Cultural Awareness

Our world is becoming more and more globalized. It means that we are living in one community with a great number of connections between people from various countries and cultures. Our adult students look for a job abroad and children look forward to entering foreign universities. We as teachers should always bare this globalism in mind and not only teach language, but also prepare our students for meeting people from all walks of life. Today cultural awareness is considered one of the 21st-century skills which also contain critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and digital literacy.

How can we develop cultural awareness?

It goes without saying that the best way to do this is using authentic materials. It is essential to provide students with all sorts of materials: articles, videos, books, video games. These sources are oldie-goldies. Today the Internet gives us far more ways to seek authenticity.

Music can be used to teach students not only vocabulary or grammar but also make them think about the story behind it.

For example, citizens of the USA are proud of their country and often sing about it, as Frank Sinatra sang about his passion and fascination for American big cities. In “Chicago” the lyrics are quite obvious: it is a love song from a man to his native city and America in general. “I’ll show you around”, “I love it”, “this great street”, “the time of your life” sound like a promise of happiness, fun, and freedom.

Also, you can use instrumental music. Pair your students and divide into As and Bs. Ask As to concentrate on one instrument, Bs on the others. Give them questions to think about:

What is the story behind this music?

What picture would you choose to illustrate it?

What piece of music from your culture do you associate it with?

What do you feel when you hear it?

How can it be different from people from the country it originates from?

These questions make students think critically, analyze similarities and differences and become more empathetic to other cultures.

Films give a more vibrant picture. They show people using language, but these pictures can hardly reflect reality. They usually show an idealized picture. It is more useful in this case to look for videos of ordinary people. You could use VoxPops, YouTube and bloggers’ videos to show real life to our students.

For example, the British are famous for being too polite to speak one’s mind and this video will help your students understand what the Brits actually mean saying different phrases:

or use this video to show another strange British trait:

One more idea: choose videos where people are talking about their everyday life, religion, music, clothes, traditions, and beliefs. Tell students what the video is about. Let them make a list of questions that they think are going to be answered in the video. This gives them an opportunity to predict the content. Watch the video and check their ideas. You can also use the KWL method for this task.  

Websites can be handy. By websites we mean authentic sites which native speakers use for ordering food (sainsburys), buying gadgets (bestbuy) or booking a hotel (tripadvisor).

Food: Our students can find themselves unprepared for ordering food, despite having learnt the topic of Food and Booking a table or Making an order at a restaurant.

— Look inside a menu: Hearty Chicken Soup, Baked Egg Whites, Lentil Soup, Baked Meatball Lollipops, Chicken Fingers are absolutely not the things course books teach.

— Give them a website of a supermarket to order some food for the party.

— Ask them to compare the prices for the same items in their local shop and in an American, British, Australian supermarket.

— Ask them to analyze the differences.

Hotels: teach them how to book a hotel on a foreign website.

— Read the reviews of native speakers for the place they have visited.

— Ask them to read reviews of some Russian places and compare with their own experience.

— Analyze mistakes in reviews.

— Teach how to write a review on a website.

Role-play is also considered an effective way of teaching this aspect of 21st-century skills. Authentic materials such as concert tickets, menus, and newspaper can be used to introduce the culture based on real-life situations. This type of tasks makes student emphatic, creative and imaginative. They should accept the rules of a country (politeness, body language and gestures) to make their communication successful enough to tackle the task. Students can act out examples of misinterpretation that result from cultural differences. For example, students can think of why communication has failed fail between people from different cultures and come up with ways to eliminate misunderstanding in real life.

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