Should we teach culture in the EFL classroom?

Put simply, language is a verbal expression of culture which means that culture clearly has to be seen as an important part of language learning. Although it is important to learn the vocabulary and grammar of English during lessons, to truly grasp what the language means to native speakers it is vital that EFL students learn as much as possible about the culture of English speaking nations. The good news is that students generally love learning about cultural issues, whether it is music, films, books, and TV, or other things such as food or fashion. So, how can we incorporate culture into our EFL lessons to make them interesting and productive?

Use authentic materials

Authentic materials can be anything that native English speakers might use that can be adapted for use in an EFL classroom. This type of material can be extremely useful as it offers a real, everyday alternative to manufactured materials that have been designed specifically for use by language students. By using authentic materials you can give your students a genuine taste of what it is like to use English in a natural setting. If it is spoken English such as in a video, TV show, or movie, the students experience it exactly the same as a native speaker, with natural pacing and pronunciation. Other common forms of authentic material include restaurant menus, adverts, business documents, application forms, etc. Using authentic materials can also help with motivation as the class gets to see that English is much more than what is shown in the textbook and by sticking at their learning they can access more and more, making their efforts worthwhile.

Compare two cultures

Another good tactic for teaching about culture is to compare the student’s culture with that of the target language. Something as simple as comparing greetings can be extremely interesting to a Japanese student for example, who is used to bowing when meeting other people. The fact that Americans shake hands and French kiss on the cheek can make for some fun activities. It can also be interesting to find out about things that don’t have an equivalent in different cultures, something that is unique to Thai speakers or Spanish students can be just as fascinating as any cultural differences.

Introduce live native speakers

Language learners love to listen to native speakers, especially when they are talking about their own culture. While the teacher can do this themselves, it is often better to also bring in an outside assistant to give them a different perspective to what they have become used to. Ideally the guest speaker needs to be confident, interesting, and able to tell a good story. The class can take turns asking questions about what daily life is like in their home country, what foods they like to eat, what music they listen to, what sports are popular, and what festivals and traditions are commonly followed back home. If you invite a native speaker into your class you might also want to use them to model some real English language as spoken by native speakers in real situations. This can be a really fun way to learn everyday English that is not usually covered in traditional textbooks.

Use food as a tool

One thing that unites all cultures is the preparing and eating of food. All cultures have certain foods that are unique and many of these can be completely alien to the students in your class. If you are able to combine a cooking class with your English language class you are sure to have a fun lesson where the students can learn a lot that they didn’t already know about the language and culture they are learning. If that is a step too far for you or your employer, basing a lesson around recipes and ingredients can be a useful alternative. All cultures love their food, so why not incorporate it into your everyday lessons?

Use songs as a tool

Songs are always a great way to learn a language and they also shine a light on the culture of the language used. If you are teaching young learners there are plenty of early years songs you can utilize such as Oranges and Lemons, or the Wheels on the Bus, etc. These are simple but effective aids when it comes to learning basic vocabulary at low levels. With older groups you can introduce popular chart songs that can be used to practice all four language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. There are countless music based activities you can devise that are both effective in teaching language and culture, and great fun for the students and teacher.

Use Online Resources

The internet is full of useful resources that can help you teach culture and language at the same time. If you spend some time researching online you are sure to find a wide array of material that you can incorporate into your lessons. We are happy to recommend the following websites to get you started:

  • This site features loads of material related to teaching cultural diversity, with lesson plans, articles and activities all available for you to use in your lessons.
  • Time for Kids: On this site you will find a whole section that covers fun and interesting facts about different countries. Your students can browse through pictures of far off places, all from the comfort of the classroom or home.
  • World Stories: This site can prove extremely useful as it contains a collection of childrens’ stories from all over the world. These can easily be incorporated into normal lessons to further expand on cultural awareness.
  • Great Websites for Kids: Finally, take a look at this fantastic collection of websites aimed at teaching young learners about different cultures, their history and geography, and different religions.