While learning a new language is proven to increase your IQ, few people actually go into the language-learning experience to do so. Most people decide to learn one because they are interested in the culture, they have to learn one for school or work, or they simply wish to travel to a region where that language is spoken. A language is so much more than its grammar and vocabulary, however. Learning straight from a textbook will give you enough knowledge to pass a test or to be able to read a text, but if you truly want to enrich your life, you must learn about the language’s culture as well.
Culture and the Classroom
While culture is often taught implicitly, it is important to feature certain cultural aspects as the explicit topic of classroom instruction and discussion. Through film and TV, role playing, research into social behavior and politics, and similar exercises, English classes help students to grasp the cultural foundations of the language. Students should eventually become familiar with a range of different cultural behaviors and expectations, as there are many acceptable interactions for any singular situation.
Observe and explore different interactions to find your own perspective of the learned language. Watch videos of native speakers to assess non-verbal behaviors (personal space, eye contact, hand gestures) and listen to the radio to learn a dialect’s specific cadence, as well as how the words flow or are emphasized. Both of these exercises can also increase your listening skills! You can even cook a meal or celebrate a holiday from the target language. While these activities don’t initially seem very thought provoking, there are little tidbits of information about a culture’s values and norms hidden within these practices. Also, don’t be afraid to look to your foreign acquaintances as a valuable source of information about their culture.
While those who just learn straight vocabulary may be able to ace the class, or even speak fluently for a time, studies have shown that in order to obtain true and long-lasting mastery, you have to have the context. Culture shapes how people speak and how they interact, especially in their everyday lives. Whether it’s offering the correct greeting or expressing a variety of emotions, culture is the key to retention of the learned language.