Cultural aspects in ELT

Culture has an important place in English language teaching and learning studies. Of course, there are different kinds of aspects but it is thought that culture and language are used and considered as a unit. For critical thinking, information is not enough and useful. There should be cultural awareness.
The aim of this study is to give information about cultural aspects in English language teaching. Culture, cultural awareness and language teaching are some of the keywords of this study.
1.      Introduction
Everybody knows that to understand a language completely it is essential to know not only knowledge of the grammar, phonology and lexis but also a certain features and characteristics of the culture. To communicate internationally requires communicating interculturally as well, which probably leads us to encounter factors of cultural differences and features. These differences and features exist in every language.
We can say that a language is a part of culture and a culture is a part of language. These should be thought or considered in the same sense. According to Brown (1994) the two are intricately interwoven so that one can not separate the two without losing the significance of their language or culture. The need for cultural literacy in ELT arises mainly from the fact that most language learners, not exposed to cultural elements of the society in question, seem to encounter significant hardship in communicating meaning to native speakers
Generally, language is connected to social and cultural values and so language is thought to be a social and cultural phenomenon. Naturally, each culture has its own cultural values and aspects and these values change from one culture to another. Sometimes, their values might be completely different. So it leads to communication problems among speakers and learners who are not aware of the values and features of other culture.
To solve these communication problems;

  • Learners should learn the target culture,
  • Teachers should be sensitive to the learner’s fragility so as not to cause them to lose their motivation.

If we turn to the relationship between culture and language, we can mention about some remarkable comments; for example, (McDewitt, 2004) there is no such a thing as human nature independent of culture.
2. The Relationship between Culture and Language
There is a strong relationship between culture and language. Language is the soul of country and people who speak it. Language and culture are inextricably linked.
            Actually, there is a threat to the native values when we are learning about the target language. For learners, it is hard to appreciate the importance of learning the cultural aspects of communication if they do not visit or have a close contact with a foreign country and experience the difficulties. I think Turkey is one of the most suitable countries for English language teaching because our country takes place in the centre of many cultures. Learners in ELT departments in Turkey have chance to get cultural values easily. Turkey is both near to foreign countries and attractive country for tourists all over the world.
It is important for ELT students to get cultural values in a harmony but while doing this, they should be careful about their own values. That is to say, they should think cultural values globally and act according to their own language, culture and their values.
            However, there is a problem about culture and language. It is miscommunication. It is because of the lack of cross-cultural awareness. Also, signals, postures, mimics and another ways of behavior can cause miscommunication.
            In ELT classrooms, learners learn automatically culture while they are learning the language. Gestures, body movements, and distances maintained by speakers or learners should foster cultural insights. Students’ intellectual curiosity is aroused and satisfied when they learn that there exists another mode of expression to talk about feelings, wants, and needs and when they read the literature of the foreign country. If language learners are to communicate at a personal level with individuals from other cultural backgrounds, they will need not only to understand the cultural influences at work in the behavior of others, but also to recognize the profound influence patterns of their own culture exert over their thoughts, their activities, and their forms of linguistics expression.
            Thanks to the teaching of the target culture, cross-cultural communication develops. It is possible with the preparation on an organized inventory and this inventory has linguistics aspects of the culture.
            Language is a vital constituent of culture because language is described as a mode of human behavior and culture as patterned behavior. As I mentioned earlier, each culture has a unique pattern and the behavior of an individual, linguistics or otherwise, manifested through that is also unique. Therefore language will mean changing the learners’ behavior pattern. So there is a close relationship between the language and the culture. Also, there is relationship between the form and content of a language and the beliefs, values, and needs present in the culture of its speakers.
            It is important that the students are in need of developing cultural awareness and cultural sensitiveness. Teachers’ task is to make students aware of cultural differences. Therefore the reasons for familiarizing learners with the cultural components should be to;

  • has a wide perspective
  • be aware of the communicative skills
  • develop intercultural understanding
  • be aware of potential mistakes
  • understand the aspects of both the target and the native culture

      3. Cultural Awareness in ELT Classrooms
            Language can not be separated completely from the culture. As we mentioned, they are thought as a whole, of course, there are some differences among cultures and so both learners and teachers in ELT departments but also other departments such as EFL, ESL etc.
            The ways and attitudes of the social group help learners/students learn the native language. Learning to understand a foreign culture should help students of another language to use words and expressions more skillfully. Most learners find positive benefits in cross-cultural living on learning experiences. However, some have psychological blocks and other inhibiting effects of the second culture. So teachers are important here because teachers should help students to turn such an experience into self awareness.
            In teaching, foreign language teachers need to be sensitive to the fragility of students by using techniques that promote cultural understanding.
            The following statements are important to solve this problem:

  • The use of role-play in ELT classrooms can help students to overcome cultural fatigue
  • Techniques such as reading, films, simulation, games and culture assimilators can be useful for teachers to assist them.


  1.      4. Review of Course Books Used in Turkey

In this study, the course books extensively used in Turkey checked. Most of the books that were checked are from foreign sources. So it is quite normal to see their own cultural aspects. For example, in “Oxford Heroes Student’s Book”, “Shrek” is given as an example of movie. Redwood Hall Museum is given as an example of museum. As for another example, in “Inspiration Student Course Book”, Spaghetti Bolognese is given as an example of meals. Also, the actors and actress are chosen from different countries. For instance, in “Oxford Heroes Student’s Book”, Cameron Diaz, Keanu Reeves and Brad Pitt are shown as an example of this.
All in all, these course books include many different aspects from a variety of cultures of all over the world. However, British and American cultures are more dominant than other cultures. These cultural aspects can be seen easily in the activities used in these course books.
To sum up, it is clearly seen that most of the course books used in Turkey do not include enough examples to reflect Turkish culture. Hence, Turkish students may not be familiar with the foreign cultural values. For example, a student may not know Cameron Diaz. Instead, Türkan Şoray can be given as an example to motivate students to lesson.
     5. Conclusion 
Learners in ELT departments should distinguish the difference between local and global values. Also it is necessary for them to be conscious about the cultural norms; beliefs of other cultures. They can make use of their knowledge of the foreign language.
In the concept of cultural awareness, students’ ethnic and religious backgrounds should remain the same. That’s to say, studying English should not change students’ learn a lot of different things thanks to language and use the things what they learnt through their lives.
Teachers in ELT departments, especially in Turkey, should know the importance of the relationship between language and culture. Also they need cultural awareness because to learn a foreign language means to learn a different culture. So while teaching a language, they should be aware of these differences.
            All in all, both language and culture should not be taught separately. Language and culture complete each others. Teachers and students should be conscious about this fact and have such a philosophy: “think globally, act locally”.


Fınk, C. (2003). “Culturel awareness”. In Hanak, M & Newby, H.,D. (Eds)
           Second language acquisition: The interface between theory and practise
            (p.65-69). 06.08.2005.
Jiang, W. (2000). The realation between culture and language.  Journal
Volume 54/4 October. Oxford University Pres. (On-line document).07.09.2005.               
McDevitt, B. (2004). Negotiating the Syllabus: A win-win Syllabus. ELT Journal 58    (1), 3-9.
Peterson, E. & Coltrane, B. (2003). Culture in second language teaching.
             (On-line document) 03.08.2005.
              http://www. cal.org/resources/digest/0309peterson.html.
Quintana , J & Benne R.R (2007). Oxford Heroes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Garton, J & Prowse, S.P (2007). Inspiration. Oxford: Macmillan Publishers.


Average: 2.5 (2 votes)


bluering's picture

Hi dear colleague,
This is a very significant issue we should take into consideration in our teaching. Whether we teach in a multinational class or not we should be aware of the cultural values of our students. Even though we teach in our country, we should be careful because each region has its own customs, beliefs and traditions. We should always keep in mind these when we prepare for our lessons. In the case of multinational classes, it requires much more thought. We should take religion, cultural heritage and personal values into consideration at the same time so as not to insult anyone. We should be as tactful as possible when we choose the activities and when we ask particular students to do certain things during the class. Selecting the appropriate books is really important to be able address the different needs and cultures in the classroom.

RHN79's picture

Hi, thanks for your delicate comments. When we talk about multinational classes, as you said bluering, we should take cultural values of all students into consideration. In such circumstances all steps should be planned accordingly. My study was about coursebooks used in Turkey so such a comment shouldn't be thought as a insulting result. If I studied course books for Elt in any country or region, I would underline the same points with you. Yet, it was limited for only course books of Turkey. Although I teach in a small town, I try to study even the smallest cultural differences from in any other part of Turkey carefully. It is really demanding great effort to address their needs. Regards Rhn79  

Ez78's picture

I completely agree, you said "Think globally and act locally. This positively open my mind up. thank you