The question of culture: EFL teaching in non-English-speaking countries
- Language Culture and Curriculum 01/1988; 1(1):15-31. · 0.17 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: It is quite common in ELT to encounter positions, which equate SLA to SCA and so is the opposite positions. However it is believed that prerequisite to resolving this basic diversity is the demystification of a set of dominant misconceptions concerning language, culture and speech community. Highlighting a number of dominant misunderstandings in this relation, the present article questions the validity of SLA/SCA parallelism.
The question of culture:
EFL teaching in non-English-
Cem and Margaret Alptekin
Two conflicting pedagogical views exist in teaching EFL (English as a
foreign language) abroad. One, promoted chiefly by native English-
speaking teachers, is that English teaching should be done with
reference to the socio-cultural norms and values of an English-speaking
country, with the purpose of developing bilingual and bicultural
individuals. The other, advocated by the host country where English
instruction takes place, is that the teaching of English should be
independent of its nationality-bound cultural context, with a view to
creating bilingual yet not necessarily bicultural people. This article
discusses both positions in the light of cognitive, affective, and cultural
data— in particular with a focus on the native English-speaking teacher
in the host society. It is then suggested that successful bilinguals should
serve as pedagogical models (instead of monolingual and mono-
cultural native English-speaking teachers), and that local and inter
national contexts which are familiar and relevant to students' lives
should be used (instead of unfamiliar and irrelevant contexts from the
Introduction As the lingua franca of the twentieth century, English is one of the most
im portant means for acquiring access of Anglo-American technology. As a
result, there is a huge need to learn English in non-English-speaking
countries— a need which creates a great demand for English instructors.
Since this demand far outruns the available supply of qualified local
teachers of English, many countries recruit teachers who are native
speakers of English.
These teachers, most of whom come from Britain or the United States,
bring with them the notion that a language and its culture are two
inextricably related entities, and as such should be taught together. Resting
on the empirically unverified theory of linguistic relativity, the implicit
claim is that no real acquisition of the target language can take place
without the learner’s internalization of target language speakers’ patterns
and values. After all, so the belief goes, the new linguistic and cultural
competence will enable the learner to develop new perceptions of reality
and to behave differently in the light of such perceptions. What is implied
here is that learners experience a series of cognitive and affective changes
thanks to which they take on a new identity (Brown 1981)—an identity with
both bilingual and bicultural features. Thus, foreign language teaching is
seen as a pedagogical process aimed at changing the learner’s behavior by
injecting new norms and values into it (Trivedi 1978). Since these norms
and values involve learning to perceive the world as the speakers of the
target language habitually see it, the foreign language teacher is often
advised to persuade the learners that ‘success in language learning depends
ELTJournal Volume 38/1 January 1984
A ttitudes to foreign
language learning in
A ttitudes to EFL in
upon the degree to which they integrate themselves with the “native
environm ent” of the language, whether they are learning it in the country
in which it is spoken or not’ (Curtin 1979:281).
In the chiefly monolingual and monocultural context of English-speaking
countries, where there is little functional utility or social prestige to be
gained from foreign language study, such preoccupations with the cultural
aspects of foreign language acquisition appear to have been made its chief
selling point in order to stem the general decline in enrolments in foreign
language classes. Yet, due to the notorious lack of awareness about foreign
languages and cultures in English-speaking countries (Fishman 1977,
Moles 1979, Alatis 1979, Marchand 1979), it is quite apparent that foreign
language study which is ‘billed as a guarantor of international and inter-
cultural communication and understanding . . . does not even enable its
graduates to sustain an ordinary conversation with a native speaker’
(Wanner 1979:25). Under these circumstances, where foreign language
study fails to realize the fundamental goal of enabling the learner to use the
new language as a communicative tool, it is superfluous to speak of such
justifications for target language acquisition as its potential for expanding
the learners’ range of cultural experience (Herron 1980:70) and develop
ing cross-cultural awareness and appreciation (Elling 1980:92). In fact, the
findings of attitude surveys conducted am ong foreign-language learners
suggest that the acquisition of the new language causes neither an improve
ment in the subjects’ overall attitudes toward the native speakers of the
language (Teitelbaum et al. 1975, Oiler et al. 1977, Ake 1982), nor a decline
in their own ethnocentrism (Ake 1982).
The native English-speaking teachers of EFL who come to the host
country naturally reflect the trends of their own culture in foreign language
pedagogy, and believe that teaching the target culture is a sine qua non of
teaching the target language. Otherwise, it is believed, students will be
exposed to a hollow language devoid of cultural content and will be unable
to identify with the English-speaking culture. The host country’s
educational policies which are related to social goals normally established
by governmental priorities are thus ignored or marginalized.
In general, EFL instruction for the host culture is im portant because it
affords a window on the world of advanced technology and industrial
development. However, the cultural norms and values of the English-
speaking world which come with the technical data and equipment are
often considered to be ‘alien and unacceptable features’ of the target
culture (Wilkins 1975:49), and not necessarily for chauvinistic reasons
(Kehoe 197 1, Berger et al. 1974, Schiller 1976, Olbert 1982, Alptekin 1982).
Indeed, being at the receiving end of a virtually one-way flow of infor
mation from Anglo-American centers, the host country runs the risk of
having its own culture totally submerged, and thus imposes restrictions in
educational and cultural domains to protect its way of life (Rao 1976). For
example, in Japan, English is generally taught not as a functional tool for
cross-cultural communication in international settings, but as a codified
system (Giesecke 1980) representing the linguistic characteristics of an
idealized American or Briton (Nakayama 1982). Similarly, in China and
Korea, the pedagogical focus seems to be on the grammatical features of
English without regard for its communicative and/or cultural functions
(Scovel and Scovel 1980, Evans 1980). Elsewhere in Asia, and also in parts
The question of culture
of Africa and Latin America, there is a feeling on the part of the educated
elite that English instruction in particular and modernization in general
which has not been ‘acculturated’ and shaped to fit their country’s needs
constitute a threat to national identity. Thus, suggestions have been made
to ‘de-Anglo-Americanize’ English, both in linguistic and in cultural
respects, in order for the language to be in tune with the needs of the EFL
learners in such countries as Japan (Nakayama 1982) and Venezuela
(Thomas 1983). Moreover, there has been an increase in the production of
local teaching materials that are culturally and experientially appropriate
for learners in developing countries. In Kuwait, for instance, EFL texts are
being prepared ‘with the Kuwaiti situation in m ind’ (Hajjaj 1981).
Likewise, China produces its own materials which are clearly modeled on
British EFL texts of the 1960s, with one major variation— a thoroughly
transformed cultural content that aims at reinforcing Chinese cultural
norms and values (Scott 1980). Even in industrialized European countries,
as Freudenstein et al. (1981) indicate, EFL learners want to acquire an inter
national variety of English, independent of the cultural norms and values
of native English speakers. In fact, many of these learners tend to reject the
norms and values of the English-speaking cultures, but still acquire English
satisfactorily, due to their wish to identify with international attitudes
which have developed in such fields as pop culture, travel culture, and
scientific culture where English happens to be the principal medium of
communication (Ladousse 1982).
On a deeper level, the hosts’ willingness to learn English in the context
of national or international norms and values is indicative of their belief in
the possibility of becoming bilingual without becoming bicultural—a
phenom enon whose existence is pointed out by Paulston (1978:373). It is
apparent that this concept of bilingualism without biculturalism, which
seeks to dissociate the learning of the target language from its nationality-
bound cultural context, soon clashes with the native English-speaking
teachers’ unwitting efforts to disseminate among their students the cultural
norms and values of the English-speaking country as part of their foreign
The failings o f the
The conflict between the opposing pedagogical views of the ‘hosts’ and the
‘guest’ teachers of EFL is in many cases exacerbated by the latter’s
ignorance of the ways and minds of the local people and their language. In
fact, it is quite ironic that, while espousing the idea that foreign language
acquisition is a means to increase cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity,
the guest teachers are often unable to understand the host culture or to
speak the local vernacular. Another irony lies in their attempts to expose
their students to the norms and values of the English-speaking culture in
the students’ own setting, while very often they themselves continue to
remain monolingual and monocultural there.1
This monolingualism and monoculturalism eventually paves the way to
mental and physical isolation from the host society. Given the linguistic
and cultural difficulties involved in establishing meaningful relationships
in the host culture, the guest teachers retreat into the comfort of an
English-speaking enclave of compatriots,
unorthodox local individuals. In addition to living in an enclave, there are
other factors which reinforce the native English-speaking teachers’
isolation and alienation. For one thing, they know that, at least officially,
they are not expected to acquire the language of the hosts. For another,
foreigners, and a few
Cem and Margaret Alptekin
they are aware that the hosts’ vernacular is unlikely to be useful once they
are back in their home country, and they therefore fail to develop the
necessary motivation to learn it. Furthermore, they are conscious of the
temporary nature of their sojourn in the host country, and see little need to
‘affiliate’ with the hosts, either linguistically or culturally. Finally, as
instructors in the host society, they feel they need to be treated as
‘im portant’, ‘as bearing the cultural superiority that they suppose whoever
asks for foreign teachers must concede’ (Daniel 1975:63).
The consequences Various pedagogical difficulties arise from this mismatch between the host
country’s and the guest teachers’ patterns of thinking and behaving. First,
the native English-speaking teacher’s pedagogical attempts to modify the
cognitive and affective behavior of the students with a view to making them
bilingual and bicultural are met with reluctance, if not resistance, by the
students themselves. In fact, despite their desire to learn English, the
students are often unwilling to receive the cultural load of the target
language. Hence, it is not uncommon for many who do not want to be
‘culturally assimilated’ to give up on learning the target language. If, on the
other hand, the native English-speaking teachers succeed in their
pedagogical aims, it is not surprising, as Goke-Pariola (1982) indicates for
the Nigerian context, to see students alienated from their own social setting
as they become adjusted to the values of the Anglo-American world.
Secondly, teaching the target language along with the target culture is
done on the somewhat unrealistic assumption that a language cannot be
used if it is emptied of its cultural content. Advocates of this position claim
that teaching English while, for example, referring to the culture of the
student would be useless. They discount the psychologically sound and
motivating effects of helping and encouraging students to use the new
language to describe their own culture (Finocchiaro 1982:68), not to
mention the facilitating effect that culturally indigenous materials can have
on learners’ fluency and grammaticality in target language use (Winfield
and Barnes-Felfeli 1982). What they also ignore is the fact that, as the
lingua franca of this century, English is used extensively by millions of
people outside its original geographic boundaries to convey national and
international perceptions of reality which may be quite different from those
of English-speaking cultures. Brumfit (1980), for instance, points to the
awkwardness of pedagogical practices which deny EFL learners the oppor
tunities and occasions to express their own cultural needs and ideas in
[No person] who is not intolerably alienated from his own environment
is going to want to learn English in order to become an Englishman (or
an American) to such an extent that he never uses it to express the
ideology, the assumptions, the cultural basis of himself rather than of
Englishmen. We have the strange paradox that in mother-tongue
teaching we emphasize the clarity of the child’s ability to express himself\
while in the foreign language we demand that he express a culture of
which he has scarcely any experience. . . . We need to devise a
methodology which will enable the learner to use the language, not
passively in relation to situations which are imposed by motivations and
ideologies not his own, but actively as a product of his own needs. . . .
The model of teaching which tells the foreigner to adopt our system is
both untruthful . . . and unhelpful, because it implies that he cannot
The question of culture
communicate without adopting our position unnegotiably (pp. 94-6,
Third, using monolingual and monocultural native English-speaking
teachers, who are incapable of escaping the powerful influences of their
own culture, as pedagogical models for would-be bilinguals is paradoxical
and counter-productive. Monolingual and bilingual norms and values are
not alike. Not only do bilinguals store grammatical material differently
from monolinguals, as Preston (1981) notes. They also have different
attitudes toward native and non-native varieties of the language. Preston
rejects the unrealistic goal of native-speaker-like performance in target
language teaching and suggests that, both linguistically and psycho
logically, the most effective model for the learners is the successful
bilingual. Similarly, Kachru (1977) and George (1981) criticize present-day
EFL courses modeled on native-speaker competence for their lack of
realism. According to Kachru, it is impossible to claim pedagogical and
communicative universality for the concept of communicative competence
in an international language like English, given the way functions of the
language vary from one country to another. What might be acceptable,
appropriate, and intelligible in the context of the United States, for
example, might not necessarily be so in the English-speaking contexts of
India, Nigeria, or the West Indies. Hence, he recommends that the criteria
for a pedagogical model should change according to the educational,
political, and linguistic characteristics of each country. George, on the
other hand, indicates that EFL courses that aim to represent native-speaker
communicative competence go beyond language into areas of social
behavior modeled on native-speaker norms and values. Although English
is used around the world as a national and international language, such
pedagogical practices, he claims, lead to the illusion that native-speaker
presence is required whenever Enlgish is used. Smith and Rafiqzad (1979)
provide empirical evidence which calls into question the practice of using
native-speaker models in the instruction of English sounds. According to
their findings, native-speaker phonology does not seem to be more
intelligible to multinational audiences than non-native-speaker versions. If
native-like pronunciation does not necessarily help in English for cross-
cultural communication, why insist, they ask, on having native English-
speaking teachers as performance targets in EFL classrooms?
If EFL instruction in non-English-speaking countries is to become effective
and realistic, care must be taken by the ministry of education of each
country not to let it either turn into a tool of Anglo-American socio
cultural domination, or take on ethnocentric features in order to isolate
itself from such domination. In practical terms, this means that less
attention should be paid to teaching models based on native-speaker
norms and values, and more to developing ‘culturally neutral, non-élitist,
and learner-oriented’ EFL programs (George 1981:12). It also means that
learners should be provided with opportunities to use English both in
relation to local situations and to international circumstances in which they
are interested. Finally, along with teaching English in contexts which are
culturally and cross-culturally relevant to students’ lives, more effort
should be made to recruit teachers among successful bilinguals— both
from local sources and from English-speaking countries. Being less prone
to m other-tongue and native-culture chauvinism, these people can serve as
Cern and Margaret Alptekin
vivid and relevant pedagogical models in EFL. They can show the learners
how it is possible to achieve cultural pluralism as a frame of mind, along
with demonstrable competence in a given language. According to Bowen
(1977), successful bilingual teachers in EFL programs have a psychological
advantage over the monolingual native English-speaking teacher, since
they can prove to their students that they, the teachers, have in fact
acquired a foreign language, and that therefore the students can too.
Under these kinds of favorable and realistic learning conditions, EFL
students in non-English-speaking countries can be expected to acquire a
new identity as they become fluent in the target language. This will not,
however, be a bilingual and bicultural identity subject to anomie and
alienation. Rather, it will be an identity which is able to transcend the
parochial confines of the native and target cultures by understanding and
appreciating cultural diversity and pluralism thanks to the new language,
while not losing sight of native norms and values in the process. In short, it
is a bilingual and intercultural identity.
Received January 1983
1 It should be acknowledged, however, that there do
exist native English-speaking teachers of EFL who
are aware of the influences of their own culture on
their thought and behavior. As a result, they are
more apt to learn the language of the hosts, and to
develop empathy for them.
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Dr Cem Alptekin is currently coordinator and
instructor of English for foreign students at the Ohio
State University in Columbus. He has taught English,
French, Turkish, and applied linguistics both in the
United States and abroad. He has also trained teachers
of EFL. His research interests center around socio-
psychological factors in foreign language learning,
and he has published in the TESOL Quarterly and the
Canadian Modem Language Review. He is also the author
of Reading Comprehension in English.
Margaret Alptekin currently co-ordinates and
teaches an ESL course at the Ohio State University in
Columbus. Having received her BA in French and her
MA in TEFL from Southern Illinois University, she
taught English, French, German, and phonetics in the
United States, Turkey, and France. Her major research
interest lies in foreign
Cem and Margaret Alptekin