20 SES 16, Values and Common Places for Experiences with Peace, Internalization and Literacy
Issues of ‘culture’ in the teaching and learning Chinese in the international context have long been discussed though at times with little coherent sense being achieved. This study focuses on the cultural understandings of undergraduate and postgraduate students of Mandarin Chinese in Britain. The first question that is asked in the paper is whether there is any coherent sense in what is meant by ‘Chinese culture’. This issue is important because if it is argued that Chinese language learning should be set within a widened appreciation of ‘Chinese culture’, teachers and students need to have some clarity about what it entails. Developing this issue, the paper identifies the complexities within ‘Chinese culture’ and provides insights into cultural understandings of students of Chinese in UK universities through in-depth interviews. The second question that this paper addresses is how grand and personal narratives of culture (Amadasi & Holliday, 2017) influence students’ perspectives on cultures. As Holliday (2013) illustrates in the ‘grammar of culture’ the term culture is often political and ideological, associated with our ideas about nation, race and the world. The grand narratives of culture tend to reveal essentialist and established discourses about culture. When people begin talking about culture, they are often negotiating between this grand dimension and the personal narratives derived from their own ‘small culture’ experiences (Holliday,1999: 237): that is to say, experiences related to original and authentic cultural formations and contexts opposed to ‘large culture’ which is an artificial construction and a reification of abstract values associated with particular social groups who exercise power. The idea of a ‘small culture’ acting as a critical perspective in relation to essentialism emphasizing the idea of interculturality has changed the way many practitioners are coming to view the study of culture in language teaching and learning. Researchers working in the field of language studies are beginning to realise that the cultural backgrounds of individual learners and their prior experiences are important to understanding how they have come to see the world as they do (Levy, 2007; Risager, 2007). From this perspective it becomes apparent that there is a need to rethink essentialist assumptions about ‘Chineseness’ and ‘Chinese culture’.
This study arises from within a larger study which included classroom observation, documentary analysis and interviews with university students of Chinese focusing around issues relating to interculturality. This paper reports on the result of interviews with 15 participants relating to their cultural understandings. These students are ‘intercultural individuals’ (Jin, 2016) by virtue of being users of more than one language, of having experience of diverse cultural contexts, and feeling a personal sense of interculturality along with a fragmented sense of nationality. All of the students who were interviewed were studying Chinese at British universities, and approximately half of them were British nationals. The rest of the students are from other European countries and one from the US. In this study, the researcher encouraged participants to talk about ‘culture’ in relation to their learning of Chinese. For example, they were invited to present imagines or photographs to illustrate their ideas, to comment on questions such as ‘what do you understand by Chinese culture’, and discuss how their learning of Chinese impacted upon their understanding of the cultural. According to these questions, the findings are presented in the paper into four themes, including photographs provided by the participants with their comments, excerpts from interviews and email exchanges. The data was analysed particularly relating to participants’ backgrounds in order to provide insights into why they expressed certain views.
The findings from student interviews emphasize that many students’ own understanding of culture, incorporating a sense of interculturality, went beyond essentialist thoughts of ‘Chinese culture’. The paper shows how this group of students of Chinese negotiated the grand narrative of culture by bringing their own cultural and linguistic resources to bear upon their studies and engagements. The reality for students of Chinese is that among their peers there are a host of shared interests and activities creating a social sphere in which differences begin to vanish in favour of feeling comfortable with the growing presence of intercultural identities. The paper challenges essentialist conceptions of ‘Chinese culture’ and argues that many taught courses at universities would benefit from considering the implications of adopting an intercultural approach within their teaching of Chinese. Language teachers may consider introducing students to the varied aspects of ‘Chinese culture’ rather than the simplistic notion of there being a monolithic body that can be described simply as ‘Chinese culture’. A consensus has developed over the past three decades suggesting that a change in direction in the teaching and learning of languages is needed to reflect significant social and political changes in the world. The study highlights that the way ‘culture' is understood is not limited to English language usages, but is also in other languages; the learning of languages is not only related to the fact of learning of English or of English speakers learning another language; it is also concerned with the processes that arise through intercultural exchanges, such as mixing students from Britain with those from China. Thinking within the academy on subjects such as interculturality cannot be understood in and through one language, or in purely abstract circumstances separately from the historical forces shaping the debate and discourse in any particular cultural space.
Amadasi, S., & Holliday, A. (2017). “I already have a culture.” Negotiating competing grand and personal narratives in interview conversations with new study abroad arrivals. Language and Intercultural Communication, 1–16. http://doi.org/10.1080/14708477.2017.1357727 Holliday, A. (1999). Small Cultures. Applied Linguistics, 20(2), 237–264. Holliday, A. (2013). Understanding Intercultural Communication: Negotiating a Grammar of Culture. New York, NY: Routledge. Jin, T. (2016). Moving beyond “intercultural competence”: interculturality in the learning of Mandarin in UK universities. Language and Intercultural Communication, 1–17. http://doi.org/10.1080/14708477.2016.1259320 Levy, M. (2007). Culture, culture learning and new technologies: towards a pedagogical framework. Language Learning & Technology, 11(2), 104–127. Risager, K. (2007). Language and Culture Pedagogy: From a National to a Transnational Paradigm. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
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