Developing Multicultural Awareness Through English (slideshare)


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Paper presented at the Arts and Education: Creative Ways into Languages International Conference, hosted by the University of Athens (May 2011). Cultural input in TESOL courseware is critically reviewed and suggestions are made for fostering Multicultural Awareness Through English (MATE)

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  • Many speakers in this conference have framed the linkage between culture and foreign language learning in terms of how aspects of the target culture can be used to enhance learning outcomes. These are valuable insights for scholarship and pedagogy, no doubt, but in this presentation, I would like to take this inquiry in a different direction, and explore how the cultural elements in language teaching shape the learners’ emerging identities. Specifically, I want to argue that the uncritical use of such cultural elements might explain what seems to me as a fundamental paradox: English Language Teaching, we are told, promotes multiculturalism, but I think there is enough evidence to suggest that it is -in fact- associated with the emergence of uniform monocultural identities on a global scale.
  • I will begin my argument by briefly discussing those aspects of out English language curriculum that pertain to culture. Next, I will present some examples of materials that are currently in use in English language education and I will tease out some implications for multicultural development. Finally, I will put forward a series of suggestions for an alternative language pedagogy, which– I believe – links culture and language in a more meaningful way.
  • As seen in this slide, our education policy views multiculturalism as a natural outgrowth of foreign language education. However, the veracity of this claim has been challenged both empirically and theoretically.
  • For some researchers, our English Language Curriculum tends to equate multiculturalism with a loose sense of cultural awareness about the customs and traditions of the countries where English is spoken as a native language. By means of example, some of the curricular objectives that are specified include:“Putting together a display of foods from different English-speaking countries.” “Collecting myths or legends from Greece and English speaking countries.” The two points that are worth noting are (firstly) the geographically restrictive outlook inherent in these statements, and (secondly) the superficial definition of culture.
  • Others have pointed out that the learning materials used in the primary schools tend to reinforce the notion that certain cultures are superior to others. For example, information about mainstream Anglo Saxon culture is over-represented whereas equivalent input from other cultures is initialised. Similarly, most names of characters in the courseware are either from the English Speaking West or Greek, but almost never do they refer to ‘low-prestige’ cultures.
  • On the basis of such evidence, I think it’s fair to claim that strong tension seems to exist between the stated aims of the public education system, and the way these aims are operationalised in the actuality of teaching. Having made this observation, I will now turn my attention to the use of cultural material the ministry-approved textbooks, in order to develop the hypothesis that this tension is associated with the unequal representation of cultures in the courseware.
  • The examples I will present to you have been drawn from the English language coursebooks that were recently introduced in Junior High Schools. They form part of a broader corpus of data that I am using for a quantitative content analysis that will – I hope – be published as an article soon. But rather than focus on statistical abstractions, I thought it would be more interesting, for the purposes this particular discussion, to focus on specific examples that seemed particularly striking to me. If there are people among you who are fascinated by discussion of frequency distributions and measures of statistical significance, please feel free to get in touch after the presentation.
  • The first example I will show you comes from the Coursebook used by false beginners in the 1st Form of Junior High School. I’d like to draw your attention to the lesson titled ‘The four corners of the Earth’: one would assume that learners will be exposed to cultural images from a variety of settings where English is used as a second or foreign language. Instead, it appears that learners are presented with a map and associated information about the UK and are later tasked with writing an article about the same country.
  • The following image is also taken from the same book, in a unit that draws interdisciplinary links to Geography and History. Let us pause to consider what cultural images might be pedagogically appropriate… What we are presented with are tourist attractions in London. I will concede that there are also depictions of the Greek Marbles in the British Museum and an Olympic Airlines ticket, but what is very striking –to me at least – is the complete lack of references to other non-western, non-English speaking cultures, even within the UK.
  • The last example I will present, comes from a unit titled: ‘Keeping customs and traditions alive’. This unit contains a wealth of cultural information about traditional celebrations, most of which are – once more – mainly Anglo-Saxon in origin. The text that takes up most of the page describes Halloween, whereas the questions below refer to St. Valentine’s Day. Other traditions mentioned in the same unit include Bonfire Night, St. Patrick’s Day, the Scottish New Year and, somewhat bizarrely, the Pamplona Bull Run.
  • Based on these examples, one might be forgiven for thinking that the learning materials are exclusively Anglo-centric. This is not entirely true, as there are occasional references to other cultures, particularly that of Greece, although the coverage is uneven. Still, the point I want to stress is that images from the UK and -to a lesser extent- the USA, are over-represented, at the expense of similar input from other communities where English is used as a first, second or foreign language. It is my opinion that this uneven coverage is problematic for at least two reasons. Firstly it seems to hinder the stated curricular aim of developing multicultural awareness. Secondly, these imported cultural images, along with broader social forces, have the effect of de-valorising the cultural capital that learners already have, and serves to perpetuate inequitable distributions of power between a norm-providing Anglophone West and a norm-receiving English-Using World.As I draw towards the conclusion of this presentation, I would like to lay out the requisites for an alternative language pedagogy, which – in my view – uses cultural diversity in a more purposive way. This discussion draws heavily on the concept of Multicultural Awareness Through English (MATE) which has been put forward as a new mission for English Language pedagogy in an era of globalization.
  • A core characteristic of MATE-informed pedagogy is the equal representation of cultural images from all the settings where English is used as a first, second or foreign languages. At minimum, this entails the use of cultural input that has been drawn from a broader range of sources than is currently the case. Preferably, it involves drawing on the cultural heritage of all learners from different backgrounds, who find themselves in our language classrooms; it involves encouraging them to speak about their heritage; it involves celebrating all this diversity.This brings me to the second requisite. There are good reasons to believe that a multicultural identity can develop more naturally in an organic fashion through the social interaction of learners from different cultural backgrounds. Learners need a safe social space where they can bring their cultural knowledge in genuine communicative situations to bear where English is used to exchange cultural information. The prevailing transmissive tradition and the top-down imposition of a centralized curriculum certainly hinder this process, and it seems incumbent on teaching professionals to constantly negotiate, re-interpret and challenge such constraints. Self-evident though this might seem, it has some controversial implications: I believe that the successful implementation of a culturally informed pedagogy requires us to reconsider the question of who is best qualified to deliver English language education. Currently, English is taught in the public education system by university graduates, whose professional credentials – at least those that relate to culture – are mostly limited to the in-depth knowledge of the literary production of the British Isles and Northern America. This results in a regrettable situation where the teachers of English know a lot about, say, Shakespearean drama, but are unprepared to capitalise on the diverse cultural resources that learners bring to our classrooms. It may well be the case that education professionals with a stronger pedagogical background, such as linguistically qualified primary specialists, may prove better suited to creating the kind of social space where a MATE-informed pedagogy can take place.
  • In summary, I have argued that -with regard to the English Language- the public education system is informed by a covert Anglocentric curriculum, which is sustained by the liberal use of cultural imagery from the English Speaking West. As this curriculum is not conducive to the development of genuinely multicultural awareness, I outlined some thoughts regarding the content and methods of a more inclusive pedagogical alternative – MATE. I started my presentation by noting that –for many of us– language learning can be facilitated by the use of cultural input. As I conclude my presentation, I would like to invite you to consider this question: since English has become a global language, whose culture should it convey?
  • Developing Multicultural Awareness Through English (slideshare)

    1. 1. Developing Multicultural Awareness Through English: Reflections on Culture and Multiculturalism<br />Achilleas Kostoulas, The University of Manchester<br />
    2. 2. Overview<br />Culture and the ELT Curriculum<br />Examples of ELT materials<br />Multicultural Awareness Through English (MATE)<br />
    3. 3. Culture & The ELT Curriculum<br />Instances of methodological tension<br />
    4. 4. Multiculturalism & the curriculum<br />“ …multiculturalism emerges naturallysince, as a language of international communication, [English]will make a significant contribution towards shaping multicultural awareness”<br />Pedagogical Institute. (2003). InterdisciplinaryUniformCurricularFramework.Vol. Β,p. 4086<br />
    5. 5. Obstacles to multicultural pedagogy<br />“Limited range of suggested activities [which] provide some lead for the development of a generic (?) intranational cultural awareness through English.”<br />Selected objectives in the National Curriculum:<br />“Putting together a display of foods from different English-speaking countries.” <br />“Collection of myths or legends from Greece and English speaking countries”<br />Sifakis, N., Lytra, V. and Fay, R. (2010). English as a lingua franca in an increasingly post-EFL era: The case of English in the Greek state education curriculum. Paper presented at the Third International Conference on English as a Lingua Franca. Vienna: 22 – 25th May 2010.<br />
    6. 6. Cultural references in the courseware<br />“cultures that are considered to be low-status are systematically invisiblised”<br />PozoukidisN.&Balabanidou,Z.(2010) Η διαπολιτισμική διάσταση των νέων βιβλίων αγγλικής γλώσσας για το δημοτικό σχολείο: μια ανάλυση περιεχομένου. Paper presented at the 13th International Conference on Intercultural Education, Immigration and Conflict Management. Alexandroupolis: 7-9 May 2010.<br />
    7. 7. Tension<br />Curricular aims<br />Actuality of teaching<br />
    8. 8. Examples of ELT Materials<br />How multicultural is the courseware?<br />
    9. 9.
    10. 10.
    11. 11.
    12. 12. Multicultural awareness Through English<br />An alternative approach to multiculturalism<br />
    13. 13. Requisites for MATE<br /><ul><li>Equal representation of cultural images (courseware, learners’ backgrounds)
    14. 14. Safe social space for sharing cultural knowledge
    15. 15. Rethinking of professional credentials</li></li></ul><li>
    16. 16. Thank you for your attention<br /><br />