Culture has a significant role in the process of foreign language teaching and learning since it provides students with the opportunity to discover differences towards local and foreign societies and reflect upon their cultural values. Cultural activities allow students to gain knowledge and understand the target culture in terms of beliefs, customs, traditions, and values that it represents. The implementation of suitable teaching strategies which incorporate appropriate cultural aspects and integrate the local culture as well as the target culture ensure a better learning experience for the students. Thus, the integration of culture in a foreign language classroom helps to arouse students’ motivation, raise their cultural awareness, and develop their language skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Culture is an essential element of learning a foreign language. According to Krasner (as cited in Frank, 2013) the acquisition of the linguistic forms of a language is not sufficient for learners to develop their communicative competence. The traditional language teaching limits the natural learning process, provides learners with knowledge of grammar separated from other aspects of communication, and it is based mainly on rules and deductive learning. Teachers should be aware of the importance of designing activities based on cultural aspects to enhance students’ communicative proficiency in the target language, where the students are not only learners but also users of the language. By incorporating cultural information in English language classes students acquire the language along with its culture. Cultural activities also provide students with the opportunity to develop the ability to produce real and meaningful communication in real life situations.
The role of the teacher is crucial in presenting and explaining cultural information and influencing students’ perspective towards culture learning. The integration of cultural elements in foreign language classrooms provide students with the opportunity to understand the ideas, behaviors, and literature of people who speak the language they are learning. Nevertheless, in order to understand and reflect upon the target culture, students need to understand and appreciate their own culture. According to Kramsch (as cited in Ye?il & Demiröz, 2017) students need to gain knowledge about their own culture in order to have an intercultural understanding. Thus, cultural understanding takes place when students’ own culture and the target culture are placed together in the process of language teaching. Teachers should help students to understand the importance, values, and unique qualities of their culture and how it influences every aspect of life. Classroom discussions based on cultural aspects can be effective to convey cultural information where the students are encouraged to express their ideas and knowledge regarding their culture including their unique traditions and symbols, their values as well as the behaviors and factors that reflect their culture. Moreover, to raise students’ awareness of their culture and to help them develop their communicative competence in English language, teachers can encourage students to bring authentic items to class such as musical instruments and traditional clothes and to describe how these items represent their culture.
Reading comprehension activities help students to understand the cultural background of the language they are learning as well as the differences between their culture and the target culture. The materials used for this kind of activities should contain important cultural aspects and be easy to comprehend by allowing the students to recognize, understand and analyze the foreign culture, and reflect upon the diversity among cultures. These materials include cultural stories, textbooks, traditional songs, films, newspapers, literature and so on. Teacher ‘s role in teaching the English language by using these materials is to focus on the values that they represent and stimulate students to think and learn through the target language by reading and discussing them. Choudhury (2014) states that authentic materials raise students’ curiosity and awareness towards the target culture. Teachers can encourage students to use different sources to find authentic materials which contain specific elements and interesting information about the target culture and present these characteristics in the classroom. Students can describe and evaluate what they have read and then discuss about the similarities and differences between the culture they are studying and their own culture. In this way, students gain knowledge, identify cultural values of the target culture and convey these insights to the other students.
Various techniques can be used to teach culture in foreign language classes. Role play is one of the techniques used for increasing students’ cultural understanding and awareness. Genc and Bada (2005) suggest that role plays raise not only learners’ interest and curiosity towards the target culture but their motivation as well. Role play is an effective technique in presenting authentic situations to encourage students to get involved and explore interesting aspects of the target culture where they can also use their imagination and creativity. Role plays can be used to involve students in cross-cultural misunderstandings that may be encountered in real-life situations. The teacher can guide the students by giving instructions and ideas to help them examine and present misunderstandings that arise as a result of cultural differences. Students can create scenarios to illustrate how misunderstandings among cultures take place as a result of different cultural viewpoints, behaviors, traditions, norms, and values. Then the teacher and the students can express their impressions and discuss why these conflicts arise and how they can be avoided or resolved.
Cultural activities enhance students’ interest in language learning and their communicative proficiency in the target language. Films are a useful resource which can be used for a variety of classroom activities. Teachers can use films to illustrate cultural differences and intercultural conflicts, traditions, customs, and interactions among cultures. Suitable films that provide cultural knowledge facilitate intercultural understanding and improve students’ communicative competence by enabling them to listen and observe the language they are learning. Intercultural topics presented through films help students to understand people’s actions from different cultures. According to Summerfield (as cited in Roell, 2010) learning about discrimination, ethnocentrism, and stereotypes cannot be inspiring and comprehensible if people do not experience intercultural contact with their ears and eyes. Different intercultural topics and the authentic language used in films motivate and stimulate students to think and learn through the target language.
The teaching of culture is essentially advantageous in foreign language classes since it provides students with the opportunity to understand and examine their own culture as well as the target culture and to change their attitudes towards differences among cultures. Classroom activities such as discussions and reading comprehension activities have a great impact on developing students’ language skills and increasing their cultural awareness by helping them to be competent in the foreign language. Teachers have to raise students’ awareness of their own culture as well as of the target culture by providing opportunities to recognize and explore them. Among various techniques that can be used for the teaching of culture, role play is an effective technique that increases students motivation and curiosity towards the target culture and their own by allowing them to participate in the process of language learning. Film is also a rich resource that provides cultural insights and facilitates intercultural understanding. Studying the target language should be associated with the study of its culture as well. Teachers should be aware of how a language can be properly acquired by incorporating valuable cultural aspects in language teaching that influence students’ success in the learning process.