There are many strategies in the Communicative Approach that ESL teachers could employ to teach language and culture at the same time. What’s important to keep in mind is that the two should be taught simultaneously and at all levels of learning. Learners begin by becoming familiar with the new culture, progressively moving toward comparisons between cultures, and eventually gaining an in-depth knowledge of both (Sellami, 2000). The classroom activities described below teach language and culture simultaneously; however, all language lessons have an element of culture in them.
Use Materials That Engage a Variety of Learning Styles – Communicative Approach TESOL
Materials that are visual, auditory, tactile, or experiential add a dimension of reality to the language and cultural learning that a textbook alone cannot provide. Authentic materials, such as stories, videos, songs, and magazines, are excellent sources and accessible by all levels. For example, “Shaune the Sheep” is a series that can be used with beginner students. The show has no dialogue, so students do not have to worry about not hearing key information. Besides eliciting vocabulary based on what students see on the screen, the teacher should also ask questions regarding the meaning behind the characters’ body language. This can be an effective way of introducing various aspects of a new culture to beginner students.
Capitalizing on the Internet – Communicative Approach TESOL
The Internet is a window to the world’s cultures to which students can have direct access. In addition to videos, pictures, websites, and articles, the Internet gives students the opportunity to communicate with other fluent speakers of the language they are learning, which is particularly useful for foreign language learners. One caveat is that teachers need to be aware of the potential drawbacks of using this resource in the language classroom, such as cyber predators and bullying.
An activity for higher-level students using the Internet could be lifestyle- or entertainment-themed news clips from MSNBC, ABC.com, CBC.com, or BBC.com, etc. They are often peppered with phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions that require cultural knowledge in order to fully comprehend the material. This is how the media communicates with the public so that it sounds professional but is still expressed in a way that a wide range of audiences could relate. Students can practice language skills through comprehension and technical exercises. They can be made aware of the culture through the clip’s content as well as analysing how the clip is produced by creating their own news clip.
Cultural Presentations – Communicative Approach TESOL
Cultural presentations are an excellent way to motivate students to learn about the culture of the language they are studying. Students can work in groups to do the research and create a presentation to share their learning with the class. In this process, students come into contact with a wealth of information about the culture and become exposed to the wide variety of vocabulary needed to talk about it. This can be a starting point in which students begin to make explicit comparisons between cultures. The activity also serves as way to dispel myths and popular stereotypes, supporting students to realise that there is much more to culture than what they see on television. Topics could include food, music, art, stories, traditional clothing, etc.
Presentations on Cultural Misunderstandings – Communicative Approach TESOL
This activity would teach students to think from multiple cultural perspectives and increase their cultural awareness. Learners are presented with a scene or dialogue involving a cultural misunderstanding that, in real life, could result in confusion, frustration, and even anger between the people involved (Shumin, 1997). Students could discuss how and why the communication broke down by looking the situation from each person’s point of view. They could then work together to figure out a way to clear-up the miscommunication using their knowledge about the various cultures involved. The entire incident, from miscommunication to resolution, could be role-played in front of the class.
This activity is probably suitable for more advanced language learners because it requires students to be aware of their own culture and have a depth of knowledge about the other culture to make comparisons. They would also need to access a wide range of language that would be appropriate for the situation.
Recommended reading on using the Communicative Approach:
Sellami, A. B. (2000, March 14-18). Teaching towards cultural awareness and intercultural competence: From What through How to Why culture is? Paper presented at the Annual Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Abstract retrieved January 16, 2006 from eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2/content_storage_01/0000000b/80/23/53/f8.pdf
Shumin, K. (1997). Factors to consider: Developing adult EFL students’ speaking abilities. FORUM, 35, 3, 1-11. Retrieved July 23, 2002 from exchanges.state.gov/forum/vols/vol35/no3/p8.htm