Foreign Language Learning and Cultural Instruction

Introduction

Nowadays, the interconnections between culture and language have been acknowledged, and modern specialists attempt to reflect this understanding in their approaches to teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) (Kramsch, 2014; Kramsch & Hua, 2016). The significance of these attempts is particularly apparent in the context of the ongoing globalization processes (Kramsch, 2014). However, the study of the inclusion of cultural instruction into EFL lessons is still a work in progress (Kramsch, 2013). Furthermore, the investigation of EFL in Libya has received only limited coverage in modern research. As a result, a thesis dedicated to the integration of cultural instruction into EFL lessons in Libya was designed to contribute to the investigation of these understudied topics.

Main body

The thesis was developed partially as a result of the personal experiences of the researcher. Mostly, I was taught EFL with the help of the grammar-translation method. I recognized the shortcomings of the approach when I had to use English as I went to work and study abroad. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a cultural course, which led me to appreciate the connections between culture and language. In my teaching practice, I work to incorporate cultural aspects into my lessons because of my personal experience with different approaches to EFL. However, my efforts to achieve the integration of cultural instruction into EFL lessons also led me to notice the fact that the topic is understudied and requires additional research. As a result, I chose to contribute to the investigation using the example of Libyan EFL.

The thesis aimed at studying the way Libyan teachers integrate culture into their lessons and investigating the perspectives of Libyan teachers and students on the topic. Seven research questions were developed, and they focused on the cultural content of Libyan textbooks and lessons, the means of incorporating culture into lessons employed by Libyan teachers, and the sources of cultural awareness common for Libyan students. Furthermore, the questions required studying the perspectives and beliefs of Libyan teachers and students with a focus on their understanding of the importance of the topic, as well as their suggestions for improvement. Finally, the thesis was meant to answer the following question: could the use of cultural instruction in EFL lessons have positive results, especially those related to language proficiency? Overall, the research was intended to provide some information about the cultural instruction in EFL in Libya.

To respond to the diverse questions, the study involved several stages and used the methodology that was best suited for the above-presented aim. The research started with a literature review, which provided an overview of the interconnections between culture and language, EFL education in Libya, and cultural instruction in EFL. This information assisted in developing a theoretical framework for the thesis, which was designed with the help of the works by Byram (2008) and Kramsch (2014). After the establishment of the context for the research, the content analysis of Libyan textbooks was carried out; it was supposed to determine the key categories of cultural content present in them. The information from this stage was used to develop a questionnaire for teachers, which was employed to answer the above-presented questions on the practices and beliefs of Libyan teachers as related to cultural instruction in EFL. One hundred teachers from Libya were surveyed during this stage.

Finally, an experiment was carried out in one Libyan school to determine the potential positive outcomes of the integration of cultural instruction into EFL lessons. Specifically, two classes of students from a Tripoli school, as well as one teacher, were recruited to test a set of culture-focused lessons. The control group had 29 students, and the pilot one had 27 students. While the former group engaged in the regular EFL sessions, the pilot group was involved in a course that focused on culture, including a variety of topics like the literature of English-speaking countries, prominent people from them, important holidays, and so on. The experiment took six weeks, and to monitor the outcomes, the proficiency of students before and at the end of the project was measured; a placement test was employed to that end (Macmillan Publishers, 2018). Furthermore, the students were asked to fill out a questionnaire aimed at determining their beliefs and attitudes, as well as preferences, related to cultural instruction. The teacher and several students were also interviewed after the experiment to determine their attitudes toward the tested set of culture-focused lessons. The interviews were unstructured to allow maximum flexibility and gather information about the impressions left by the course.

The analysis approaches were determined by the aims of the study and types of the data. The surveys were mostly analyzed with the help of descriptive statistics, and the relationships between variables were established through ANOVA. A t-test was used for determining the statistical significance in the differences between the performance of the pilot and test groups, and all the qualitative data presupposed the use of thematic analysis. All the mentioned methods were appropriate for the data studied (Clarke & Braun, 2014; Ott & Longnecker, 2016); also, the analysis approaches were aligned with the rest of the methodology.

Upon the completion of the analysis stage, the following findings were described. The Libyan textbooks that were analyzed during the research did contain cultural content, including at least eight separate categories. However, the results of the students’ and teachers’ surveys indicate that both groups can experience dissatisfaction with this content. In other words, many teachers and students found the cultural content of EFL textbooks in Libya insufficient or deficient. Further, almost one-third of the teachers who were surveyed reported having no cultural content in their textbooks. Therefore, the research shows that not all Libyan textbooks contain enough cultural content.

The attitudes of teachers and students toward cultural instruction in EFL lessons proved to be overwhelmingly positive. The teachers believe that cultural elements are necessary for EFL lessons, but many of them also note that they do not incorporate cultural content into their lessons very often. This issue may be connected to the fact that almost 80% of the respondents have not received any instruction on the use of culture in EFL lessons, and 54% report not being comfortable with responding to the questions related to the culture of English-speaking countries. The analysis indicates, however, that teachers are more likely to introduce cultural content when their students demonstrate an interest in it.

Both teachers and students note that various topics and media are suited for the task of incorporating culture into lessons; some of them include literature, film, newspapers, and the Internet. The experimental group of students started to pay greater attention to different sources of cultural awareness after the research; the culture-focused course helped them to appreciate the usefulness of the media mentioned above. Similarly, the students from the experimental group were more likely to acknowledge the interconnection between culture and language and the usefulness of cultural instruction in EFL lessons after the experiment. Thus, the course succeeded in providing the students with more information about culture and language.

The statistical analysis of the results of the proficiency tests shows that the students from the pilot group demonstrated a greater increase in proficiency when compared to the achievements of the control group at the end of the sixth week. The interviews showed that the students from the pilot group were more motivated and eager to learn, and the teacher and the interviewed students attribute this outcome to the focus on culture. Some of the students from the control group also expressed the wish to study culture in their EFL lessons. In addition, the research showed that students and teachers have their preferences in the topics to cover in culture-focused lessons and means of covering them.

It should be pointed out that there are limitations to the study. First of all, while the research does focus on Libyan teachers and students, the size of the sample is not sufficient to be representative of the entire country. In addition, while the sample of the teachers was relatively diverse and included participants with different gender, age, and background, the students’ sample was homogenous: only girls from Tripoli who were aged 16-18 at the time of the study were included. The similar backgrounds of the participants of the experiment assisted in excluding confounding variables, but the fact still limits the applicability of the results. Further, the experiment studied a specific set of culture-focused lessons and tested their effectiveness; the results may have been different for another course. With these limitations in mind, the following conclusions and recommendations can be drawn.

Conclusion

The importance of cultural instruction for EFL lessons is generally acknowledged by the surveyed teachers. The present research suggests that this importance can be attributed, among other things, to the positive outcomes of the approach, including improved motivation and proficiency, which are demonstrated by the experiment. Also, culture-focused lessons can help students to learn to appreciate the culture and cultural instruction in the classroom and outside of it. The introduction of culture into EFL lessons can be achieved through multiple means, and different students may have their specific preferences. This finding implies that teachers might want to survey their students to determine their wishes for specific cultural content to improve their engagement.

However, in Libya, significant difficulties in incorporating culture into EFL lessons can be encountered. Not all textbooks contain enough cultural content, and teachers may lack the necessary training. These key issues require appropriate solutions. Also, the preferences of the students that were discovered during this research can be used by their teachers in the future, and the tested course is effective with secondary school Tripoli female students. Thus, the research responded to its key questions and contributed some data on the use of cultural instruction in EFL lessons in Libya. Future research can expand the present thesis by engaging a larger or more representative sample and investigating another course.

Reference

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Kramsch, C. (2013). Culture in foreign language teaching. Iranian Journal of Language Teaching Research, 1(1), 57-78. Web.

Kramsch, C. (2014). Language and culture. Aila Review, 27(1), 30-55. Retrieved from

Kramsch, C., & Hua, Z. (2016). Language, culture and language teaching. In I. Szeman & T. Kaposy, Routledge Handbook of English Language Teaching (pp. 38-50). New York, NY: Routledge.

Macmillan Publishers. (2018). Placement tests. Web.

Ott, L. R., & Longnecker, M. (2016). An introduction to statistical methods and data analysis (7th ed.). New York, NY: Cengage Learning.