The importance of culture in language learning

Have you ever tried learning a language without knowing about its culture? The exercise is less fun than you might imagine, and exercise is not very fun as it is.

On the other hand, discovering a country’s cultural references, music, signature dishes, traditions and customs will push your language learning and motivation to new and exciting places.

At Gymglish, we’re convinced that learning a language isn’t just learning a list of words or a set of rules. Studying linguistics and theory is only one piece of the puzzle. We believe that tying language to a context, whether it be experiential or narrative, is the cornerstone of mastering it. Using humor in our storytelling not only motivates the learner and stimulates memorization, but also addresses the great number of different ways we communicate, work and live together.

A language isn’t just an organized sign system; it’s an equation of different elements of which linguistics is only one of many. (…) Culture makes up an inherent component of each person and of the language in which they express themselves. If culture doesn’t exist without language, then language doesn’t exist without culture either.

Jacques Leylavergne et Andrea Parra in “La culture dans l’enseignement et apprentissage d’une langue étrangère

So how do we include a cultural dimension to our online courses? First, by sharing stories and experiences of everyday life. In our French course, Frantastique, students will learn about their local boulanger, interact with a garçon (server) and discover the stunning array of cheeses the French tend to hide in their cheese closets (cheese closets may not be real). In our English course, Gymglish, you’ll learn about scheduling meetings, negotiating a business deal and booking tickets and accommodation. Our stories include situations from personal, professional and everyday life, all with a touch of humor. The word “culture” here is used in a broad sense, with all its practical implications.

Learning a foreign language is about learning a new culture, lifestyles, attitudes, ways of thinking, a new and different logic; it’s about entering a mysterious world, understanding individual behavior, broadening your knowledge and your own level of understanding.

Jeanine Courtillon in her book  “La notion de progression appliquée à l’enseignement de la civilisation”

The second cultural ingredient in our pedagogy is multiculturalism. We wanted to address the language from diverse perspectives culturally and regionally. Accents, vocabulary, idioms, slang, lifestyles… we want to highlight this diversity rather than focus on a monolithic approach. At Gymglish, we feature American English alongside British English and highlight vocabulary and accents from all English-speaking countries. Frantastique features Canadian, Belgian, Swiss, African, and French characters from multiple regions. Our Spanish course, Hotel Borbollón, includes Spanish and Latin American references and vocabulary. As for our German course, Wunderbla, users will come across accents and characters from Austria and Switzerland, as well as Germany. Communication in English, French, Spanish or German doesn’t necessarily imply communicating exclusively with English, French, Spanish or German people, nor will we necessarily be conversing with speakers in their native languages for that matter. Learning a language is about broadening our horizons, hence the importance of multiculturalism.

The last cultural ingredient of our pedagogy focuses on authentic artistic, literary, musical, and cinematographic references. We endeavor to feature significant authors, movies, TV series, poems, books and songs for the “dessert” section at the end of each lesson. This way our users can finish their lesson in style with a taste of culture from the language they are studying. These works not only tell stories and highlight cultural diversity at the heart of each language, but they are also useful when it comes to motivation and memorization. Each is tied somehow to the story of the day.

By studying a language via its cultural dimensions, learners open their minds to new attitudes and styles, often different from their own. Learning a foreign language is a known factor in promoting peace, inclusion, and is a legitimate countermeasure to xenophobia. At the end of the day, learning a foreign language is a way to develop our critical thinking, and more romantically, it helps us not only fall in love with a dialect, but with the people who speak it.

Want to subscribe to our online language courses and learn about grammar, spelling and culture in a fun way? Try our English course Gymglish, our French course Frantastique, our German course Wunderbla or our Spanish course Hotel Borbollon for free for 7 days today!

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3 thoughts on “The importance of culture in language learning

  1. Pingback: 5 Hispanic artists that helped shaped the world of art - The Gymglish blog

  2. Liz Barton

    Love the deprecating humour but don’t like any American English. They don’t seem to realise that many words are based on French then spell and pronounce them in annoying way! I call it Manglish. I am Australian and speak the Queen’s English!

    1. Olivia

      Hi Liz thanks for your comment 🙂
      I guess that’s the beauty of the English language! At Gymglish we embrace cultural differences within a language or culture and strive to address the language from diverse perspectives culturally and regionally.
      Have a great day!
      The Gymglish team

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