Learning About the World Through Foreign Languages – English

What is the purpose of having a foreign language curriculum in our schools or in the schools of most countries? Is it to learn the mechanics of the foreign language we try to master, or is it a cultural awareness we desire to develop in our students? Do we learn it simply for the practical reasons of increasing career opportunities and for the added convenience when traveling? What messages do we wish to deliver through the teaching of foreign languages? If we wish to raise interest in foreign studies and to incorporate in the studies a new awareness of the world, what can language teachers do to enhance and encourage these goals?

According to many researchers, foreign language studies can have a positive effect on a person’s verbal and written communication skills. Possessing good personal communication skills are vital in understanding and coping with our own immediate surroundings and are preliminary steps toward opening our mind to an understanding of the world. Studying a foreign language is the best first step to understanding another culture. It is the best way to begin to break through the barriers of understanding that country, its historical contributions, its relationship to the world, and current events from its people’s point of view. The development of qualities for intercultural empathy and understanding should be the main purpose of learning foreign languages.

Rapid globalization has raised the need for multicultural awareness and respect. Many languages such as French and Spanish, among others, are used in global activities. Despite this, English remains the largest second language studied and spoken internationally. English has become the bridge between many countries. For many, it is the main language used to communicate in international business and non-business activities. This language acts as a conduit for cultural exchange and is essential in our global society. For many countries, English is the initial contact to other foreign cultures, and through it, intercultural communication evolves. Many countries have English as their compulsory foreign language curriculum from as early as junior high and now even elementary school. Because of its importance, we must not neglect the power it possesses to potentially affect the people who use the language. For those countries with English in their foreign studies, effects on the development of students using English learning the social, environmental, and humanitarian issues globally should be on the immediate agenda.

How can the English language teachers in non-native English countries incorporate the studies of intercultural communication skills? Before going further in the teaching of intercultural communication, the English teacher’s roles, objectives, and goals must be defined. Pedagogical knowledge and skills of teaching alone will not be enough without the passion to understand human growth and development, elements of willingness to communicate using a foreign language with an open-minded perspective. English teachers are essential figures to the students, as their thoughts, feelings, and expressions affect students’ motivations in learning English and their interest in other foreign cultures. English teachers must possess good ethical values and must respect other cultures and people. Respecting others is the foundation in learning intercultural communication.

In the United States, where classrooms are made up of various demographic backgrounds, teachers can take advantages of this kind of setting to incorporate intercultural communications and global awareness. But the English language teacher in countries of homogeneous culture face the challenges of bridging foreign language and cultures into the classrooms. One suggestion is selecting materials on current issues that can be expanded into further discussions of foreign interests. Creating opportunities for multi-cultural awareness is the start of intercultural awareness. The role of an English teacher in countries where English is not the native language goes beyond being an instructor. These teachers of English are the ambassadors of their countries and guides to other non-English-speaking cultures.

Teachers, administrators, and all educators must continue to research, learn, and try alternative teaching methods to reach our goal of creating multicultural awareness; we must take further steps to increase intercultural communication, especially for language teachers who are the representatives of their countries and the countries they introduce to their students via language instruction. Raising global awareness and increasing multicultural understanding will prove to minimize the misunderstanding between different cultures and perhaps solve existing international conflicts one day.