How Is “Culture” Embedded In Classroom Communication

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“We are irreducibly unique and different, and that I could have been you, you could have been me, given different circumstances…” (Kramsch, 1993, p.3).

According to Hofstede, a Dutch researcher, language and culture go hand –in-hand and are difficult to separate one from the other. “ Language is the vehicle of culture and it is an obstinate vehicle”(Hofstede,1986,p.314).In a similar vein, Minkov(2013,p.24) states that “the question of how stable or changeable culture is cannot have a definitive answer that is valid for all cases. It depends on the society, on the type and strength of factors that are exerting pressure on its culture, and on the kind of change that is measured”. What could be more valid, though, is an acknowledged tendency to incorporate most professional and teaching contexts in universally accepted opposite binaries, proposed in Hofstede’s theory, which seem to be applicable in almost every cultural background. Hofstede’s data upon cultural dimensions derive from a large-scale research on IBM employees between 1967-1973 creating the framework to explore values, deep assumptions and guided morality which are rooted in every culture and are difficult sometimes not only to be traced but even more to change. Hofstede’s cultural theory is significant on two grounds(Nguyen, 2014, p.2); it enables cross-cultural researchers and practitioners to focus on a deeper layer of inherent assumptions of each culture(Nguyen, 2014,p.2) -as opposed to Hall’s theory which relies upon mere observation of the outward expression of verbal/non-verbal communication among different cultural groups, which, nevertheless is of outmost importance in cross –cultural classroom settings. Secondly, it allows speculation on a wide range of cultures with a comparative perspective. Despite the fact that Hofstede’s theory is based upon a corporate value system, it cannot be ignored its relevance to the classroom culture as “role patterns and value systems are carried forward from the school to the job and back”(Hofstede, 1986, p.306). All the data collected by Hofstede’s research were categorized and systematized according to four dimensions, Power Distance, Individualism-Collectivism, Uncertainty Avoidance, Masculinity-Femininity, each of which correlated with external national indices. The Power Distance Index is related to the distribution of power among members of the same institution (i.e. school) or organization and how willing are the less powerful members to accept or even expect unequal distribution of power(Ngyuen,2014,p.3). “All societies are unequal, but some are more unequal than others”(Hofstede, 1980, quoted in Hofstede, 1986,p.307). Uncertainty Avoidance can be defined as the “extent to which the members of the culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations”(Hofstede, 2005, p.167). Individualism versus Collectivism connotes how tightly or loosely integrated a society can be(Hofstede,1986, p.307) whereas Masculinity versus Femininity refers to the distribution of roles between the members and the variation between women’s and men’s values. It is noteworthy to mention that in Trompenaars work it can be traced a similar to Hofstede’s dimension, the one concerning Individualism versus Collectivism, looking, though, more at the relations between members of equal status. In accordance to Hofstede’s belief of intertwining between classroom reality and culture is Holliday’s credo. One of the cultural orientations identified by Larzen-Ostermark(2008,p.250) is “viewing ‘culture’ as a bi-directional perspective and encouraging students to look at their own familiar culture from another perspective… learn to empathize with and show respect for otherness”. In other words, it complies with Hofstede’s social anthropology of culture with a small c and Holliday’s small culture approach located in a Host Culture Complex. Holliday’s work on small cultures is extremely useful for any classroom setting as it attempts to describe and interpret the cultural phenomena of each individual setting rather than prescribe attached, fixed meanings to them. Instead of acquiring stereotypical national explanations, it focuses on working bottom up from the ‘small’issues to larger explanations(Fay,2008,p.338). Although every class of students within every institution, in every country, behaves differently, classes of the same country and institution are more likely to behave in a similar way(Atkins, 2000, p.3). Therefore “the role of the… teacher is not only to teach…but also to socialize the student as a member of that society”(Holliday,1994,p.4). The teacher’s role is further mirrored in Anderson’s words (1993, p.107 cited in Atkins,2000,p.3) as following: “classroom interaction is more than a reflection of adult society. It in many ways systematically prepares students for it”. Therefore, the basic aim in the EFL learning process is to maximize the likelihood of effective English communication among the participants, on the basis of a lingua franca used by NNSs, who still carry with them their “cultural baggage” trying to enrich their cultural identity(Richard Fay, 2008).    

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