Culture, Learning and Communication
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
We all develop expectations based on our early experiences. Part of this is biological, such as the food we eat, the comforts or pain we feel and the clothing we wear. But expectations are also greatly affected by experiences from all kinds of sense stimuli all around us. We learn that certain kinds of things will happen in certain kinds of situations, as a result of certain sets of conditions.
We learn to organize these expectations, by probability and according to priorities. Organization comes in part from the society around us. It comes in part from our own analytical faculties, as we respond to the societal influences. So our first experiences which we did not get to choose gave us a frame of reference for later experiences. I think this is a common, simple way to understand how we learn.
Basic learning theory needs to take into account the basic skills or capacities we were born with that enable us to learn from experience. With this ability to learn, God has given us a part of who He created us to be.
Experience in Language
We see this when a child is learning language. You can almost see them mentally processing what they hear and see. The more they listen and practice, the closer they get to what they are hearing. Before long they are enerating their own sentences which they have not heard before.
We do not have to learn every new sentence first. But we do have to learn some model sentences, which become the basis upon which we develop some expectations of how sentences should be made. We try to express our new ideas in new sentences that we have not heard before.
Experience to Worldview
We use this early-experience model to formulate the new experience. The set of experiences and our ideas about them, as individuals and as communities, are what we refer to as culture. The term worldview more specifically refers to the philosophical, or cognitive, aspects of culture.
Language in Culture
The culture group sets the basic terms of our communication events. First of all each culture group has a language, which is usually the primary identifying factor. Some cultures are bilingual. Language is a part of this common set of experiences that we call culture. Naming patterns are another characteristic in a culture group with shared experiences. These and other behavioral expectations may be called the social culture.
The language we learn and the family we are born into are among the factors in our culture and communication styles that we do not get to choose, initially. These first experiences form the frame of reference for learning. Learning styles, then, are an aspect of culture. (There also individual characteristics that affect learning styles between members of the same culture group.)
Enculturation and Perception
The perceptions we gain from our culture through this initial process are limited. Every human is socialized (that is, made a part of society) and enculturized (that is, trained into the cultural expectations). These perceptions develop initially without our conscious awareness. That is part of the limitation. We do not get to choose the guidelines or early experiences.
We further learn by observation. Early experiences are automatically analyzed and developed as a format. We proceed to new experiences in language and life, using innate mental abilities to analyze these experiences. You as a learner have previous experiences that help you make sense of what you are getting from your teacher.
Experience and Learning
A teacher or preacher has to keep the same thing in mind. From previous experiences, the pastor's hearers are going to analyze what the pastor gives them. Early experiences form the basis of learning. We became more discerning and critical as we gain more experience, to accept one thing and reject the other or to believe one thing and reject another.
As we go through new experiences, we learn new things. This new knowledge enriches the worldview, or cognitive culture.
Culture in Communication
Culture is a very important part of communication. A culture, or culture group, is a group of people who share common experiences or a common set of experiences. In this sense you can say that there is, at one level, an African culture or a European culture. Then you will find there are differences within the African or European cultures.
This will lead to subsets of different experiences within the one broader culture. Where our experiences are different, we will have different aspects of culture. The more different the experience sets are, the greater the cultural distance will be.
In Texas, where I grew up there was a group of people who identified themselves with the Spanish language and perhaps the history and culture of Spain and Mexico. Another group identified with the English language and the history and culture of perhaps Great Britain and Anglo-America.
These two peoples had different sets of experiences. The two streams of experience came from different directions into Texas, bringing their separate foundations of history and culture. When they came together in Texas, the new focus for both groups developed in parallel, plus much sharing of common experiences in Texas. This new set of experiences was common to them. So this would be the common set from which we can say there is a Texan culture which derives from the various sources.
We therefore have Spanish Texans and English or Anglo Texans. But there are separate experiences that they do not share. Each people of the world have a unique set of experiences from their history, geography, religion, etc.
The teacher, like every other communicator, must take this unique culture — this unique set of experiences and the resulting self-identity — into account. We have to carefully identify the groups we are working with. We need to identify common experiences because we can relate to people primarily on the basis of our common experiences.
Learning and Communication
There are two foundational principles regarding learning as a communication event. First, every encounter between two or more humans can be analyzed as a communication event. Learning, therefore, is one type of communication event. It may be formal or informal in structure. It may be semi-informal as in apprenticeship, or informal through casual observation.
The second principle says that our human perceptions are limited. Our experiences enable us to relate to people in our home culture, village and family. At the same time these are limitations because other people are learning to relate to their home culture, family and village in a different way.
Experience to Experience
New experiences are evaluated on the basis of previous experiences. This involves two aspects, new experiences and knowledge relating the social culture to the cognitive culture.
These are the two primary terms, experience, being the events that have happened to us, and knowledge, being information we have gained, including reflection on the previous experiences and knowledge. Your new experiences and knowledge are evaluated on the basis of previous experiences and knowledge.
This greatly affects what your audience can perceive when you speak.
The greater your awareness of the previous knowledge and learning style of your target audience, the more effective you will be as a communicator in that setting.
Cultural Role and Language Proficiency
First posted 1 April 2000
Last updated 02 January 2008
Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 2000, 2008 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
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