Open Journal of Modern Linguistics
2013. Vol.3, No.3, 216-222
Published Online September 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojml) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojml.2013.33029
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
A Perspective-Based Reading of Culture in English Language
Teaching: From the Conventional Perspective to the Intercultural
Language Teaching Perspective
1Higher Institute of Human Sciences of Medenine, University of Gabes, Gabes, Tunisia
2Northern Border University, Arar, KSA
Received March 8th, 2013; revised April 11th, 2013; accepted April 20th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Khaled Jebahi. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attri-
bution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
This paper reviews culture as perceived in a number of language teaching perspectives. The term “cul-
ture” and its relation with language has been a center of interest in different fields of studies. Because the
term “culture” is borrowed between disciplines, it is understood differently and altered in the process by
the goals and traditions of the borrowers. As such culture remains an elusive concept for the language
teacher. Here, I attempt to understand how culture has been understood in different English language
teaching perspectives in the last fifty years. This reading helps understand how change in the teaching ap-
proach affects how culture is dealt with in class and in teaching materials.
Keywords: Culture; Perspective; Language Teaching; Language Learning; English
This review article is an attempt to survey culture as per-
ceived in a number of language teaching perspectives. There
are as many definitions of the term “culture” as there are fields
of studies. This term has been understood differently by lin-
guists, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, etc. Each
field of study understood the term with reference to its goals
and traditions. As such, the concept of culture remains elusive
to the language teacher.
The reader’s attention is drawn to the fact that this study is
based on the work of Williams (2005) who was, to the best of
my knowledge, the first to delineate a perspective-based read-
ing of culture. My contribution is to detail some aspects which
Williams did not seem to dwell on, to provide the busy lan-
guage teacher with a more simplified reading of these aspects,
and also to provide students with a clearer analytical view of
key concepts of the issues in focus and a clearer understanding
of the perspectives in question.
This article provides a comprehensive, if brief, overview of
culture as reflected in a number of perspectives. Focus is only
on the main trends within each perspective.
The Conventional Perspective
Anthropology, being one of the behavioural sciences, formed
the basis of understanding of culture in the conventional per-
spective. Anthropology is derived from the Greek anthropos
meaning “man” as a gender-neutral term (that is including fe-
males) and logia meaning “the study of”. Anthropology, then,
is the study of aspects of human beings like their origin, past,
present, and future. From the perspective of linguistic anthro-
pology, culture is heavily drawn upon in the second language
teaching literature (Brody, 2003).
In the conventional perspective, culture is explored both ex-
plicitly and implicitly.
Culture Explicitly Explored
This relates to the behaviourist understanding of language
teaching and learning.
Behaviorism, essentially a psychological theory, is a theory
of learning based on the premise that all behaviour is acquired
through conditioning. All learning, including language learning,
is considered an acquisition of a new behavior, and learning is
developing responses to environmental stimuli. If responses
receive positive reinforcement, they become habits. If they re-
ceive punishments, the learner, particularly the child acquiring
their mother tongue, will abandon them, and so on and so forth.
Learning then is a habit formation process.
In Robert Lado’s foreword to Linguistics across cultures
(1957), Charles Fries wrote the following:
“Before any of the questions of how to teach a foreign lan-
guage must come the much more important preliminary work of
finding the special problems arising out of any effort to develop
a new set of language habits against a background of different
native language habits”.
Lado’s approach (the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis or
CAH for short) was to “predict and describe the pattern that
will cause difficulty in (L2) learning, and those that will not
cause difficulty, by comparing systematically the language and
culture to be learned with the native language and culture of the
student” (Lado, 1957: vii). This can be achieved using the in-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 217
formant approach along with a systematic observation of the
culture “in its normal undisturbed operation” (Lado, 1986: p.
61). In a similar fashion, Brooks (1986) presented a lengthy list
of topics that teachers may consider as “hors d’oeuvres” items
in the language classroom. This list includes topics that can
bring out identity, similarities, or differences in comparable pat-
terns of cultures.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, however, the behaviourist oper-
ant conditioning tenets were found to be no longer tenable.
Chomsky’s (1959, 1965) critique of behaviorism were by then
predominant in the field of linguistics. In his mentalist-ration-
alist theories, children were thought to bring an innate facility
to guide their learning of language. This innate facility was un-
affected by the kinds of conditioning forming the basis of beha-
viorism. Culture is then seen as a mental competence within the
In this perspective, culture is also perceived as a deep phe-
nomenon which bears on the psychology of the individual (Paul-
ston, 1978). The language learner engages in a learning process
based on three levels: cognition, affection, and action. First, the
learner cognitively tries to analyze what and why about other
cultures. The learner uses his or her conscious mental process
to understand cultural aspects such as family system, education,
religion, etc. and to somehow acquire an ability to view the out-
side world as the people of that culture view it. Second, the
learner may perceive and appreciate aspects of another culture.
S/he then engages in a process of revaluating values which may
lead to a reorientation and a change of her/his life before he or
she finally becomes one of them, viz of the people of the sec-
ond culture. Third, comes action which Paulston left undevel-
oped; we can guess, however, that this level involves either em-
bracing or rejecting values of the host culture. For Paulston
(1978) becoming bilingual is perfectly possible, but becoming
bicultural heavily depends on a multitude of affective factors.
In the 1980s, Valdes (1986) and Damen (1987) relied on an-
thropology to understand culture. They were dissatisfied with
learning materials, with the cultural concepts and values to be
stressed in class and which remained unclear to teachers, and
also with classroom learning which, in their views, remained
In the 1990s, conventional literature on language teaching
became more influenced by relatively new understandings of
culture. The British theorist Raymond Williams’s conception of
culture as “ordinary, in every society and every mind” (Wil-
liams, 1989: p. 4) and Jurgen Habermas’ theory of communica-
tive action (Habermas, 1984) started to be reflected in the lit-
erature of the time. Habermas’s theory of communicative action
is basically a challenge to the Marxist view which considers
economics as a factor of oppression. To Habermas, language
and communication between people are essential to liberation.
Williams and Habermas, among others (such as Bourdieu
and his theory of social practice), theorized the interplay be-
tween culture, ideas, and everyday life. Habermas (1984), for
instance, theorizes communicative interaction, also called lan-
guage as practice as a “process implicitly guided by regulative
norms of respect and reasonableness” (Young, 2002: p. 38). In
Habermas’ view, humans are certainly horribly selfish and will-
ing to do the most atrocious things. The role of everyday com-
munication, however, is to minimize conflict and to help people
understand one another’s meanings and intentions.
Habermas was criticized for espousing a too utopian theory
(Savage, 2000) and for treating social movements as unified en-
tities and for not differentiating the variety of factors at work
between such movements (Melucci, 1989).
Culture Implicitly Explored
Culture is a basic tenet in the fabric of the communicative
approach. Knowledge about cultural aspects and contexts seems
necessary for a proper use of communicative skills (Duquette,
1995). However, culture has been marginalized (Corbet, 2003)
and made invisible (Philips, 1983) in communicative curricula.
One main reason behind marginalizing culture is the distor-
tion of the concept of “communicative competence” especially
by material designers and practitioners.
Unfortunately many theorists and teachers have come to
equate the concept of communicative competence with sponta-
neous self-expression, probably because they have taken the
term absolutely literally as the ability to communicate. This in-
terpretation is not only trite but also shows a grave lack of un-
derstanding of what is involved. Loveday (1981: p. 61).
This emphasis on the “ability to communicate” and on how
to do things with language “had overshadowed its [i.e. the com-
municative competence’s] cultural aspects” (Corbett, 2003: p.
21). This also seems influenced by the development of what is
called the notional-functional approach. In the early 1970s, Eu-
rope’s significant economic, political, and infrastructural inte-
gration led to linguistic consequences. The Modern Languages
Project was sponsored by the Council of Europe to develop
new syllabi that can meet learners’ needs in a context where
monolingualism became a hurdle in the face of those above-
So, despite the fact that culture is a basic component of com-
municative competence, the focus on the transactional level of
communication resulted in marginalizing culture or aspects of
culture which needed to be more present in communicative cur-
Put simply, culture is omnipresent in the theoretical literature
on communicative language teaching but it remained practical-
ly implicit and “hidden” (Byram, 1989: p. 1) in the second and
foreign language materials which focused on the transactional
level of language. Corbett (2003: p. 24) maintains that even re-
searchers who are aware of the practical neglect of culture do
not seem to provide ways of integrating it in communicative lan-
guage teaching classrooms. This, among other factors discussed
in the section below, led to the extension of the conventional
The Conventional Perspective Extended
Literature in the extended model of the conventional per-
spective generally tends to influence classroom practice with
regard to cultural content. Wurzel and Fishman (1995) came
with the concept of cultural community within US schools.
Cultural community is defined as one community in which
meaningful communication between all its group members is
fostered (Coffey, 1999). In the US schools, where the founda-
tions of Wurzel and Fishman’s work are laid, community groups
do not have a common worldview encompassing shared knowl-
edge, beliefs, values, attitudes, communication styles, and his-
tory. Teachers are expected to build a sense of cultural commu-
nity in the classroom. This requires two basic steps: preparing
students (some might show resistance) to cooperate and par-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
ticipate in an interactional process and preparing teachers them-
selves who may need more time as some of them lack the abil-
ity to integrate those different life experiences, historical, and
cultural backgrounds of their learners into their courses. To
help teachers build cultural community in their classes, Coffey
(1999) provides guidelines regarding curriculum content, ac-
tivities, and classroom climate. For instance, regarding curricu-
lum content, Coffey (1999: p. 29) recommends selecting topics
and materials that help students to debate key concepts, to think
critically about issues, to give reactions to and opinions about
key issues, etc. Although different techniques are proposed by
researchers, they all involve an explicit cross-cultural explora-
tion of cultural experiences of learners belonging to different
cultural backgrounds. As such the cultural perspectives of par-
ticipants in cultural events or experiences are explored and stu-
died from different angles.
This part of the literature, however, continued to work with-
out explicitly acknowledging other perspectives. This led to the
revision of the conventional perspective.
The Conventional Perspective Revised
In the revisionist literature, an attempt is made to reconcile a
conventional understanding of culture with ideas espoused by
other perspectives. This part of the literature also addresses issues
and problems arising within the conventional perspective.
Postmodern perspectives, for instance, challenge the received
view of culture. To Atkinson (1999), what seems to be ques-
tioned is the conventional view of cultures as distinct, relatively
unchanged, homogeneous, and all-encompassing norms deter-
mining personal behaviour. Terms like Japanese culture, His-
panic culture, and American culture are just examples of this
“received” view on cultures now problematized by postmod-
ernists. Now cultures are regarded as anything but homogene-
ous and monolithic entities.
Ignold (1994: 330) maintains that
The idea that humanity as a whole can be parcelled up into a
multitude of discrete cultural capsules, each the potential ob-
ject of disinterested anthropological scrutiny, has been laid to
rest at the same time as we have come to recognize the fact of
interconnectedness of the world’s peoples, not just in the area
of modern transport and communications, but throughout his-
tory. The isolated culture has been revealed as a figment of the
Western anthropological imagination. It might be more realis-
tic, then, to say that people live culturally rather than they live
To reconcile between such challenges and the conventional
perspective, Atkinson (1999) espouses a revised view of culture.
The concept of culture is, then, revised and updated and a new
balance is found between the emphasis on cultural stability and
homogeneity on the one hand and the postmodernist critical
emphasis on power, heterogeneity, fragmentation and differ-
ence. Atkinson postulated six principles to reconcile the two
1) All humans are individuals: in the conventional views,
humans/individuals are reduced to their cultural types. But now
they are viewed as individuals, not as members of a cultural
group. There is a new focus on individuality and personal agency
as neural networks and schemas are based on personal experi-
ence and are sensitive to new input from environment.
2) Individuality is also cultural: What is regarded as one’s
personal makeup may also be rooted in particular cultures. In-
dividuals are part of their social world.
3) Social group membership and identity are multiple, con-
tradictory, and dynamic: Humans have multiple social roles,
multiple social allegiances and live in multiple social and ever
4) Social group membership is consequential: membership to
a social group is a result of suggestion, socialization, and encul-
5) Methods of studying cultural knowledge and behaviour
are unlikely to fit a positivist paradigm: ethnographic and quali-
tative approaches, though underused and underappreciated, can
be useful in action research, curriculum design, programme eva-
luation projects, etc.
6) Language (learning and teaching) and culture are mutually
implicated, but culture is multiple and complex: knowledge of
language and how to use it are inextricably intertwined with a
knowledge of culture which is always multiple and complex.
The revisionist literature also dwells on problems arising
from within the conventional perspective. These include issues
relating to non-native teachers of English. The communicative
approach with its standardized view to the native speaker as a
crucial element in teaching models is now found “utopian [and]
unrealistic” (Alptekin, 2002: p. 57).
The Systemic Functional Linguistics Perspective
This model has co-existed with the conventional framework
for several decades. Systemic functional linguistics (SFL) (also
referred to as genre theory) is one of the seminal traditions in
linguistic research and one school of thought based on the lin-
guistic theory of the British linguist Michael Halliday. Christie
and Unsworth (2000) state that the distinctiveness of the theory
is due to its comprehensive scope in that it attempts to answer
questions about language in applied contexts, namely the edu-
cational (how to best teach and learn a language), the computa-
tional (how to model language for automatic text generation),
sociological (the role of conversation in creating the self and
society), and the literary (how a text means what it does and
comes to be valued as it is).
Halliday’s systemic functional linguistics argues that all lan-
guages are described in terms of networks of choices of mean-
ing. A set of choices may include “singular/plural number, past/
present/future tense, positive/negative polarity” Christie and
Unsworth (2000: p. 2). This set is called system, hence the name
systemic. As to the label “functional”, the argument made by
Halliday (1978: p. 52) is that all languages or linguistic systems
evolve around three major functions: 1) the ideational (how to
present experiences, to express content, and to convey informa-
tion); 2) the interpersonal (how to interact verbally in order to
establish and maintain social interaction); and 3) the textual
(how to use language to create coherent and connected mes-
sages/discourse). Hence, in using language, speakers make choices
within the various linguistic systems and make meaning using
the ideational, interpersonal, and textual functions present in all
However, this approach has been critiqued for its emphasis
on genre as a linguistic form rather than on the cultural dimen-
sions of texts (Corbett, 2003). As an approach, SFL is portrayed
as too linguistic and too structural with little account of social
theory. According to Poynton (1993), this can lead us to believe
in the singularity of the text. Thus singular readings become the
norm and cultural expectations and practices tend to be pre-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 219
sented as homogeneous, fixed, and consistent.
The Practical Perspective
Three main frameworks form the basis of the practical per-
spective on teaching culture within language teaching in gen-
eral. The label “practical” is used here because these frame-
works present clear ideas which can be put into practice and
steps which can guide teachers’ work.
To begin with, Fantini (1997: pp. 40-42) presented what he
called a “process approach framework” consisting of a seven-
step guideline for developing intercultural competence. This frame-
work was devised to ensure that “language work is always
complemented by explicit attention to sociolinguistic aspects,
cultural aspects, and the comparing and contrasting of target
and native linguacultures” (p. 41).
Fantini’s “process approach framework” was also described
as a mechanization process which seems to be at the origin of
routinized processes, mechanized answers, and stereotyped ways
of explaining cultures and cross-cultural encounters. There are
unexpected moments in a class when the teacher would find
ready-made recipes of little use (Manjarrés, 2009: p. 148). It
was also found that such mechanistic processes and ready-made
recipes originated simplistic images of the target cultures and
even led to an idealization of the cultures of economically deve-
loped countries (Boehringer & Preece, 2002; Boehringer, Gon-
gartz, & Gramberg, 2004).
The second framework was put up by Canagarajah (1999). It
is a systematic exploration of culture based on a critical ap-
proach or perspective to pedagogy. In a context where the Eng-
lish language has been spreading globally, Canagarajah pre-
sents this framework which espouses the idea that inner circle
pedagogies are inappropriate in outer circle contexts. This frame-
work is an attempt to help outer circle students and teachers to
challenge and question the teaching beliefs and practices of the
“center” which Canagarajah refers to as “the technologically
advanced communities of the West which, at least in part, sus-
tain their material dominance by keeping less developed com-
munities in periphery status” (p. 4).
The main purpose of Canagarajah’s “critical pedagogy” is to
“transform the means and ends of learning and to construct a
more egalitarian, equitable, and ethical educational and social en-
vironments untainted by power and domination” (Hinkel, 2005:
839). Canagarajah argues for a deconstruction of texts which
can lead teachers and students to ask questions not only about
the text and its author but also about proper conversational
styles of the center communities found in the text and how such
styles differ from those of the students.
The third systematic framework is based on Conversation
Analysis (CA). Conversation Analysis is defined as the “syste-
matic analysis of the talk produced in everyday situations of hu-
man interaction” (Hutchby & Wooffitt, 1998: p. 13). Although
the field adopted the name “conversation analysis”, Hutchby
and Wooffitt (1998) prefer the term “talk-in-interaction” to the
term “conversation” because the range of forms subject to study
within CA is far larger than the term conversation alone would
imply. CA practitioners analyse mainly transcribed tape-recor-
dings of actual interactions situated in the ordinary lives of peo-
ple rather than of those arranged and set up in laboratories. CA
is, then, the study of recorded, naturally occurring talk-in inter-
action to “uncover the tacit reasoning procedures and socio-
linguistic competencies underlying the production and interpre-
tation of talk in organized sequences of interaction” (Hutchby
and Wooffitt (1998: 14). Barraja-Rohan (2000) and Barraja-
Rohan and Pritchard (1997) devised an innovative methodology
based on Conversation Analysis and elements of Politeness Prag-
matics to teach oral communication skills. This methodology
involves the following consecutive phases:
An awareness phase: a model of an everyday conversation
is presented on audio or videotape
A reflective phase: the model’s structures and features are
analysed by the learners
An experimental phase: relevant language is implemented
by learners in role plays
An introspective phase: learners reflect on their feelings when
acting in ways different from their own
A cultural evaluation phase: an explicit comparison between
what happens in English and what might happen in similar
contexts in conversations in the learners’ first language
The Critical and
In English language teaching, there exist two bodies of school-
arly literature which can be ascribed the term “critical”. The
first body of literature is called “Critical Applied Linguistics”,
which argues that there has been favouritism in teaching Eng-
lish across the globe towards inner circle pedagogies, teachers,
and materials, and this implicitly means that there is favourit-
ism of the inner circle culture. The second body of literature is
more theoretically oriented in that it seeks to apply poststruc-
turalist/postmodernist understandings to aspects of English lan-
guage teaching, in particular cultural teaching and learning.
Critical Applied Linguistics
This part of literature basically argues that English language
teaching (ELT) practices in the outer and expanding circles are
the product of an inner circle profit making industry within an
unequal capitalist world economy. Inner circle pedagogies tend
to mould learners from the outer and expanding circle back-
grounds to meet cultural and rhetorical practices of the inner
circle. This, consequently, creates a stereotypical view of learners
and their culture as inferior. In congruence with this, Holliday
(2011) calls for a revision of the way we think of intercultural
communication in order to consider its ideological component
because ideology is influential in intercultural communication
traditional schools. Holliday attempts to emphasis the need for
a new cosmopolitan viewpoint beyond the centre picture, a new
viewpoint in which non-western cultural realities are no longer
Some Other critiques were directed at the cultural orientation
of certain competency-based teaching programmes targeting adult
immigrants in the United States. According to Auerbach (1986),
any refugee who wished to receive federal assistance had to en-
rol in such competency-based programmes. Such programmes
are defined as “a performance-based process[es] leading to de-
monstrated mastery of basic life skills necessary for the indi-
vidual to function proficiently in society” (Parker & Taylor,
1980: pp. 12-13). These programmes, however, seemed to have
offered limited options for immigrant learners who were only
socialized “for specific roles in the existing socioeconomic or-
der” (Auerbach, 1986: p. 411).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
In this part of the literature, postmodernism/poststructuralism
of Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault is drawn upon. Both
distinguish between “the objective truth of the world” and the
subjective “lived truth of what we are” (Bourdieu & Wacquant,
1992: p. 225). There exist discursive processes in the formula-
tion of “double truth” making up objectivism and subjectivism,
two different ways of knowing the social world. The subjective,
or this invisible world going on in the head of people and the
objective, or this outside social world, the world of social struc-
ture and unifying patterns are what makes this double truth.
These distinctions are even found in the nature of culture with
its “received” variant called into question as it is constructed by
hegemonic groups serving the interests of dominant classes and
marginalizing other groups. These dominant classes’ concept of
identity, according to Weber and Horner (2012), is essentialist
in that they expect speakers of minority languages to assimilate
to the core of the mainstream culture. Culture is, then, a social
phenomenon linked to power struggle between individuals with
different affiliations to different social groups.
The Sociocultural Perspective
A relatively recent development in the teaching of English
language and culture has been the introduction of the sociocul-
tural theory, originally conceived by Lev Vygotsky whose ideas
turned out to be very instrumental in framing learning processes
and practices in Russia, Europe and the United States of Amer-
ica (Kozulin, 2003). Vygotsky’s (1978) theory is based on the
premise that human cognition and learning are social and cul-
tural rather than individual phenomena.
Intellectual development is understood in terms of intellec-
tual or symbolic tools such as language accumulated as we
grow up in a society. Language forms appropriated in the mind
coexist together. Likewise, new forms of understandings do not
displace precedent ones but coexist complementarily. Vygotsky
believes that learning and development are both closely so-
cioculturally related. A child’s development, for instance, is de-
pendent on an interaction between the child’s individual matura-
tion and a system of symbolic tools (language is one of them)
and the activities the child appropriates from the sociocultural
One such example is the activity of pointing a finger. At first,
this activity starts as a meaningless grasping motion. With the
passing of time, others start reacting to the gesture which then
acquires a meaning (Vygotsky, 1978). This is an example of
how learning is seen as moving from an external social plane to
an internal psychological plane (Lantolf, 1999).
The Intercultural Language Teaching
The original ideas at the basis of this perspective can be trac-
ed back to works of Byram (1989), Buttjes and Byram (1991),
Byram and Morgan (1994), and Byram (1997) which originally
related to language teaching in Europe. Byram (1989) wrote
about the critical need of further research on the assessment of
the cultural dimension as he was invited to participate in the
Council of Europe’s project to develop a “Common European
Framework of Reference for Language Learning and Teaching”,
a framework based on levels of proficiency in the use of lan-
guages. Byram’s task, in collaboration with Geneviève Zarate,
was to clarify issues involved in determining levels of sociocul-
Intercultural language teaching (ILT) is to be understood “as
an approach to language teaching which argues that communi-
cative language teaching and its conceptualisation of culture
has not been sufficiently systematic or adequate” (Williams,
2005: p. 113). Put differently, intercultural language teaching is
a rethinking of communicative language teaching. ILT alleges
that communicative language teaching fell short of systemati-
cally incorporating culture and language teaching (Crozet and
Liddicoat, 1999). This, however, does not entail a rejection of
communicative language teaching; in fact, Byram and Morgan
(1994) and Byram (1997) used the concept “intercultural com-
municative competence”, a concept which obviously highlights
the connection between communicative competence and inter-
cultural competence. In addition, ILT builds on communicative
language teaching and takes into consideration the needs of
intercultural speakers, speakers whose needs are different from
native speakers’ communicative needs; and hence require a dif-
ferent kind of competence.
This change in approach, as mentioned earlier, can affect
how culture is dealt with in class and in the teaching materials.
In ILT, for instance, focus is on “intercultural speakers” whose
needs differ from those of native speakers. So, teachers and ma-
terial designers who are aware of the changes affecting socie-
ties and the global job market may ponder upon the kinds of
linguistic-cum-cultural skills that might be needed by the inter-
cultural speakers who work in a culture different from their
own. Teachers and material designers who are aware of such
changes in approach can gear teaching materials and teaching
and learning practices towards those new needs of intercultural
speakers. Teaching materials and classroom practices can focus
on cultural features such as norms of politeness, appropriate
intonation patterns, conventions of interpersonal relationships
and social interactions, and main rhetorical conventions in dif-
ferent written and spoken genres, all these are needed by inter-
cultural speakers who work or study in a culture different from
their own. Hence, how culture is dealt with in class and in the
teaching materials depends on a clear understanding of the tea-
ching approaches which are linked to the needs of particular
learners in particular contexts.
This paper is a review of culture as defined in a number of
perspectives from the 1950s on. Motivated by lack of a clear
understanding of the term culture, mainly because of its being
borrowed between the disciplines, this study aims at providing
an articulate, cogent, and simplified reading of it. Differences
and similarities between language teaching and learning per-
spectives are studied in such a way as to provide a clear and
thorough understanding of the concept of culture and a clear
analysis of other related key concepts in language teaching such
as anthropology, postmodernism, critical applied linguistics, so-
ciocultural theory, etc. It is found that the understanding of the
concept of culture in these perspectives influences teaching and
learning practices. There are educational implications for the
change in views about culture in the perspectives in question.
One example could be taken from the mechanical habit forma-
tion learning process in the conventional perspective whose
first theoretical foundations lie in behaviourism. In this per-
spective, for instance, students memorize and learn the different
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 221
cultural behaviours found across the globe through repetition
and habit formation. Later, with the introduction of the mental-
ist-rationalist theories in the conventional perspective, memori-
zation and drills are replaced with a reflective conscious process
guided by an innate facility which is unaffected by the kinds of
conditioning forming the basis of behaviourism. Learners, in
mentalist-rationalist theories, analyze cultural patterns, test them
against prior knowledge, and then either accept or reject them.
As argued in the main body of this paper, changes in the under-
standing of the concept of culture in the remaining perspectives
continued to influence teaching and learning practices. This pa-
per can help teachers, students, material designers, and resear-
chers have a clearer understanding of culture in the different
English language teaching and learning perspectives. It can also
help them better understand teaching and learning practices and
better identify the theoretical foundations of the materials used
I would like to thank the Research Center for English and
Applied Linguistics at the University of Cambridge, UK, which
was a source of inspiration during the early stages of conduct-
ing this work which is part of a larger PhD research.
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