Language Education Policy Studies
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Cultural components of language learning 

In language teaching and learning, the pedagogical cultural component is about teaching the target culture (1) and raises many conceptual and practical questions. For example, if World Languages Programs offer Spanish language, the question is how to teach Spanish culture, and how curriculum should or can address it. Yet, is culture separate from the language? Which/whose culture should be taught for larger languages like Spanish? Can languages be taught without culture, for example English, as a neutral lingua franca (2)? Does learning the English language entail learning the worldview, norms, etc.? Finally, how can elders or language speakers purposefully teach or transmit culture and world view for heritage languages to future generations, when the new speakers may already practice the culture (3)? How should the cultural component address dynamic and variable social practices? In languages that are smaller numerically, the power dynamic often exists, related to cultural capital and language status, often causing language shift.


Often language and culture are considered as sanitized and separable. Some question the link or interconnection between culture and language, the necessity of language for culture, and the role of language in shaping culture.

Language-in-education policies have an effect because of standards, curriculum, time constraints, teacher ideology, attitude, proficiency questions, authenticity questions, etc. Given the additional political issues that underlie language-in-education policies, the whole question of culture is multi-faceted. It is even deeper, often about cultural competence in a foreign or heritage language or being an authentic member of a culture by language. Many of these questions and terms are heavily charged and debated.


For the first question- competence in a foreign language with a national framework- the teaching of culture through language teaching contributes to cultural pluralism and teaching the intercultural through education (see Liddicoat) as part of national agendas that vary by nations, regions, and communities through language in education policies. For the second- in the case of a ‘global’ language like English, the dominant culture is not only embedded but pervades the media and internet domains, as well as academia and higher education (See Linguistic Imperialism.) For English as a lingua franca, often, the claim is that English can be neutral and not carry culture. For the third, heritage languages, the plot becomes thick indeed. See Indigenous regions, Heritage Languages, Social Practice or Social Justice.


See also National Frameworks, Foreign Language Teaching, English as a Lingua Franca, Language Ideology, Intercultural and Multicultural, Deep Approach to World Language and Culture.


A few references:

Borau, K., Ullrich, C., Feng, J., & Shen, R. (2009). Microblogging for language learning: Using twitter to train communicative and cultural competence. In Advances in Web Based Learning–ICWL 2009 (pp. 78-87). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.


Kramer, D. (2000) A Blueprint for Teaching Foreign Languages and Culture through Music and the Internet. Accessed online at on 9-10-13. Article based on MLA presentation at Harvard.


Nisbett, R. E., & Miyamoto, Y. (2005). The influence of culture: holistic versus analytic perception. Trends in cognitive sciences, 9(10), 467-473.


Sleeter, C. E., & McLaren, P. (Eds.). (1995). Multicultural education, critical pedagogy, and the politics of difference. SUNY Press.


Yu, M. C. (2006). On the teaching and learning of L2 sociolinguistic competence in classroom settings. Asian EFL Journal, 8(2), 111-131.


Rapatahana, V. & Bunce, P. (2012). English Language as Hydra: Its Impacts on Non-English Language Cultures. Multilingual Matters.



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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Harrison, K. (2013). Cultural components of language learning. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date).