Education Theories Across Cultures


Successful Second Language learning depends on the choice of the teacher’s skills and environment, in which learners are placed. It is apparent that interaction theory is the effective mode of learning second language but educators should also other methods of instruction. This theory tends to provide learners with opportunity to interact with native speakers and other learners with similar backgrounds. Students can acquire language while interacting with each other.

In this regard, successful SLL requires elimination of hindrances such as behavioural problems and ability of teachers to create conditions, which help to establish effective communication between students and the instructor. Moreover, while tailoring the lesson; English teacher must take into account cognitive, socio-affective peculiarities of learners and their previous experience of studying foreign languages (Ellis, 1997, p 45).

Since there are cultural differences in linguistic background, there will be cultural differences in communicative strategies and in the interpretation of the situated meaning of the messages. This could lead to misunderstanding between members of different cultural groups. In this way, cultural differences can create a barrier between learners, and this would prevent them from collaborating with each other.

According to Kramsch (1993, p 205), traditional methods of foreign language learning to do enable learners to develop their intercultural skill, because culture itself is not static, it constantly evolves and very often students have rather obsolete conceptions about foreign culture, and this is why so many people are not able to communicate with native speakers. These skills can be obtained only through direct participation and practice; theoretical aspects are clearly insufficient in this case.

There are two main goals of learning second language. The first objective is to attain native like proficiency and while the second task is to obtain cultural competence. Attaining native like proficiency is very difficult to achieve especially if the students learns English as the second language and more so if he/she is older beyond the critical acquisition period. There is another facet of this question; second language learners can obtain intercultural skills but they may not be able to express ones thoughts and ideas as clearly and smoothly as native speakers. Hence, teachers have the obligation to consider sociolinguistic factors affecting particular learners in order to help them succeed in second language acquisition.

Many learners experience difficulties only in certain aspects of foreign language such as for instance, syntax, grammar, or pronunciation. They also find it difficult due to several factors such as age or time available for them to learn the language. For instance, older learners have less time and motivation to learn the second language. Also, learners have some problems because of similarity and difference between the first and second languages which pose a high degree of problems in learning process acquisition (Ellis, 1997, p 67). Thus, at this point, we may argue that the outcome of foreign language acquisition is strongly dependent on such factors as age of the learner, time available. Moreover, we have to emphasize the similarities and differences between languages and cultures.

The factors determining the outcome of Second Language Acquisition

Kramsch states that in the post-structuralist era of the 1980s and 1990s, many scholars were not very optimistic about the possibility of finding universal methods of teaching foreign language; the notion of national culture itself became significantly more differentiated than it used to be in the times of monolithic nation states (1993, p 217).

For a teacher there are several strategies that can be employed to create conditions, which can help learners to acquire English as a second language. For instance, the choice of the learning theory will be essential in creating such conditions. There are several theories that can be applicable but the negotiation /interaction theory seems to have greater impact on creating suitable atmosphere for learners and enhance their learning process.

Interaction theory provides an opportunity to construct real life situation in the classroom. Interaction theory has the advantage of offering effective methods by which learners achieve quality communication such as through the sequential identification of meaning according to the three known steps. That is, initiation of the sequence (trigger), followed by a response to explain the meaning and reaction to acknowledge the meaning (Ellis 1997, p 89).

Thus, the conditions prevailing in the process of negotiating the meaning will help modify the memory input and bring to attention the linguistic perspective of the meaning. In other words, negotiation approach enables learners to apply their new knowledge during the process of interaction, Secondly; it helps to practice their newly acquired skills.

The choice of methods of instruction has significant impact on the language performance of the learner. The available methods of teaching include traditional method, direct method, audio-lingual method, immersion method and submersion method. Each of these methods has substantial strength to be used for the learner to achieve remarkable proficiency in the second language. But among these methods, immersion method is more effective because it allows learners to acquire foreign language immediately through conversation. The instructor can use an immersion teaching method because in this way a learner can overcome the influence of his native language.

It does not cause deleterious effect but it is beneficial to learners. Hence, the teacher can create good conditions for learning by integrating the four C’s in its learning process such as communication, culture, context and confidence.

Second language can be successfully learned by using the universal grammar approach. Its advocates base their assumptions that acquisition of any language has similar patterns or principles, in order to substantiate this hypothesis they mention the acquisition of language by children, who can learn any foreign language irrespective of its complexity. More so, universal grammar approach takes account of the sounds and meanings of language as mediator for learning process.

Thus, it becomes the back bone for child language acquisition. The theory is also based on the assumption that language consists of set of abstract principles that form the core part of grammar which results to variation in language. At a certain age, approximately thirteen years, the innate language faculty/capability tends to limit the variation of language. Hence, language input and linguistic principles should be applied in teaching second language so as to enable learners achieve the desired proficiency goals.

Learning English language is not easy for all students because of different conditions and environment in which the learners are raised up. For instance, native English speakers are surrounded by native English speakers. The experience they have since childhood provides learners with more time and opportunity to learn and practice the language. Native speakers gain high proficiency levels at early time since they are immersed in the same language environment. Unlike the adult second language learners, they may have to learn English as a second language depending on their country of origin.

Learning of second language is no easy task. There are several hindrances to successful learning of second language. For instance, most students who fail to reach expected proficiency level is attributed to poor/ low achievement, behavioural problems, oral language related problems, reading problems, learning difficulties, socio-emotional differences, diagnostic differences of certain disability conditions, low attention span and inability for learners to follow instructions in spite of the learners be able to understand the language.

It is observed the three main reasons why students fail to succeed in second language learning include poor academic performance, behavioural deviation and low attention or oral language inefficiency. However, most of the problems are associated with oral language related variables. Thus, in order for the learner to succeed, linguistic ability deficits and second language acquisition problems play a major problem in attaining language proficiency (Byran, 1995, p 55).

Researchers point out that the outcome of learning any foreign language is very often determined by the communicative skills of the student, and most importantly his psychological peculiarities such as for instance, sociability or reticence. These factors need to be considered when learning second language. There are common patterns that are observed with regard to successful learning of second language such as interference, interlanguage, code switching, silent period, and language loss and language differences (Rhodes, et al, 2005, p 56).

Behavioural problems during the acquisition of the second language need to be considered and discouraged. For example, students can display defensive behaviours, or they may be withdrawn or disorganized. They also have social emotional difference, shyness, timidness and fearfulness. These conditions need to be observed and mitigated so that the learners can succeed in learning the second language. More so, cultural and linguistic problems due to diversified background of the learners, it is important to note behaviours such as heightened anxiety and low self esteem which negate ability to learn the language successfully. Thus, learners should be placed in environments that do not increase negative behavioural problems that can impact on the learners negatively.

Arguments for teaching differences

According to such scholars as Crozet and Liddicoat (1999, p 118) Culture in spoken and written forms is deep-rooted in the general structure of text. For example, culture is found in the way official or intimate letters are written in different countries, the type of information which ought to come first and last, what is acceptable content, etc… Literature can give us deep insights into the psychology and mentality of the nation, its norms, values, stereotypes and so forth.

Pragmatic and interactional norms refer to the way culture is manifested in spoken and written language. In pragmatic norms, culture is visible in shorter units of texts such as speech acts (eg. thanking in Japanese differs from thanking in Anglo-Australian). Interactional norms refer more to the way units of speech such as openings or closings in a conversation are organised (Liddicoat 1997b). In grammar, lexicon, kinesics, prosody and pronunciation culture is also present interwoven into linguistic structures, words, syntax and non-verbal language.

Learning about culture and how culture links up with language as we have shown is a complex task, which language teachers to rethink the content of their subject matter. The major principles is that students must not only acquire linguistic skills, such as proficiency in grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation, they must also be able to draw conclusions about the culture and national mentality. In this following section we will analyze various techniques allowing teachers to achieve this level.

Current approaches to teaching cultural differences

Some teachers of English insist that a knowledge, understanding, and command of the traditionally accepted principles of English grammar are absolutely necessary as a foundation for appropriate expression, oral and written, and for an appreciation of literature. Some educators question many of the accepted principles and claim that traditional grammar is false. They emphasize function and usage rather than a formal study of a well-organized traditional “course” in grammar (Ellis, 1997, p 96). Still other instructors have no ideas of their own, are blown about by every wind of fashionable doctrine, consider the latest textbook the best, and so follow blindly the “new approach” which they do not prepare themselves to understand.

Some teachers believe in intensive courses in literature; some in extensive courses. Many educators defend the teaching of Silas Marner as a great exposition of inevitable progress caused by change; some would prefer to teach Catcher in the Rye as an introduction to adolescence seeking security; and some few might possibly wish to express their academic freedom by teaching Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a classic example of the decadence of the English middle class, the down-to-earth awful honesty of the bewildered transitional man, and the dogged stupidity of the lower class.

There are many approaches to the teaching of English; there are many ways of organizing content to be taught and learned. Thus, instructors have many resources from which content may be selected, that it is little wonder there are so many differences among English courses of study in public schools and course outlines in independent (private) schools. The result is that, to too many students, English means little more than confusion.

Every teacher of English, every teacher of other subjects, every parent, and every student must be taught the fact that the definite purpose of the teaching of English is to help the student to speak, to express ones ideas, observations, and experience in an understandable and correct way. This must be the major guideline for any teachers and students. The major problem is that many educators do not link theoretical aspects of SLA with practice. For instance, some of them are firmly convinced language acquisition can be accomplished without emersion (Byram, 1995, p 33). They base their argument on the belief that students can learn without interacting with one another.

The current theory of successful second language is based on the interaction theory. This is because it tends to provide learners with opportunity to interact with native speakers and other individuals with similar backgrounds. It also provides opportunity for learners to learn from each other with regard to negotiation of meaning approach. In order for learners to learn second language successfully, hindrances to second language learning should be removed first such as behavioural problems.

Secondly, teachers should create conducive conditions for learners by considering hindering factors affecting earners such as the choice of learning theory and learner’s prior learning experience of the language and culture. Apart from that, cognitive, socio-affective and linguistic principles need consideration from an English teacher when teaching second language learners.

According to Crozet and Liddicoat (1999, p 119) Communicative Language Teaching endeavours to teach communication in a foreign language and the scholars believe that this would lead to intercultural understanding, tolerance and harmony between different cultures. It failed however on two accounts.

Firstly, these theory does not recognise the links between language and culture, it does not provide an approach for depicting culture in language use. However, it does promote the teaching of culture as adjunct knowledge to language. Secondly the supporters of communicative language teaching fail that learning ‘another’ culture was not enough to promote understanding between cultures (Crozet & Liddicoat, 1999, 120). For this, the awareness of one’s own culture is necessary. Intercultural Language teaching can be more effective, because it comprises several stages, namely, learning about the foreign culture, comparison of two cultures and most importantly, practice.

Therefore, we can arrive at the conclusion that the acquisition of the foreign language must not be separated from culture. In order to gain better understanding of other nation’s traditions and customs: it is essential to interact with these people, because culture itself is always changing. In order to do it, educators must create the atmosphere which is conducive to collaboration and partnership. Apart from that, it is of the crucial importance to ensure that students focus not only on linguistic exercises but also on the differences, which may exist between cultures. Yet, these differences must never be perceived as hindrances to communication, on the contrary they enable learners to better understand each other.

Reference List

Byram, M. (1995). Intercultural Competence and Mobility in Multinational contexts: A European View. Clevedon, Multilingual Matters.

Carr, J., L.Commin and J.Crawford. (1998). External evaluation of the Lote curriculum project (years 4-10)., Queensland University of Technology. School of Language and Literacy Education.

Crozet, C. & Liddicoat, A.J. (1999), ‘The challenge of intercultural language teaching: Engaging with culture in the classroom’, in Striving for the Third Place: Intercultural Competence Through Language Education, eds J. Lo Bianco, A.J. Liddicoat & C. Crozet, Language Australia, Melbourne, pp. 113-125.

Ellis. R (1997), Second language acquisition. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Kramsch, C. 1993, ‘Teaching language along the cultural faultline’, in Context and Culture in Language Teaching, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 205-232.

Neustpuny, J. V. (1988). ‘Australia and Japan: Cross-cultural communication problems.’ Vox. 1 28-32.