply result in “fat, happy teachers who can sing and dance.” Marcia states, in her book, Bringing it all together: language and literacy in the multilingual classroom, “Respect is engendered when students learn to work together successfully and get to know each other beyond the stereotypes they bring to the classroom.” For language teachers in largely homogeneous classrooms, the important thing is to provide opportunities for students to see the speakers of the target language as interesting human beings whose ways and histories are respected.

As it says in the California Foreign Language Project’s toolbox for the California world language standards, the issue of cultures refers to:

The effective language teacher creates a miniature cultural environment within the four walls of the classroom so that students may experience, vicariously, the cultural perspectives of the target language. This can be promoted by the use of sensory learning through realia, photographs, simulations, skits, music, art, drama, and even food!

Cross-cultural encounters, even vicarious ones, can provide opportunities for personal growth by placing students in situations where their understanding of themselves and the world are confronted and differences are highlighted. Students may feel confused or offended when the way they believe things “are” or “should be” are challenged. This kind of knowledge is likely to lead to personal growth, especially if the student goes on to travel outside the comfort zone of his/her home country.

Human Culture
This Web site presents an in-depth description of culture to shed light on what we mean when we talk about “culture.”

Culture as an Iceberg
The metaphor of an iceberg is sometimes used to describe culture to highlight the visible signs or behavior we observe (as being above the surface of the water) and the underlying, more subtle characteristics which may not be visible or apparent (thus, beneath the water’s surface).

Deep Culture’s Influence on Communicative Behavior
This article aptly describes the powerful influence culture has on communicative behavior.

Language Acquisition

How students reach competence in a new language to listen, speak, read, and write at high levels of proficiency.

Curriculum Development

Sample units for elementary, middle, and high school Mandarin Chinese classes developed based on the California K-12 world language standards.

Language Instruction and Student Engagement

Video clips and other information to illustrate best practices in language teaching, specifically demonstrating lessons in the WORLD: Guānxì curriculum units.

Administrative Support

Resources and information to assist school and district administrators in planning, implementing, and improving Mandarin Chinese programs.

Chinese Teacher Exchange Program

Interviews, information, and resources from a program in San Diego County with 18 years of experience hosting guest teachers from a sister school in China.
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