Cultural awareness stressed for teachers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2008, 12:00am

An academic has urged English teachers to pay more attention to the cultural aspects of language learning after showing how a person's language influences their perception of the world.

The University of Hong Kong's linguistic department studied brain patterns and found a link between language and colour perception.

Seventeen Chinese speakers were asked to differentiate colours while their brains were scanned.

It was found that perception of easy-to-name colours - like red, green and blue - triggered much more activation in areas of the brain responsible for word searching than with colours that were not so easy to name.

Senior lecturer Luke Kang-kwong said the findings provided evidence of a close link between language processing and colour perception.

'It shows that language is not just a universal way of codifying people's experience,' Dr Luke said. 'Different languages perceive the world, conceptualise things and experience differently. Russians classify colours differently because they have different names for shades of blue, compared with the more simple classification in English. What is obvious in one language may appear obscure to another.'

He suggested that English learning could be more effective if teachers paid attention to the underpinning cultural and cognitive differences of Chinese and English.

'Chinese language involves more activities of the part of the brain that is related to working memories,' Dr Luke said.

'English is more phonological when it comes to neurological activities. When it comes to learning English, there should be more emphasis on the cultural context of the texts, instead of just teaching certain words, sentence structures or grammars.'

Pauline Chow Lo-sai, an A-level English teacher with 42 years' experience, said Chinese teachers may be in a better position to nurture cultural awareness among students.

'When we teach students about 'ladies and gentlemen', it may sound strange because in Chinese society, men come first,' Ms Chow said.

'Native English-speaking teachers may not be aware of this cultural difference.'

Teaching needed to be linked to classroom management.

Ms Chow said she asked boys to stand up when a woman excused herself and reminded them to open the door for women.