Language and Culture

Scholars recognize L2 learning cannot be properly taught without culture, and that culture should be taught from day one in foreign language classrooms. As Brown (2000) states, “a language is a part of a culture, and a culture is a part of a language; one cannot separate the two without losing the significance of either language or culture” (p. 177).

However, to date the integration of culture into L2 curricula has been inconsistent. At present, the main strands in literature on the teaching of culture include the development of learners’ cultural awareness and intercultural competence, and the newer concept of intercultural communicative competence.

Cultural Awareness

Cultural awareness can be described as self-reflection and “recognition of one’s own cultural influences upon values, beliefs, and judgments” (Winkelman, 2005, 9). It is further divided into 3 Ps: products, practices, and perspectives. In the 3 Ps framework, foreign language learners investigate cultural products and practices in order to understand perspectives.

Intercultural Competence

Intercultural competence can be described as ability to understand other worldviews, identify similarities and differences between L1 and L2 cultures, apply critical thinking skills, and show attitudes such as respect, openness, and curiosity.

Intercultural Communicative Competence

Intercultural communicative competence can be described as a set of abilities necessary for interacting effectively and appropriately with individuals from varying linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

Current State in Teaching Culture: B/C/M/S Case

There is a small number of studies commenting on or examining in more detail the place of culture in L2 B/C/M/S textbooks (Ćuk, 2019; Korljan, 2010; Pasini, 2010; Perišić Arsić, 2017, 2018). These existing studies show that published L2 B/C/M/S textbooks usually offer a theoretical presentation of static cultural products (food, currency, writers, etc.) and practices (greetings, holiday celebrations, etc.), which produces a superficial view of culture as something we approach and consume as tourists, behaviors that may seem strange or even incomprehensible to L2 learners (Glisan & Donato, 2017).

“Tako Lako” textbook and its new approach in teaching of culture

The Tako lako textbook integrates the target culture into an L2 beginner-level B/C/M/S curriculum not as a series of separate cultural lessons, but as a central object of exploration and analysis by learners. It combines training in cultural awareness through the products-practices-perspectives framework (Glisan & Donato, 2017) with the development of learners’ intercultural communicative competence, which refers to a set of abilities necessary for interacting effectively and appropriately with individuals from varying linguistic and cultural backgrounds (Fantini, 2009).

The content of the textbook is inspired by Abrams’ (2020) facets of intercultural communication, as she offers a comprehensive model of components needed for the development of intercultural communicative competence (see image below).

Throughout the ten units of the Tako lako curriculum, students complete a series of cultural exploration tasks during the class session and as part of the homework. Homework tasks always closely build upon the class materials, often providing a supplementary reading related to the topics covered in class. To develop their cultural knowledge (i.e., cultural awareness), students are often asked to conduct individual online research on particular topic. In these homework tasks, students are asked to provide responses in English to a series of thought-provoking questions about culture.

While homework assignments (together with language proficiency) focus on students’ development of cultural awareness, the unit-final role-plays examine students’ performance in realistic cultural scenarios, assessing their ability to recognize and/or use cultural expressions and non-verbal communication, as well as to conduct the conversations in a culturally appropriate manner (vocabulary, grammar, and pragmatics).

Note: Paralinguistic features such as voice quality, prosody, and accent are not explicitly emphasized throughout the textbook, given the potential challenges they might pose for beginner-level students. The implementation of non-verbal communication is mostly left to instructors to incorporate as they see fit.

Tako lako textbook has moved away completely from a structural syllabus with a primary focus on grammar, prioritizing instead learners’ preparation to clearly communicate their ideas in a culturally sensitive and appropriate way. The pedagogical innovation of Tako lako lies in fitting all the language material usually taught in first-year courses in a Slavic language into culture-centered units that utilize a task-supported performance-based approach.

Read more in other sections under “Curricular Scope.”