31 08, 2015

Cultural awareness in language learning

Cultural awareness has become a fashionable term in the 21st century. You find it in job ads, in marketing strategies and in university courses and business training programmes. Most often you will find it in the context of global business. So what is behind the term, why is it important to be ‘culturally aware’ and how do language classes help to increase cultural awareness? According to Collins English Dictionary ‘Someone's cultural awareness is their understanding of the differences between themselves and people from other countries or other backgrounds, especially differences in attitudes and values.’ It seems important here to acknowledge differences without assigning values like better or worse, right or wrong and also to avoid the use of stereotypes. Since culture is not really conscious to us, it can be a difficult task to be culturally aware. We don’t realise that our own cultural background has such an impact on our behaviour towards others. Cultural awareness becomes central when we have to communicate with people from other cultures. What is considered an appropriate gesture or custom in one culture is often inappropriate in the other and can offend individuals. The body language of a person can lead to misunderstandings. A nod, for example, is in many cultures most commonly, but not universally, used to indicate agreement. A straight look into your face is regarded as disrespectful in Japan. Being punctual is certainly a very important trait in Germany but can be regarded as almost rude in South America. Coming from a western country with a Christian background you wouldn’t suggest to have a business meeting on a Sunday, but would you consider a meeting with a Muslim colleague on a Friday? As there is a [...]

27 12, 2013

The Benefits of Language Learning

As 2014 approaches people are considering and deciding on all sorts of painful New Year's Resolutions. Losing weight, getting fit and saving money are all noble goals, but the reason we aren't doing these things already is because they are hard work and not much fun. The world continues to shrink and we become closer to our neighbours through ever improving means of transport and communication. Now more than ever speaking a foreign language is an essential skill for both improving our career and business options, and for improving our personal lives through increased opportunities when travelling and for making friends and interacting with our local and global community. Learning and speaking a foreign language keeps your mind active and opens your mind to a whole new culture and way of living and thinking. As Charlemagne said, to speak a second language is to possess a second soul. The best thing about learning a new language is how much fun it can be. Learning a language is social, full of laughs, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience. You have classmates who are also learning this language and who are experiencing the same joys and frustrations as you, who support you and share their experiences with you. You have teachers who are there because they love teaching this language to the point that they have made it their career. You can see yourself improving week on week and starting to speak with more fluency and more confidence. And you know that this experience is giving you a valuable skill that is fun and world-enlarging to use and experience. Speaking a foreign language is an invaluable skill. Acquiring this skill is fun, social and rewarding.