|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||16. Nr.||März 2006|
Lenka Kučírková (Czech University of Agriculture in Prague)
We live in a world where cultures are increasingly coming into contact with one another. Through such processes as globalization and European integration this is going to happen more and more, and these contacts are mainly mediated through language. The culture in which each of us lives influences and shapes our feelings, attitudes, and responses to our experiences and interactions with others. Our culture teaches us how to interpret the world, because it is through our culture that we have knowledge, beliefs, values, views and behaviors which we share with others with the same cultural heritage.
Our culture also teaches us what is right and what is wrong behavior, how close to stand to strangers, when to speak, how to greet, etc. As each culture has a unique way of approaching these situations, we find great diversity in behavior throughout the world. Learning about cultural diversity provides students with knowledge and skills for more effective communication in intercultural situations. Knowledge of cultural differences and self-knowledge of how we usually react to those differences can make us aware of hidden prejudices and stereotypes, which are barriers to tolerance, understanding and good communication.
Culture has assumed an important place in foreign language teaching; it is a significant and a key part of it. Every language makes sense in a certain context, and culture belongs among the most important facets of the context in which the language is used. When the students start to learn a foreign language, it is clear that culture is automatically included in the teaching.
For this reason, simply learning the meanings of words and grammatical structures is not sufficient for achieving active mastery of a language as the means of understanding the culture. Rather it is necessary to get to know the world that provides the context for the language being acquired.. It follows that it is necessary to learn the culture by means of the language and the language by means of the culture.
In this age of globalization and transnationalism, there is an increasing need for graduates who can easily communicate in multi-national contexts and are at ease with different cultures.
The Czech University of Agriculture has been fully involved in the international cooperation of universities and scientific organizations, in student and staff exchange programmes, focusing mainly on the European Union. The activities have been focused in particular on international programmes of the EU - Leonardo, Lingua, Arion and particularly Socrates/Erasmus.
Raising culture awareness is necessary for enhancing students’ intercultural competence, as they are supposed to take part in the Socrates/Erasmus program of the European Union. It is also essential for training would-be professionals who wish to find jobs abroad or in our country and work in multinational companies. Language teachers should explain to their students that being grammatically correct is not enough, because if the students are to be able to negotiate and communicate in a foreign language, they must also be aware of a target culture.
Learning foreign languages and getting to know cultures through study programs in other countries is an extremely effective way of equipping students for these challenges. Foreign stays together with lectures given by native speakers play an important role in professional foreign language studies of the students at the Czech University of Agriculture. University students and professors from abroad visit our university every year to share their experiences in lectures or in international conferences and workshops.
The aim of higher quality and greater effectiveness of the language teaching is realized in the extended language studies with professional orientation in English, German and French for students of the Faculty of Economics and Management. It starts in the 3 rd year of study and lasts three years with six hours of intensive specialist language teaching per week. The program is completed with a summary version of their thesis and a final state language examination. This program strengthens the interdisciplinary approach to the teaching of foreign languages, as it is based on cooperation between teachers of the department of languages and teachers from specialist departments. Students must follow the programs of their fields of study and broaden them according to the program for extended studies.
Lectures in specialized areas are provided either by teachers from specialist departments of the FEM or by visiting professors from partner universities, particularly withinthe Socrates/Erasmus program of the EU. Students enrolled in the extended language studies program have the opportunity to attend the lectures given by visiting professors from partner universities. These lectures, which bring up-to-date knowledge from various fields and are highly motivating for students, include the following topics:
University of Plymouth
Humboldt University in Berlin
The best students, particularly of the extended studies get the chance to study at these universities for a period of five to nine months.
The Department of Languages is responsible for preparing the students for their stay with respect to language competence and awareness of what entering a new culture might be like. It is also important to discuss such matters as body language. Is it acceptable to move very close to people when you talk to them? Is it acceptable to touch people on the arm as you speak to them? We can, for instance, inform students that Southern Europeans, Arabs, Latin Americans will use closer distances, maintain more eye contact and touch each other more frequently. But the British, on the contrary, belong to the non-contact cultures, they keep further apart, and if one comes closer, they experience discomfort and unconsciously retreat. The British normally offer an excuse if they touch a stranger. These cultural differences are important factors for students to know, if they are to be successful in their communication in the target culture. Being aware of the differences and knowing how to act in cross-cultural situations are important skills for the cross-cultural relations of the future professionals.
In order to stimulate students to recognize the similarities and differences between the culture of a source language and the culture of a target language, it is necessary to raise their cultural awareness, which is defined as “the promotion of understanding of and respect for other cultures“ (Bocková 1998). The more the students know about the different cultural values and attitudes of our global neighbors, the better prepared they will be to recognize the differences in their behavior, which will help them in achieving better understanding and good communication. Being aware of the differences that exist between cultures and knowing how to act when we are faced with puzzling cross-cultural situations, are important skills for harmonious intercultural relations (Duffy, Matikainen 2000).
Let me mention first of all how to raise cultural awareness through cultural-based activities from textbooks. For instance, in the chapter on personnel management when the students practice the vocabulary of promotion, the teacher can mention that in the USA, Great Britain and Germany we do not automatically respect people just because they have been employed in a company for a number of years. It means that a young, dynamic manager with MBA degree can rise quickly in the hierarchy. But, on the contrary, in Japan and in most Asian cultures the companies have a policy of promotion by seniority. A 50-year-old Japanese manager would be offended by having to negotiate with well-educated but inexperienced 20- year-old British (Czech) manager.
In the chapter on business organizations, students speak about various types of business companies and their structures, duties and responsibilities. Here they also mention multinational companies and discuss the question: “Multinational companies can either attempt to use similar management methods in all their foreign subsidiaries or adapt their methods to the local culture in each country or continent. Which procedure is the most efficient?“ As they are students of the Faculty of Economics and Management, they are interested in this topic, so that next questions can be as follows: “Do you think the culture of your country is similar enough to those of neighboring countries to have the same management techniques? Are there countries nearby where people have very different attitudes to work, hierarchy, organization etc.? (Cited from the book English for BusinessStudies, I.MacKenzie)
2) Going Abroad
Two years ago we established cooperation with the Seale-Hayne Faculty of Land, Food and Leisure of the University of Plymouth in Great Britain on students’ and teachers’ mobility within the Erasmus-Socrates program, so that every year the best students get the chance to study there for a period of five or six months. For the year 2004/5 The stay will be expanded to nine months. Students can enhance their knowledge in the courses on business, international business, agricultural and estate management, international tourism management, etc. These courses develop significant skills for would-be managers, including planning, problem-solving, marketing, human resource management, decision-making and language skills as well. It is the responsibility of the Department of Languages to prepare them for their stay from the standpoint of language competence and by making them aware of what entering a new culture might be like.
In connection with the opportunity of students to study abroad, we can include a discussion on: Going abroad: Is it useful to read a guidebook before going to a foreign country? Are there specific worrisome things, about which it would be useful to have information before you go? (e.g. How do you get to the residence halls from the airport?)
3) Cultural contacts could be strengthened by multimedia teaching texts that can be used by both Czech and the foreign students who are studying at our university.
That is why it is necessary to mention here the project for distance, sponsored by the Fund of Higher Education Development. It deals with ICT integration into language education with the goal of strengthening the European dimension in education, as media/ICT create the fourth pillar influencing this European dimension. This project was approved by the Council of Higher Education Institutions of the Czech Republic and is carried out in co-operation with the Department of Information Technologies of the Faculty of Economics and Management.
The project is topical from the point of view of the need for current practice, while using modern methods and forms of English-language teaching. The emphasis is shifted to autonomous learning, to individualized distance studies through the Internet.
4) Our Department of Languages provides an intensive Czech-language course for beginners within the European program of Socrates/Erasmus. This course is held in the summer particularly for those foreign students who plan to study at various universities in the Czech Republic. The course is focused on providing basic communicative, listening and writing skills as well as the ability to read and understand simple written texts and to gain the knowledge of the spoken language step by step. At the same time the students get further information about the background of the Czech-speaking culture by means of lectures on Czech geography, history, architectural styles along with planned events and excursions: A visit to The National Theatre, an excursion to our famous spas of Karlovy Vary, to the leading brewery in Central and Eastern Europe, Pilsen Prazdroj, to the Konopiste castle and the Prague Castle.
By specialized language training and by these study stays, the students get to know other countries, broaden their cultural horizons, develop communication skills not only in a verbal sense, but also in the sense of general social-cultural interaction. They find that all humans living in groups have cultures, that there are no inferior or superior cultures and that all cultures are formed to meet human needs. Students talk about their culture, they think more about their roots, cultural identity and aspects which are connected with it such as their own language, eating habits, mentality, social behavior etc. Then they are ready to discuss the values, expectations and traditions of others. Mobility necessarily makes people adapt, act like people from other places, change their view of the importance of their own faculties, their own languages, cultures and societies. Both the study abroad and the language training contribute to developing the capacity for empathy and a sensitive approach of the students with regard to other nations, and this new attitude should result in forming integral, cultural and ethically mature personalities.
Today’s young generation will be the European citizens of the future, and if they are not to mishandle their dealings with other Europeans, they will have to undertake a long road to greater understanding and tolerance towards differences through intercultural learning. They will have to realize and understand the similarities and differences between a source language culture and a target language culture. Being aware of the differences and knowing how to act in cross-cultural situations are important skills for the transnational and transcultural relations of the future professionals.
© Lenka Kučírková (Czech University of Agriculture in Prague)
Tiina Matikainen, Carolyn Duffy: Developing Cultural Understanding, Forum, July 2000, 40 - 47.
Milena Bočánková: Teaching Culture in ESP Classes, LSP Forum 99, Proceedings, pp. 59 - 61.
Ivannia Jiménez Arias: Proxemics in the ESL Classroom, Forum, January 1996, 32 -33.
Viera Bocková: Cross-Cultural Aspects in ESP Teaching, Alternatives 98, Proceedings, 31 -32.
Marta Francová: The culturological aspects of foreign language textbooks, Zborník vedeckých prác z medzinárodnej konferencie Kulturológia v procese osvojovania cudzích jazykov, Nitra 2003, pp. 165 -170.
Anna Hlavňová: Language and Culture, Zborník vedeckých prác z medzinárodnej konferencie
Kuturológia v procese osvojovania cudzích jazykov, Nitra 2003, pp .68 - 72.
Gábor Szabó, Vilma Pápai: Business and Culture-A New Course, LSP Forum 99, Proceedings, pp. 47 - 50.
6.1. Modalitäten von Kulturkontakt
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