Central to this chapter is the concept of ‘culture’. I argued that knowledge-based language courses with a national bias do not provide insight into the complexity of culture, although when taught at an academic level, it can develop a critical understanding of the target country in terms of querying information given and understanding changing events in relation to the wider global and cultural situation. A cultural studies approach to culture in language teaching allows for acknowledging the cultural complexity and indeterminacies of contemporary life.
I discussed various views of language and argued that the view of language as being stable and autonomous, as it is in the structuralist paradigm, leaves no role for cultural or social context. This view, whilst widely considered to be outdated in modern language teaching, still, unwittingly, underpins language courses.
Social views of language include the determinist Whorfian hypothesis, which is frequently quoted in the field of Dutch language teaching, to theorize the unrefuted relationship between language and culture. Whilst I believe there is indeed a strong relationship between the two, this is not at the level of ‘a’ particular language in relation to ‘a’ particular culture, which the Whorfian hypothesis supposes. Instead, this relationship is occurring at the generic level.
A more complex view of language and the social world underpins Critical Language Awareness approaches, which provide a critical stance and deepen learners’ understanding of the processes of producing texts, and the ideological forces that have a bearing on this. CLA particularly focuses on how power is produced and reproduced through language. These approaches could be applied to modern language teaching, but the critical understanding, which is occasioned through CLA approaches, should be supplemented with an understanding of other cultural parameters, in addition to power.
Hymes’ view of communicative competence provides such a view in considering a range of parameters, including time, place, and social conventions. However, this view focuses primarily on the context of the situation and does not allow enough space for the wider cultural ideas provided through the context of culture. Finally, I argued that looking at language as discourse, and its meaning-making potential, can help students to develop a deeper understanding of the complexities of the cultural world in which the language under study is spoken.
Risager’s concepts of a generic and a differential level of language and culture help in considering how the notion of discourses can be conceptualized in relation to language teaching. I argued that both levels, the generic and the differential are part of language teaching, and the generic level avoids the narrow one-to-one relationship of the one language, one culture view.
Looking at language as discourse, Pennycook points us to pedagogies of ‘mapping discourses’ (2001), which helps to understand the multiplicity of discourses, how discourses cross borders, and develop students’ critical awareness of how texts construct truth claims. Despite my focus on the global aspect of discourses, I also argued, that we cannot deny particular national ‘accentuations’, even if these articulations themselves need to be understood in the context of the complexity of culture in an age of mobility.
Finally, through discursive mapping students are invited to think about the relations and interrelations which are part of the process of communicating in different cultural situations and realities, and ultimately practice them.
It is this aspect of intercultural communication, which has been implicit in this chapter, which I will discuss explicitly in Chapter 3.