A language is the expression of a whole culture; it is a way of understanding the world and organising the relationships among people. Hence, learning a foreign language means learning both a linguistic code and cultural elements. Foreign language teaching must introduce students to the most outstanding social and cultural aspects of a country and help them to develop attitudes of tolerance and respect because, as stated by Crystal, if a student perceives a country or culture to be unpleasant for whatever reason, the negative attitude is likely to influence language learning achievement.
This topic can be considered of paramount importance since effective communication in a foreign language is more than elaborating grammatically correct sentences; it also involves the appreciation and respect of its speakers and their culture. The Foreign Language Curriculum for Primary Education emphasizes the significance of this topic by including in its objectives the value of the foreign language as a vehicle of communication and understanding among people with diverse origins and cultures.
Why Learn Foreign Languages at School?
Learning a foreign language is necessary nowadays. According to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Foreign Language Teaching must be increased and diversified. If possible, children must learn more than one language. There are several reasons why foreign languages must be promoted at school:
1. Sociological reasons: Learning FL allow students to access a wider range of professions, to improve their channels of information and to communicate with people from different countries.
2. Educational reasons: Learning foreign languages will deepen the knowledge of the mother tongue and improve the students’ general communicative competence.
3. Cognitive reasons: Children discover that what they have learnt in their mother tongue can be expressed similarly in other languages. This develops their cognitive capacity.
4. Linguistic reasons: Children are better prepared to learn a language than adults at an auditory and phonological level; their oral understanding and pronunciation are better.
5. Affective reasons: Children’s spontaneity is very useful when they are learning a foreign language.
Current Languages
– Indo-European Languages: descend from a common linguistic trunk whose influence expanded from India to Europe. They are divided into twelve branches; being the most important:
1. The Germanic Branch: It includes languages such as English, German or Dutch.
2. The Italic Branch: These languages are all derived from Latin, like Spanish, French or Italian.
– There are other Linguistic Trunks nowadays, like Caucasian or Semitic.
– Other Languages such as Japanese or Korean do not have similarities with other languages.
The existence of a common linguistic trunk makes it easier for children to learn foreign languages, since they can apply the knowledge of their mother tongue to the learning of languages that have similar features.
Creation of an International Language
Language is the main means of human communication, although it also constitutes the main barrier. The existence of so many languages prevents people from understanding each other. However, a common language is necessary in a global world like ours. Three possible solutions have been suggested for the creation of an international language: The adoption of a dead language, for example Latin; The creation of an artificial language, such as Esperanto; The use of an existing language as a lingua franca.
English as a Lingua Franca
A lingua franca is the use of a common language by speakers of different mother tongues. History
demonstrates that there have precedents in the idea of using a foreign language to exchange ideas. In
the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, Latin was the language used. From the 18th century
onwards, French was used in international diplomacy, and since the 19th century English has progressively
gained status as an international language and nowadays its hegemony is unquestionable.
The importance of English as a lingua franca is demonstrated in many fields: politics, economy, culture,
sports, education, technology…
1. The UNESCO estimates that English is spoken in more than 60 countries and it is well-established in
all five continents and more than 750 million people speak English.
2. English is the language of the most important world institutions, like UNESCO
3. English is the language of business, it is widely used in literature, cinema, music, television and
radio and also it is the language of scientific and technological advances.
4. Millions of children in the world study English in Primary Education.
5. It’s been estimated that about 20,000 English words spread into other languages every year.
From the point of view of international communication the substitution of languages with a small
expansion by languages widely spoken is a cultural advantage. Linguistic minorities need to learn an
international language for their integration, so this fact may also be considered as another cultural
For the linguistic, on the contrary, the disappearance of a language implies the loss of useful materials for
its study. But this disappearance means something more important at a social and human level; it is the
loss of a way of thinking and interpreting the world. So, the loss of a language cannot be compensated
by the expansion of any other.
However, there are many reasons to support the existence of a lingua franca:
1. It facilitates international relationships at social, economic, cultural and political levels.
2. It favours tolerance and respect towards a different culture. Learning a language broadens the
mind and helps children to overcome their innate egocentrism.
3. It increases self-confidence.
4. It increases respect for the mother tongue.
It has been demonstrated that language learning promotes understanding, tolerance and respect for the
cultural identity, rights and values of others. Foreign Language learning also broadens our minds,
because we encounter other ways of thinking and also helps children to overcome egocentrism, which is
typical of this age. In this sense, foreign language teaching has an essential role in preparing our pupils
to cope with an ever-changing environment. It is also adequate to say that learning a foreign language
is one way to fully appreciate one’s own language.
On the other hand, Foreign Language learning fosters the development of attitudes that are very
important to the child’s education:
– Interest in travelling to places in which the Foreign Language is spoken
– Reading information about the people and habits of those countries
– Interest in traditions and habits of any other different culture
– Acceptance of the people coming from other countries (emigrants)
– Interest in the events happening outside their countries
To realize the value of language as communication, learners must have the experience of
communicating in that language. The Communicative Approach is a method that emphasizes
communication and real-life situations. The goal is for students to communicate their needs and thoughts,
without worrying about perfect grammar.
Communicative activities are tasks and exercises that students carry out for real communication. They
focus more on the message than on the linguistic features of the language. According to the
Communicative Approach, the practise of communicative activities will produce an unconscious
learning of the structures of the language. Some examples of oral communicative activities are
information-gap activities, role-play, problem-solving or communicative games. To practise written
communication we can ask our students to write letters, greeting cards, notes, recipes, e-mails, filling in
Communicating in a language is a complex activity that implies using the following skills appropriately:
listening, speaking, reading and writing. Our current educational system establishes that learning a
language in Primary Education has a practical objective: to be able to communicate. Therefore, the four
skills must be taught from a communicative point of view, students must have a motive for listening,
speaking, reading or writing. The best way to do this is to use the language as an instrument of
communication from the very beginning, and teaching the language in a natural way.
The main purpose of teaching languages is that students acquire communicative competence. One of
the competences derived from this is socio-cultural competence. Students must be aware of the cultural
background of the language they are learning in order to communicate appropriately. In fact, students
cannot truly master the language until they have also mastered the cultural contexts in which the
language occurs.
Culture and communication are inseparable because culture not only dictates who talks to whom, about
what and how communication progresses, it also helps to determine how people encode messages and
the conditions and circumstances under which various messages may or may not be sent or interpreted.
Culture is the basis of communication.
In addition to enriching communicative competence, socio-cultural competence can also lead to
empathy and respect towards different cultures. The aim of teaching culture is to develop students’
curiosity towards the target language and culture and their users, helping them to make comparisons
among cultures.
In Primary Education, the teacher will give information which is close to the children’s world so that they
become interested in the new culture. Pupils will often learn a range of details about the target culture,
especially everyday life, songs, rhymes, stories, special festivals and celebrations. In addition to these
aspects of daily life, certain geographical or historical aspects may appear naturally in text books and
other materials. These are some of the aspects that we can work on class: geographical, historical and
Geographical Aspects
The teaching of geographical aspects includes the knowledge of the main English-speaking countries,
capitals and cities, weather, population… These resources can be used to teach geographical aspects:
Maps (locate the main countries where English is official language, as well as important cities), Flags
(match nationalities and countries with their flag), Puzzles (of Great Britain or the USA by cutting its parts
into pieces, so that students can join them later), Listenings (listening to a weather forecast while
completing a map)
Historical Aspects
In Primary, children can learn about historical characters or events, like Henry VIII and his wives, Queen
Victoria and British Imperialism, the great writer William Shakespeare, the American War of
Independence… We can use comics, texts, songs, videos and films of historical background…
Cultural Aspects
Cultural aspects in Primary Education include a variety of topics: Courtesy formulas and their use in each
situation, Education(Types of schools, uniforms, subjects, classrooms…), Food and drink (English breakfast,
pancakes, tea…), Houses (Children can learn about the different types of houses like detached, semidetached
and terraced houses, their characteristics and distribution), Money(Children must be familiar
with British and American money, and with the value in Euros), Names (It’s important that they know a
variety of Anglo-Saxon names, not just the most frequent), Festivals (Children must know about traditional
festivals such as Halloween, Bonfire Night, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, Easter, St Valentine’s Day… as well
as vocabulary related to them: cracker, Christmas card, candle, Easter egg…), Music (we can use
different types of music: tailor-made songs, popular and traditional songs or international hits) and
Monuments (Students will have seen in movies many monuments of Great Britain or the USA. We can
reinforce and enlarge this knowledge through pictures, postcards, videotapes…)
From the first day, teachers are expected to bring in the class posters, pictures and other realia in order to
help students develop a ‘mental image’ of the target culture (Peck, 1998). The main activities and
materials for teaching culture include: Realia (Using real objects from the country increases students’
motivation and helps to engage them in authentic cultural experiences. Films, television shows, web sites,
photographs, magazines, newspapers, restaurant menus, leaflets, tickets, money or labels can be used
too), Songs, rhymes and stories: (a very appropriate way to introduce historical, traditional or social
elements through them), Proverbs ( reflect historical and cultural background), Role-play (Each student
plays a role in a specific situation. They are useful to practise social conventions, like greetings, asking for
something, thanking… ),Projects (Students work on a topic, using the knowledge they already have and
looking for more information about it), Recipes: (useful to practise food and drink, and are also
connected with celebrations), Celebrations in class (Celebrating British or American festivals, like
Halloween, Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day or Easter), Making contact with real people (Older pupils can
be encouraged to interview native speakers, writing requests for information, writing to pen friends… ).
Our foreign language students want to feel, touch, smell and see the foreign peoples and not just hear
their language (Peck, 1998). The accent in the language classroom must be on cultural experience
rather than on cultural awareness.
To conclude, the main aim of this essay is to put forward two basic ideas. Firstly, that culture is an integral
part of language acquisition. In this case, the acquisition of English as a Foreign Language. Cultural
understanding and cross -cultural comparisons, on the other hand, are necessary components of
language pedagogy. The overall idea is that there is no clear division between language and culture
acquisition, so the in essence ‘second language learning’ becomes ‘second culture learning’. And
secondly, language learning will broaden the minds of our young learners, because they will encounter
other ways of thinking about things, and it is also one good way to help them fully appreciate their own