Teaching culture is an integral part of teaching a language.  They are intricately woven together.  In order to communicate clearly and effectively in any language, learners must have knowledge of the language’s vocabulary, grammar, when and how to use them appropriately (function), and the corresponding body language.

Students also need to be able to read and make accurate assumptions about the other person’s meaning by evaluating his/her verbal and non-verbal cues.  When one is gauging the appropriateness of language and behaviour, culture must be considered.

It would be impossible to explain, for example, how to talk to a potential employer without talking about both the language and its culture.

Student Motivation

One of the many benefits of teaching culture with language is that it intensifies students’ motivation.  Teaching culture allows students to “feel, touch, smell, and see the foreign peoples and not just hear their language” (Peck, 1998, p.3).

Short of traveling abroad to visit or live in a foreign country, the language learners’ experience becomes more real and authentic.

Part I will explore how teachers can prepare themselves to teach culture in the language classroom.  Part II will conclude with a selection of classroom activities that are specifically geared to help students develop their language skills and cultural knowledge at the same time.

How Can Teachers Prepare to Teach Culture to Language Learners?

Language teachers can prepare themselves by being knowledgeable about their own as well as their students’ culture.  Reading books that are written purposely to explain a certain culture and travelling are great ways to become culturally aware.  Asking questions and talking to successful bilinguals is another effective way.

Successful bilinguals are individuals who speak two or more languages and feel very comfortable in each of them. They are an invaluable resource because they have intercultural insights and knowledge (Alptekin, 2002) that may not be as readily available in monolinguals.

This preparation is essential because teachers are often the students’ main model and source of information about language.  For this reason, it is critical that teachers present cultural facts in a way that does not place a higher value on the students’ own culture (Peterson & Coltrane, 2003).

Learning about another language should be an enriching experience and contribute to the learner’s positive sense of self.  Supporting students in the realization that all cultures are different and equally important is a step in that direction.

Related reading:

Teaching Culture Part II – Activities

TESOL in Canada: The Cultural Considerations – The Classroom Outside the Classroom

OnTESOL – Online TESOL courses.


Alptekin, C. (2002).  Towards intercultural communicative competence in ELT.  ELT Journal, 56(1), 57-64.

Peck, D. (1998).  Teaching Culture: Beyond Language. Retrieved July 23, 2003, from yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1984/3/84.03.06.x.html

Peterson, E. & Coltrane, B. (2003, December). Culture in second language teaching. CAL Digest, 3(9), 1-6. Retrieved January 22, 2006, from cal.org/resources/digest/0309peterson.html

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