The Role of Culture in English language education: taking ownership, being creative, being communicative

Adrian Holliday

The way in which culture is perceived in English language education is determined by which theory of culture is being employed. The traditional view of culture derives from the structural-functional model which has been dominant in social science since the beginning of the 20th Century. It is characterized by a belief that national cultures confine and predict the behaviour of people who live there, and that travelling beyond them is always problematic and troublesome. An alternative social action model of culture is based on the sociology of Max Weber. It maintains that the dominant model is politically charged and denies the creative potential of individuals to cross cultural lines The difference between these two models has an important impact on English language education. The social action approach opens up possibilities for students to engage with English in a culturally creative manner. In this paper I shall demonstrate how we need to rethink the role of culture in the language classroom. We will look at the cultural content of English and of classroom tasks, and at how students and teachers can take ownership of and capitalize on their own backgrounds and experiences. The broader themes of how a truly communicative curriculum and how the ownership of English as an international language can be realized will be addressed within the critical framework of ‘bottom-up’ globalization.