On the 15th of April we celebrate the Universal Day of Culture which was proposed by the Russian artist Nicholas Roerich. Nobody would argue that culture is the basis of all human activity, which explains a large part of our behaviour. Nowadays the relevance of cultural issues has become extremely topical. In recent years, global social, political and economic upheavals have led to unprecedented migration of people. Their relocation and resettlement, of course, leads to the conflict of cultures.
At the same time, scientists and representatives of a progressive-minded society are looking for new opportunities and forms of communication to ensure better mutual understanding, effective intercultural dialogue, tolerance and respect for different cultures. All this has led to the fact that people are now paying more attention to intercultural dialogue during their linguistic studies. I would like to expand on the importance of learning not only the language, but also the culture of a country, and the impact of this knowledge on the quality of your language studies.
How are culture and language related?
In fact, how can we ever separate language from the culture of the country? If not the foundation stone, language is, without a doubt, an integral part of any culture and one of the most significant conditions of its existence. Various aspects of cultures, such as mentality, lifestyle, beliefs and values, play a huge role in the field of intercultural communication. However, whilst the language barrier is obvious to us, the culture barrier becomes evident only in case of a collision of our native culture with the one of other people. Besides, cultural mistakes have a more powerful impact on us than linguistic ones. That’s why, I find it indispensable to learn languages through the prism of their countries’ cultures and social specifics.
How can this socio-cultural knowledge help me?
Paying more attention to the cultural aspect of the country the language of which you are learning may contribute to the quality of your studies in many ways. Socio-cultural competence is a complex notion. However, knowing the ins-and-outs of it will help you feel confident when communicating with a native speaker, give you a sense of belonging to their culture and society, and minimize the possibility of making cultural mistakes and offending your interlocutor in some way.
Besides, socio-cultural knowledge increases the speed of language learning. We all know that learning a foreign language is much easier when you are in the environment where most of the people are speaking it, that’s to say, in its country of origin. Why is it so? Probably, because you are provided with all the required material for developing all of the above-mentioned skills without having the need to gather any information. So, it is obvious that if you have no opportunity to learn a language this way, studying the country’s culture by doing your own research is the best way out.
I also stick to an opinion that it is almost impossible to learn a language properly if you don’t find the country’s culture appealing to you. Based on my experience, I get really engaged in learning a foreign language only after I find something interesting in the cultures of the countries it is spoken in. The desire to read literature in its original language, watch movies without dubbing or understand what inspiring, powerful people are saying surely motivates you to study harder. As a result, the more you learn about the specifics of the country’s culture, the closer you are to being able to get all the linguistic particularities and, in the end, to literally think in this language.
Where do I start
We found out that loving and embracing the culture of the country is essential for successful language learning. Every culture is unique, all cultures are different, they may seem fascinating or shocking to you, but every culture has something that might deeply interest you. Find this thing and become obsessed with it.
So, how exactly can we enhance our knowledge of a foreign language from a cultural perspective. Here are some useful tips for a start. Some of them I find extremely necessary as they helped me much in my studies of different foreign languages.
- Learn as many idiomatic expressions as possible and use them in your speech. It is a part of a language that reflects peculiarities of a country’s culture the best way you can imagine. Native speakers will identify you as a member of their community.
- Find out about the customs and traditions of the country. For example, whether it is appropriate to be late, what distance you should keep between your interlocutor and yourself in a face-to-face dialogue just to name a few. This will facilitate oral communication.
- Contemporary art can be very insightful, so explore it! They reflect current issues in the country.
- Plunge into cinematography. In this case, it is more useful to study old movies, as nowadays, all industries are trying to copy Hollywood. Check out national festivals to discover art-house movies.
- Literature is of utmost importance. I would recommend finding out about the literature curriculum in the country’s high schools and read those books. In some countries, like Russia, literature is the foundation of culture; people use many expressions that are impossible to understand not having read the books.
- Today slang is an important part of the communication culture, that’s why it’s useful to learn it too. Furthermore, huge amounts of dialects exist in each country. It can be beneficial to explore the various expressions of different regions.
- Find out which websites are the most popular in the country. Explore and engage in conversation.
- Listen to podcasts that deal with the cultural and social aspects of the country. It will help you deepen your knowledge of current social issues and cultural peculiarities.
Of course, there are other ways of enriching your socio-cultural knowledge, but these ideas are a great start.
To conclude, culture is fundamental, there is no escape from it when learning a language, and paying more attention to it can benefit you in many ways. So, go ahead, explore and widen your horizons. Good luck with your studies!
Liza describes herself in 3 hashtags as #sincere #creative #notcourageousenough
She’s currently studying PR and Advertising in Moscow, alongside working in a creative agency specialising in digital communication.
“I’ve always been amazed by foreigners who learn to speak Russian. In my mind, it’s one of the most difficult languages. I know how complicated this language is, that’s why I find it truly fascinating that foreigners succeed in learning it. So I thought that I’d love to help them a little bit. I think enriching a vocabulary of a foreign language is a bit difficult and the process is quite slow, so I thought that following a tumblr blog and getting one new word a day to learn is a very simple yet entertaining way to enrich your vocabulary,” she told me when I asked about her tumblr account.
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