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Second Culture Teaching and Learning

An Introduction

Thomas Szende

This monograph offers an incisive analysis of how the second language learner can achieve cultural proficiency, which is more than a set of rules and facts to be memorized by rote. How can the cultural dimension be taken into account, among the many choices of instructional material and language assessment tools? Is it possible to distinguish levels of cultural competence? How can the degree of cultural proximity between the source language and the target language influence the acquisition process? What strategies should be implemented in order to decode any cultural pitfalls? This handy guide addresses these and many other frequently asked questions underpinning language teaching methodology.
Illustrated with a broad range of classroom-based examples, this book presents language as inextricably intertwined with social relations. The variety of languages involved (Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Hungarian, French and English) makes the volume especially attractive for language educators seeking effective teaching strategies in specific local contexts around the globe.
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7 Culture: Pedagogical Challenges

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7.  Culture: Pedagogical Challenges

7.1  The Classroom

7.1.1  A Strange Meeting Indeed!

Are speakers and interlocutors effective in class? Is the language classroom a pure isolated fiction of the world? How can it be explained that unlikely themes and communication situations within them can be elevated to the rank of existential stakes? Foreign language learning seems to create an imbalance between intellectual capacities and linguistic skills which in the native language generally go hand in hand, whereas “one risks appearing like an overgrown child” when seeking to express oneself in the foreign language (Defays & Deltour, 2006: 14).

Seen from the exterior, and cut off from the real world, a language classroom can be assimilated to a “delirious” type of meeting indeed (Medgyes & Major, 2004: 182). The sociologist Bourdieu is supposed to have said one day “The language classroom is a class in which one speaks without saying anything”.1 This thought, that might be considered humorous, does not seem to represent reality completely. What characterizes institutional language learning more particularly is the absence of risks of misunderstandings, in a protected space, indeed a space of communication that is apparently “non problematic” (Kramsch, 1993: 43). Through compression of space and time, the classroom creates, in an artificial manner, conditions of knowledge appropriation. However, it also appears as a privileged place of interaction with variable communication networks and configurations between learner/teacher and learner / learner. This last point is of particular importance:...

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