Implications for language policy

Creators of second language teaching policies must be sensitive to the local or indigenous languages not to make them seem inferior to the target language. English language teaching has become a phenomenon in Southeast Asia, especially in Taiwan. Most Taiwanese universities require an English placement test as an entry requirement (Information for Foreigners Retrieved May 24, 2007). Foreigners (non-native Taiwanese) which are native English speaking students however, do not need to take a similar Chinese proficiency test, thus forwarding the ideology that the knowledge of English is superior to the Chinese counterpart and that to succeed in a globalize economy; one must be able to speak English (Hu 2005). Such a reality shows that our world has entered the age of globalization of the English language, in which most observers see a tendency toward homogeneity of values and norms; others see an opportunity to rescue local identities (Stromquist & Monkman 2000, p 7). The implications for language policy makers are that policies must be formed which not only include but celebrate local languages. Policies must not degrade other languages by placing them on a level of lower importance. Policies should incorporate the learner’s first language, the usage, and complexities as a means to create better linguistic comprehension as well as cultural understanding.

Policies for language teaching must encompass and include cultural values from the societies from which the languages are derived as well as being taught. In other words, when making policies regarding language teaching, one must consider the cultural ideologies of all and every student, the teacher, as well as the culture in which the target language is being taught. Language teaching policies formed with the cultural characteristics of both teacher and student in mind will not be prone to make assumptions about the appropriateness of students’ behavior based on the policy maker’s own cultural values (Englebert 2004) but will increase cultural awareness. The American Council on The Teaching of Foreign Languages has expounded on the importance of combining the teaching of culture into the language curriculum to enhance understanding and acceptance of differences between people, cultures and ideologies (Standards 1996).
One example where as policy makers did not recognize the importance of culture is outlined by Kim (2004), in which the Korean government had consulted American ESL instructional guidelines which stated that for students to become competent in English they must speak English outside of the classroom. The government on reviewing this policy requested that all Korean English language students use English outside of the classrooms to further enhance their language competency. What they failed to consider is that while in America, English is taught as a second language and speaking English was quite acceptable in all locations, that in Korea, English is taught as a foreign language and the vast majority of the Korean population do not converse with each other in English. Korean students speaking English outside of the classroom context were seen as show-offs. In a collectivistic culture, as is Korea, such displays of uniqueness are seen as a vice to be suppressed, not as a virtue (Kim 2004). Thus policy makers must not rely on the cultural views and policies of others, but incorporate the cultural views of the students as well as considering the culture where the teaching is taking place. Language teachers need to be informed about various teaching interaction-based methodologies, manipulate them and develop their own teaching methods compatible with the educational context to foster interaction between students (Kim 2004).

When creating policies, one must consider the cultural meanings of teaching materials used. The materials may have a far broader meaning or encompass far more (or less) than what one has considered. An example of this is when the school I worked for decided that I introduce a discussion topic on holidays with one of my classes. The school did not enlighten me as to the cultural significance of holidays or what the Chinese equivalent of the word entails. This problem, as described by Yule (1996), is that people have pre-existing schemata or knowledge structure in their memory of what constitutes certain ideas; e.g. an apartment, a holiday, what are breakfast items. The culturally based schemata that the students had for holidays were considerably different than that of my own. Their ideology of a holiday was any day that was special, possibly where one did not have to go to school, a weekend, a birthday, or any other major happening. When I asked the students what their favorite holiday was, I received many replies, all of which were not what I was looking for. I proceeded to tell them that Christmas was a holiday. This however, was a bad example as Christmas is not a holiday in Taiwan. In addition, I did not consider that a Chinese definition of the English word ‘holiday’ has a very broad meaning, thus the students were correctly answering my question however in their own cultural context.

Finally, as this paper has shown, language and culture are intertwined to such an extent whereas one cannot survive without the other. It is impossible for one to teach language without teaching culture. The implications for language teaching and policy making are therefore vast and far reaching. As a teacher of language, one must be culturally aware, considerate of the students’ culture, and inform students of cultural differences thus promoting understanding. Language policy must reflect both the target language culture as well as the students’, teacher’s, and administrative persons’ culture thus avoiding any cultural misinterpretations.

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