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How to Learn a Language and a Culture

Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Introductory Perspectives

Study or Learn
Basic Goals
The Society


We all know about the variety of languages spoken in the world. But most people do not actually think about what is involved in learning another language until they are faced with the need for it in order to live in another country.  Even then, awareness of the task and its gravity often dawns upon the learner only after beginning the experience.

Study or Learn?

One limitation in dealing with the language is the idea that you "study" a language.  The concept most Americans have of language learning is the high school or university language courses some of them had to take.  The popular term "language study" reflects this concept.  

Most Europeans have a more dynamic concept of language learning than Anglo-Americans, since many have needed to learn more than one language simply in the course of their daily lives.  Yet I have observed that Europeans as a whole also have a very academic concept of language learning.

Many Westerners going overseas are completely oblivious to the cultural and social dynamics they will have to deal with when they arrive in their new country.  Sadly many organizations also fail to realize the importance of these factors for their newly-arrived colleagues.  

They consequently make inadequate preparations for the new arrivals.  It is still all too common to find a program in which language is taught totally in the classroom, then when the course is over, the student is sent out into the real world, which does not follow the structure and limitations of the classroom.

Much better to be a learner than a student.  An adequate program of language learning will focus on cultural and social dynamics.  This means that an adequate language learning program must give attention to cultural awareness and social involvement.  This means, in turn, that the academic approach is inadequate.  Language is best learned in contact with the people who speak that language and in a society where that language is the medium of social interaction.

Language is a social skill.  Language is a cognitive skill.  Most language "courses" focus on only the latter.  The cultural and social side is often neglected.

It seems more adequate to think of a language learning program in terms of an orientation program in which the language being learned is the channel for learning the culture and gaining social skills.  That is, an orientation program built around a target language, or around a language and culture of a target people.

The cognitive skills in language are somewhat incidental, since what you are learning is not information, but a new format for organizing information.  This format is the worldview of the target people.

Basic Goals

 An orientation program should orient people to a new living and working environment and a new cultural setting.  Orientation to the new community is accomplished through guided experience, which is incorporated into the language learning part of the course, as well as through systematic formal study of various aspects of the culture, including family structures, religion, political systems, inheritance and other aspects of the social culture.

The Society

The orientation program should help to incorporate the newcomers into the society, the people and country as a whole.  The foreigner, the newcomer, the outsider must learn the cultural foundations of the society, the general patterns of living and relating.  She must begin to work towards acceptanceand begin to earn a role in the society.  The newcomer must learn to relate and communicate in the new setting.

The new society has different assumptions and different social requirements.  It has different patterns of communication.  This means that two primary considerations must be

(1) handling social situations and
(2) building relationships with local people.

OBJ

Series Posted 06 July 2000
Last edited 2 January 2008

Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 2000, 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email: researchguy@iname.com

What is Worldview?       What is a People Group?
Culture, Learning and Communication     Multi-Cultural People Groups
How to Do Research on the Web        Cities and People Groups

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