Language Matters: Culture Clash

Language helps define a culture, and cultures are profoundly influenced by language.  It’s important to ask, then: Is it possible to teach only a language, and not the culture that goes with it?

An article in the Saudi Gazette addresses this question, referencing a recent controversy about some Western cultural elements in the English textbooks at a Saudi university.

“Teach the English language, not the culture,” some people say.  Knowledge of English is important in today’s world, but not at the cost of losing the values and practices of one’s home culture.

Others, like the author of the article mentioned above, take a different view.  Understanding the culture of a language is necessary to master that language.  Without cultural competence, messages and situations can be misunderstood and communication breaks down.

That doesn’t mean that language learners must adopt the cultural values of their adopted language; they must only understand them.  In fact, cultural competence may make it easier for English language learners to stay true to their cultural roots and allow them to better explain their culture to native English speakers.

What do you think?  Should language be taught without cultural influence?  Or is understanding other cultures a necessity when learning to communicate in our globalized world?

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