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Learn How Culture Impacts Second Language Acquisition With an Education Degree in ESL

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There are many reasons to learn a second language. Studying a foreign language provides advantages in business, military, technology, government, medicine, marketing and several other areas. More than just words, language is essential to communicating beliefs and customs, sharing traditions and culture and preserving values. Students learning a second language must also access the culture that influences that language.

Educators agree that students exposed to cultural materials and immersed in culturally rich environments acquire a second language more easily because their background knowledge makes comprehension less complicated. The online Master of Science in Education (MSEd) with a Concentration in Adult Education ESL program at Southern Oregon University (SOU) teaches graduates the importance of cultural understanding in learning a second language.

Blending Language and Culture

“Language is the carrier of culture, and culture is transmitted through language,” author Rongmei Yu writes in a recent article about culture and foreign language acquisition in the Journal of Language Teaching and Research. “As long as a language is in use, the culture it represents will survive. Even if a culture is wiped out, it can still be studied by looking at its language. Culture and language…are considered…principal and inseparable,” notes Yu.

Therefore, learning a language goes beyond just the alphabet. Beyond learning the rules of grammar and word arrangements, learning a language means understanding the customs and societal behaviors that inform that language. For English as a second language (ESL) students, familiarity with the culture of the language they are studying makes a critical difference in the type of speaker students become.

Gaining cultural context can mean the difference between speakers who do and do not understand the connotations of words and the world they create. A recent ARC Publications report notes that culture is the foundation of communication: “When foreign language learners that have been taught the culture alongside the language encode their messages, they will not do so from a void, but from a deep understanding of what they are saying, its implications and history. They will be able to do much more than communicate simple needs and ideas, and they will be much better equipped to interact within the target language culture.”

Culture’s Influence on Language Instruction

Culture is crucial in all educational contexts, especially language acquisition, so how culture is defined is of critical note. A recent Berlitz article reports ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality and religion define culture and should be kept in mind by ESL students. The article suggests strategies teachers can use to create a cultural framework in the classroom:

  • Make cultural learning materials available.
  • Use proverbs to analyze the differences and similarities between cultures.
  • Roleplay to understand past miscommunications and develop strategies for future interactions.
  • Present students as cultural resources.
  • Use technology for multicultural activities.

Experts agree it’s easier to learn and remember information if we can make connections and associations between new material and other knowledge. When students learn a new word and have had a meaningful cultural interaction, it naturally makes them more curious about the language. Experts agree that a person must learn language and culture simultaneously to achieve true linguistic comprehension. It is nearly impossible to extricate the influences culture and language have on one another as they are interdependent.

Blending Culture and Curriculum

Experts agree that the more emphasis placed on ingraining culture in language education, the better. Educators who can blend culture with the curriculum are in demand. Educators can work with linguistically and culturally diverse ESL speakers when they earn an MSEd with a Concentration in Adult Education ESL online from Southern Oregon University. Graduates will have the necessary knowledge to blend culture and language with curricula. As opportunities in ESL continue to grow, educators can help second-language learners succeed.

Specialized courses like 1st and 2nd Language Acquisition and Cultural Impacts explore theories on how students learn and acquire languages and how culture manifests itself in school settings to provide a foundation for understanding methods and strategies. This ensures that each student’s own cultural experiences are reflected and validated in classroom learning experiences.

Learn more about SOU’s online MSEd with a Concentration in Adult Education ESL program.

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