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Culture in Teaching and Learning Chinese as a Foreign Language 8.1 Introduction Culture has been a subject of discussion among researchers in the field of humanities and social sciences for centuries, yet for laypeople and even some college language teachers, it is still an abstract concept, difficult to pin down. Examining the definitions of culture in literature, we find that there are numerous ways to define and describe this elusive concept. Sapir, widely believed to be America’s most brilliant anthropologist and linguist, defines culture in the following way: The cultural conception we are now trying to grasp aims to embrace in a single term those general attitudes, views of life, and specific manifestations of civilization that give a particular people its distinctive place in the world. Emphasis is put not so much as on what is done and believed by a people as on how what is done and believed functions in the whole life of that people, on what significance it has for them. (Sapir 1949: 83) In the last several decades, students of sociology, anthropology, sociolinguistics and foreign/second language acquisition have attempted to interpret the concept of culture in relation to their own disciplines of study: Culture patterns — social facts — provide a template for all human action, growth, and understanding. Cultural models thus derive from the world in which we live, and at the same time provide a basis for the organization of activities, responses, perceptions, and experiences by the conscious self. (Rosaldo 1984: 140) Culture is difference, variability, and always a potential source of conflict when one culture enters into contact with another. (Kramsch 1993: 1) These are typical definitions of the so-called major culture or “Big C” (大文化, dà wénhuá). Some students classify culture into different types: ethnic culture, local culture, academic culture, and disciplinary culture (e.g. Flowerdew and 8 238 Teaching and Learning Chinese as a Foreign Language Miller 1995, Scollon and Scollon 1995, Lǚ 1999) and even consider teaching and learning norms as classroom culture. Hinkel (1999: 1) points out that Even within the explorations and the teaching of language, the term culture has diverse and disparate definitions that deal with forms of speech acts, rhetorical structure of text, social organizations, and knowledge constructs. Culture is sometimes identified with notions of personal space, appropriate gestures, time, and so forth. Lǚ (1999: 18) lists various types of Chinese culture from a narrow sense, or the “small C” (小文化, xiă wénhuá) labeled by some anthropologists, such as, 饮食 文化 (yĭnshí wénhuá, “food culture”), 酒文化 (jiŭ wénhuà, “liquor culture”), 茶文化 (chá wénhuá, “tea culture”), etc. Given these definitions of culture from a wide range of perspectives, it is important for language teachers to understand and narrow down the scope and content of the culture that they teach in language classes. Clearly, teachers cannot teach everything relevant to culture in language classes. For this reason, the current chapter aims to first discuss the relationship between culture and language and the connected, almost inseparable relationship between culture and language teaching and learning, and then to discuss the content of culture in teaching and learning Chinese as a foreign language (FL) and how it can be classified into the same three levels as the language skills themselves, namely, elementary, intermediate, and advanced. Sections 8.4–8.5 will demonstrate activities recommended for teaching and learning Chinese through Chinese culture; Section 8.6 discusses means of assessing students’ culture proficiency and Section 8.7 concludes this chapter with the implication of the current work, future research and practice of teaching and learning culture in the language classroom. 8.2 Culture Content and Language Proficiency Native speakers of any a given language can communicate both effectively and efficiently because they know the culture and understand the society in which they live, the people they interact with, and the social norms they are obligated to obey. When speakers of a language, including native speakers, lack knowledge in those areas, their language proficiency tends to stagnate at a certain level and cannot be further developed. Ochs and Schieffelin (1984) claim that “The process of becoming a competent member of society is realized to a large extent through language, by acquiring knowledge of its functions, social distribution, and interpretations in and across socially defined situations, i.e. through exchanges of language in particular social situations.” This is probably why national standards established by the ACTFL (1996) for foreign languages (i.e. the five goal areas: communication, culture, connections, comparisons, and...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9789882203655
Print ISBN
9789622097629
MARC Record
OCLC
650591753
Pages
336
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
N
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