TEFLChina Teahouse: Teaching: Culture:
Culture: My favorite subject! :-)
Caroline Griessen wrote (TEFL China post, 11 Jul 1998, "Teaching American Culture") :
> I would like to be able to talk about something that will be of benefit
to Chinese students
> (cultural understanding and interaction, for example) and something that I have first-hand
> experience with, but I am not sure if this is what they want to hear.
Patrick Moran, a teacher in my grad program, devised a chart that I use when I teach culture. I give it out to my students at the beginning of each course to help describe what I am going to do in the course.
I try to focus on material in Parts B, C, and D because I felt that would be more beneficial but it seemed to me that many students were more interested in what's covered in Part A (because that's the kind of material they were used to studying). If you use this, please cite the source: Patrick Moran, School for International Training, SMAT Program, 1992; sports example by Susan L. Schwartz, 1997. Another note: Some students said they would have liked to learn about other cultures in addition to US American culture.
A FRAMEWORK FOR LEARNING/TEACHING CULTURE
A) Knowing about (getting information)
1) Nature of content -- getting information
- what is the capital of the US?
- sports play an important role in American life.
2) Learning objectives -- demonstrate a mastery of the information.
3) Techniques/activities -- cultural readings; films/videotapes; recordings; realia (cultural artifacts); personal anecdotes.
- how culture is traditionally taught -- giving students information and asking them to show that they know it;
- teacher role: informant.
B) Knowing how (developing behaviors)
1) Nature of content -- skills
- buying tickets to a sports event,
- cheering for your team at a football game,
- acting and speaking like American sports fans.
2) Learning objectives: demonstrate an ability -- a fluency, an expertise, confidence, ease.
3) Techniques/activities: dialogs, role plays, simulations, field experiences.
- where communicative competence in the language and culture occurs. Students know both what to say and how to do it in a culturally appropriate manner.
- teacher role: coach or model.
C). Knowing why (discovering explanations)
1) Nature of content -- values and assumptions
- why are sports so important to Americans?
- are you making an observation or an interpretation?
- why do Americans have such sports rituals?
- how does this compare with your culture?
2) Learning objectives
- demonstrate an ability: to infer; to generalize; to suspend judgment,
- curiosity; tolerance; sensitivity; empathy.
- learners interpret and make explanations based on above activities,
- comparisons with their own culture,
- reflective writing.
- learners engage in actively using their powers of induction, analysis and intuition to draw conclusions about cultural information or experiences -- like anthropologists.
- teacher role: co-researcher or guide.
D) Knowing oneself (personalizing knowledge)
1) Nature of content -- self-awareness
- what importance do sports have in YOUR life?
- how did it feel to act like Americans do at a football game?
- would you choose to act like this?
2) Learning objectives: by behavior/statements demonstrate understanding of ones' feelings, values, opinions, attitudes, and act upon them.
- learners examine and make statements about themselves,
- reflective writing,
- feedback on above activities.
- learners themselves are the subject matter in a process of guided self-discovery, as they study their own values and their reactions to those of the culture. They decide whether or not to change.
- teacher role: counselor or guide.
I'd be interested in hearing comments about this framework. (Please post to the list, not to me privately). Roger, if you think this is useful, feel free to put it on the Teahouse web site.
Susan L. Schwartz
Formerly Wuhan and Nanjing; currently Newton, MA, USA
Re: Learning/teaching culture
Susan's classification (TEFL China post, 11 July 1998, "Learning/teaching culture") of what we are doing when we teach culture is so clear! I think we are always teaching culture, so it is a good idea to give a little thought to when and how we are teaching each of the levels Susan Schwartz outlined for us.
> B) Knowing how (developing behaviors)
> 1) Nature of content -- skills
> - buying tickets to a sports event.
> - cheering for your team at a football game.
> - acting and speaking like American sports fans. >
> 2) Learning objectives
> - demonstrate an ability: a fluency; an expertise; confidence; ease
According to the classification she gives, I do B (knowing how) in all my courses. For instance, in teaching writing students learn how to write in a western rhetorical style -- thesis statement, supporting evidence, go easy on the moral exhortations and flowery evaluative adjectives, etc. It is a matter of explaining to them that English proficiency means mastery of rhetorical forms as well as grammatical structures. They also get the "knowing how" in all their contacts with me. Knowing how to follow the rules of academic honesty, knowing how to ask questions in class when you do not understand or want to know more, knowing how to use me as a consultant on a project, etc.
> A) Knowing about (getting information)
> 1) Nature of content -- getting information
> - what is the capital of the US?
> - sports play an important role in American life.
> 2) Learning objectives
> - demonstrate a mastery of the information
My guess is that when a university says they want you to teach culture, they are thinking about Knowing About. Second year English majors usually take a course in American culture that is an overview with topics such as family, work, education, political systems. The focus is on factual information. Students expect hard data such as the percentage of high school graduates that go on to college or median family income and how much people pay in taxes, etc. If you don't have a textbook, I suggest using films and handouts. The students tend to have a lot of preconceived ideas and stereotypes, so some basic data can help to convey a message about complexity and diversity.
Films are attractive to students, but you have to teach them how to use films as a text. They are conditioned to see them as mere entertainment, at least that is my experience. I do A (Knowing About) in culture courses such as film studies. Students learn various film genres such as the western, science fiction, fantasy, etc. as well as films dealing with various aspects of Western life. I also teach a course on America in the Sixties which has a lot of social, political and popular culture content. I usually combine this with developing interpretation and analytical skills. How has the role of hero in the American western changed from Stagecoach through Unforgiven? for example. Or what were the gains and losses of Afro-Americans as a result of events of the 1960's? Or how has the Vietnam War experience continued to influence American life?
Knowing Why is one focus in the cross-cultural communication course but there is also a lot of emphasis on knowing how. It also involves knowing what. Various national cultures are compared along different dimensions such as communication style (directness, indirectness), values (collectivism, individualism), etc. and then they have case studies of cross-cultural contact and have to identify the sources of the misunderstanding and make recommendations as to how it can be improved.
How to apologize
This discussion concerns learning how (developing behaviors).
I was moved by recent events to create
a function-based lesson on the degrees of apologizing. From Leo Jones's book,
Functions of American English, we have a mostly indirect approach:
- I'm not exactly sure how to put this, but...
- I've got to apologize for...
- I'm afraid I have something to tell you...
- Um, this isn't easy to explain, but...
In addition, I added the basics -- direct and to the point:
- I'm sorry.
- I'm so sorry.
- I'm really/awfully sorry.
- I'm extremely sorry.
- I can't tell you how sorry I am.
- Can you ever forgive me?
- I just don't know what to say.
- I apologize (for what I did). I will never do it again.
- I regret what I did. It was stupid, wrong, careless (choose your adjective) It was regretful (the cop out).
I managed to video tape a snippet of the BBC TV production of "Great Expectations" where Pip must apologize to Mr. Drummell for accusing him of speaking improperly about a certain young lady. As Mr. Pip didn't like Mr. Drummell, he stood up as a gentleman should and said something to the effect, "I regret what I said..." But did he?
And then add the forgiving replies:
- Oh, that's all right; don't worry about it (said in various tones).
- It's not your fault.
- Oh, never mind. It doesn't really matter.
- Please don't blame yourself.
- I accept your apology.<
- I'm sorry, too.
Sometimes Chinese do not consider westerners' apologies to be sincere. At first this was hard for me to understand, because the westerner involved was being sincere in the western way of honestly and directly expressing feelings of regret. So then the question becomes, what do the Chinese on the receiving end of the apology consider to be sincere?
My conclusion is that for an apology to be considered sincere, it must follow the proper form. Words of regret are not always sufficient. The person apologizing must express a higher degree of respect to the offended party to restore the balance in the relationship. This may require some concrete sign of respect for the offended person (or country) and a sign of humility on the part of the person (or country) wishing to apologize.
What I find is that westerners (Americans mostly?) sometimes use a cursory apology to move past the troublesome event and on to the next thing. This is offensive to a Chinese who is paying attention to the form and not just the words of the apology. The Westerner thinks he has done enough by saying "I'm sorry" but to the Chinese these words are empty unless accompanied by proper communication of respect and humility. Communicating respect for others and humility of self is not a strong point in the American communication repertoire. This is especially true if the person apologizing is accustomed to being in a high status or dominant position in relation to the person (or country) to whom he is apologizing.
It is interesting to note that native Hong Kongers use the English word 'sorry' as a cursory apology, but if they really want to show that they are sincerely sorry, they use the appropriate Cantonese word.
Cursory though it may sound, with appropriate tone and additional intensifiers, saying "I'm sorry" in English can take on greater degrees of sincerity.
Generally American apologies have
one or more of the following three elements, in addition to "I'm sorry":
- an excuse -- I was looking at an old map.
- an offer of repair -- I'll compensate the victims.
- a promise about future actions -- It'll never happen again.
Japanese -- and I think Chinese, as well -- tend to interpret the offer of an excuse as a sign of insincerity. An excuse does not improve an apology as it does for Americans; it weakens it.
A discussion of these points usually leads to a lot of eyes lighting up in my high school classes, as the kids think of behavior they have been in American movies and not understood, or reactions from their foreign teachers to their heartfelt but very simple apologies.
Very good point, which I learned in my ten years in Asia. Any apology that only offers an excuse is no apology at all, there MUST be some action that SHOWS meaning besides just a little handwringing.
Would an apology with these elements carry any weight?
- I am truly sorry, it was a mistake.
- We will compensate you promptly...send a bill, although we know this doesn't really repay your loss.
- We fired the people responsible, all big shots.
- We put systems in place to prevent the error.
- We are open to other suggestions from you.
- We mean what we say regarding the above.
© Copyright 2000