Analysis of a Language
By Robert Musgrave-Evans
learning activities is essential in research into language pedagogy. This
article analyses a learning activity from three different perspectives in order
to gain insight into how the activity relates to learners. This analysis is
done by examining how the activity addresses diverse language proficiencies,
cultural factors and particular learner factors.
The activity was designed by myself
to fit into an EFL conversation class lesson entitled ‘Culture Clash’. This
lesson is one of a series of lessons focusing on the culture of native English
speakers. The lesson is held at a language institute with mature age students
in South Korea as a supplement to their textbook lessons. All of the students
at the institute are Koreans with varying amounts of experience with other
cultures ranging from none to a number of years studying overseas. The lesson
addresses cultural differences between people from Korea and people from
English speaking countries and the problems that can arise when these
differences generate misunderstandings.
is a strong focus on the passing of international English proficiency tests
such as the TOEIC, TOEFL and IELTS in Korea, the learners who come to
conversation classes want to do more than just pass tests. The goal of these
learners is to be able to interact successfully with English speakers they meet
in Korea or when they are overseas doing further study, conducting business or
just traveling for pleasure. In order to interact successfully, the learners
need to not only have knowledge of the linguistics of the English language, but
also have knowledge of the socio-cultural factors involved in interaction with
those who speak the English language.
It is with the
above mentioned goal and needs of the learners in mind that the activity aims
to make the learners culturally aware of themselves and of people from English
speaking countries, and to use appropriate language to handle situations when
cultural misunderstandings arise.
Procedure of the activity and its place in the lesson
commencing the activity, the learners are led into thinking about cultural
differences through the sharing of past experiences of misunderstanding they
may have had when interacting with foreigners in Korea or overseas.
Full detail of the activity is given in Appendix I.
What follows is a brief description of the activity’s procedure.
The activity consists of the following three parts:
A. The learners
are shown a picture of a common culture clash situation and asked to watch and
listen to the pictured scene being acted out by their teacher. The teacher
elicits the enacted dialog from the learners and discusses it with them in
terms of language functions and social and cultural implications.
B. Learners are
grouped in pairs and shown a number of scenes of various culture clash
situations between Koreans and native English speakers and asked to create a
dialog for one of them.
C. The learners
role play their dialog up in front of the class.
of the activity is followed up by the teacher and learners discussing and
comparing the material developed and performed by the learners during the
outcomes of the activity for the learners are as follows:
Increased cultural self-awareness
Increased awareness of target culture and how it differs
from their own
Increased awareness of the various functions of language
Knowledge of how to use language to diffuse culturally
problematic situations and maintain intercultural harmony
Improve listening, writing and oral skills.
Diverse language proficiencies
Range of proficiencies
Stephen Krashen (1982) proposed the
theory that acquisition of a language happens best when the learner’s input
“contains forms and structures just beyond the learner’s current level of
competence in the language” (Lightbown & Spada, 1999, p. 39). Brown (2000) echoes these thoughts by
stating that “the language that learners are exposed to should be just far
enough beyond their current competence that they can understand most of it but
still be challenged to make progress” (p. 278). From this perspective of the appropriate level of
difficulty for input, then the activity would fall into the intermediate range
of English proficiency. However, for this activity the input is used primarily
as an example for the learners and a way to get them to start to think about
their own cultural practices as well as those of others and how differences
that lead to misunderstanding can be handled in a gentle and understanding way.
Therefore, this activity could also be used by advanced students who could use
their greater English proficiency to create more advanced dialogs and learn
from the experience of creation of such dialogs.
Diversity within a class
Within a class, learners can have a
variety of proficiencies for a number of reasons such as unreliable proficiency
testing and level placement or premature promotion of students up to higher
proficiency classes. “One of the biggest problems teachers face is a lesson
where the students are at different levels” (Harmer, 1998, p. 127). In general,
the greater the difference in proficiencies, the more difficult it is for the
teacher. However, the activity takes advantage of these differences by grouping
learners together. Yahya & Huiei (2002) state that some teachers fear that
low status learners will be dominated in groups by high status learners and not
participate (p. 1).
Although this is true, it is more likely to occur when the group sizes are
large – it is much easier to have full participation in small groups. Harmer (1998) suggests that when
classes have students of diverse proficiencies, the teachers can “adopt a strategy of peer help and
teaching so that better students can help weaker ones” by “explaining things,
or providing good models of language performance in speaking and writing” (p.
128). By placing
students in pairs, the activity caters for differences in the language
proficiency of the learners within a class and creates a mood of cooperation
rather than competition where the learners can act as resources for one
The activity was
designed to be used with Korean learners in their native environment. In this
context, the cultural difference between the learners is not a factor in their
learning. However, the cultural difference between the learners and the teacher
and his or her teaching materials is a factor that can have a direct effect on
the learners. This context is paralleled in EFL classes in China where Brick (2004) states that the “classroom is in itself a cross-cultural laboratory” (p. 149).
Roles of the teacher and learners
traditional view of education is one of the teacher as disseminator of
knowledge and the learners as receptacles for that knowledge. “Korean students
are used to viewing teachers as authority figures in class” and “tend to quietly
wait to have knowledge transmitted to them” (Lim,
2003, section “Perceptions Underlying Korean Students Behaviors”, para.
1). In the activity, the teacher acts as a mediator which “differs from a more narrow view of the teacher as
disseminator of information” (Williams & Burden, 1997, p. 68). By acting as
a mediator, the teacher assists the students to “find ways of moving into their
next level of understanding of the language” (ibid., p. 66). The
activity makes the learners central to a learning process where they can aid
one another and take responsibility for their own learning with the teacher
facilitating this process. To avoid any possible clash between the learners’
preconceived notions of the role the teacher and the mediator role that the lesson
calls for, the activity has the teacher initially present a piece of text
orally, which the learners have to write down, and then has the teacher explain
aspects of this text before the learners work together in groups. This sequence
of events eases the learners from a traditional teacher centered class to a
learner centered one by moving the focus gradually from the teacher to the
Korean students do not perform role-plays of dialogs in front of others and so
can understandably be nervous about doing this. Korea is like many Asian
societies which can be “termed ‘high-face’ societies, where loss of face is
felt very keenly and has great social ramifications” (Mangubhai, 1997, p. 33).
The dyad grouping of the learners in the activity helps to lessen any
performance anxiety they may have – to have
someone with them makes the situation less intimidating.
The heart of the
activity is based on the premise that “culture teaching must begin with
comprehension of one’s own native cultural behavior, its prejudices and
ethnocentric outlook, which can be used as a basis for cross cultural
application and analysis” (Kim, 2003, p. 30). Kilickaya (2004) believes that
teachers should create an environment where learners can “discuss their own
culture together with the target culture in meaningful and communicative tasks
and activities” (section “How Can We Introduce
Cultural Content in Our Classrooms?”). In the activity, the scenes
depicting common Korean and non-Korean habits give the learners the opportunity
to explore their cultural self-awareness and awareness of the target culture.
This is enhanced by the use of groups, which Cullen and Sato (2000) believe
creates for learners the opportunity to use the target language, discuss the
target culture, and gain additional perspectives on their own culture (section “Group Work”).
does try and give a balanced perspective on cultural behavior by presenting
both Korean and native English speaker habits. However, there are some risks
associated with the activity. One risk is that because there are more Korean
habits presented than non-Korean ones, and the habits are negative, some
learners who don’t see the humor of the situations, could become offended; the
activity could backfire on the teacher with learners becoming offended even
though the native English speaker habits are also being judged negatively. The
degree to which the learners can relate to the native English speaker habits as
well as the Korean ones, and see that a balanced view is being presented, will
be determined by how much exposure they have had to the cultures of people from
English speaking countries. Another risk is that the activity may stereotype
native English speaker behavior and reinforce the already prevalent Korean
stereotype of English speakers all being white skinned and blonde haired.
risks, the activity attempts to educate the learners on how language can be
used to facilitate tolerance, acceptance and cross-cultural harmony. The
activity directs learners towards developing competency in intercultural
encounters by teaching them that “when we communicate with people
from different cultural backgrounds, both parties enter into a process of
adjusting their expectations and behaviour” and that when “differences
arise they must be negotiated openly” (Bianco, 2004, p. 6).
Particular learner factors
progress in learning and acquiring a language is influenced by a number of
factors particular to that learner. There are cognitive factors which relate to
the learner’s thinking, such as intelligence, aptitude and learning style.
There are ‘affective’ factors which are “emotional factors that may influence
language learning” (Richards & Schmidt, 2002, p. 16), such as the learner’s
motivation and level of anxiety. There are social factors such as the learner’s
social status, gender and ethnicity and finally, the learner’s age can have an
influence on learning.
Intelligence and aptitude
intelligence and aptitude are addressed in the activity through the formation
of groups of two. By working in pairs, learners can use their particular
strengths together. Harmer (1998) cautions that when forming groups, teachers
should “ensure that weak and strong students are put together” (p. 128). So
long as the teacher does not place learners of equal intelligence and aptitude
together, the differences between groups in the class will not be significant.
Learners can differ in the way they
prefer to engage in the learning process. These different ways, or cognitive
approaches, to learning are called ‘learning styles’. Walqui (2000) gives the
following examples of different learning styles:
Some learners are more analytically
oriented and thrive on picking apart words and sentences. Others are more
globally oriented, needing to experience overall patterns of language in
meaningful contexts before making sense of the linguistic parts and forms. Some
learners are more visually oriented, others more geared to sounds (section “The
Learning Process”, para. 2.)
listening, reading, writing and speaking skills together to involve learners in
sentence analysis and creative construction and performance of meaningful
material through collaboration with others, the activity covers a range of
language learning styles and thus provides an opportunity for all the learners
to do well regardless of their particular learning style.
The degree to which
learners feel comfortable with expressing themselves during social interaction,
that is, whether they are introverted or extroverted, can influence their
preference for a particular learning approach or environment. Introverts can be
expected to prefer “individual learning and language knowledge” (Cook, 1996, p.
114). While extroverts may prefer “communicative teaching that emphasizes group
participation and social know-how” (ibid.).
learners in individual and group work, the activity attempts to accommodate
both the introverted and extroverted learners.
be categorized into two types – integrative and instrumental. Cook (1996)
defines integrative motivation as “learning a language in order to take part in
the culture of its people” and instrumental motivation as “learning a language
for a career goal or other practical purpose” (p. 96). The following quotation
from a Korean learner discussing English study motivation, is taken from an
interview conducted by O’Neal Cooper (2003): “To
be bilingual has many merits in Korean society. Especially, if I can speak
fluently, I will have many opportunities to choose my job in many fields” (p.
101). This opinion is very common in South Korea and is shared by most
of the Korean learners I have met in my ten years of teaching. For these
learners, their motivation for studying English would fall into the
instrumental motivation category. Although the motivation of most learners is
not integrative, their instrumental motivation does require that they have
harmonious relationships and encounters with native English speakers, whether
for business or study, and so the activity does address this motivation.
As well as
addressing the motivation the learners bring to the class, the activity can
itself be a source of motivation. Lightbown and Spada (1999) believe that when
learners work in groups, the fact that they know that the other learners in
their group are counting on them, can increase their motivation (p. 57).
through its grouping and co-operative learning approach, reduces learner
anxiety by embodying “a collaborative spirit, a clear sense of direction and a
sense of fun” (Turula, 2002, p. 31). This approach can also reduce anxiety by
increasing “the self-confidence
of students, including the weaker ones, because every participant in a
co-operative task has an important role to play” (Lightbown & Spada, 1999,
p. 57). Anxiety can arise from feelings of isolation. Turula (2002) says that
learners can feel isolated when “they find that learning a foreign language is
reduced to drills and has no connection to real life situations” (p. 30). The
activity avoids this by having the learners create their own material for
humorous real life situations.
The nature of the culture class
situations used in the activity would appeal to adults of all ages. Children
however, may have trouble relating to the situation involving the drinking of
alcohol presented in appendix II.
the learners’ social class would not be an issue for the activity as the scenes
depicted involve activities that people of all social levels commonly engage
The examples of
the native Korean and English speakers’ behavior are equally applicable to females
and males, so the gender of the learners would not influence the learners
ability to relate to the scenes depicted in the activity.
Cook (1996) says
that for “class teaching the
aspects in which students are different have to be balanced against those that
they share” (p. 116). The analysis of the activity has revealed that its
mixture of teaching styles and use of co-operative group work to produce
meaningful communicative language output, would succeed in handling a diverse
range of language proficiencies and particular learner factors within a class. The analysis also shows that the
activity addresses the various cultural factors that can exist in the
socio-cultural context for which it was designed and although there is a chance that learners could be
affected negatively by the activity’s depiction of cultural habits, the chance
of learners being positively affected by the activity are much higher. Outside South Korea, learners would have difficulty relating to the culture clash situations used
in the activity. However, by changing the situations, the lesson could be
easily modified to suit use in another country with different cultural habits.
Bianco, J. L. (2004) Cultural Learning. Resources of
Cultural Language Learning. Melbourne, Australia: CAE Press, p. 6.
Brick, J. (2004) Learning
and Teaching. China: A Handbook in Intercultural Communication (2nd
Ed). Sydney, Australia: NCELTR, p. 149.
Cook, V. (1996) Learners as Individuals. Second Language
Learning and Language Teaching (2nd Ed.). London, UK: Arnold, pp. 96, 114 & 116.
Cullen, B. & Sato, K., (2000) Practical Techniques for
Teaching Culture in the EFL classroom, The Internet TESL Journal, Vol.
VI, No. 12, section “Group Work”. Retrieved September 9, 2006 from
Kilichaya, F. (2004) Authentic Materials and Cultural
Content in EFL Classrooms, The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. X, No. 7, section
“How Can We Introduce Cultural Content in Our Classrooms?”. Retrieved September
9, 2006 from
Kim, J. (2003) Teaching Culture in
the English as a Foreign Language Classroom, The Korea TESOL Journal, 5
Krashen, S. D. (1982) Principles
and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.
Harmer, J. (1998) How
to Teach English. Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited. p. 127.
Lightbown, P. M. &
Spada, N. (1999) How Languages are Learned. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp. 39 & 57.
Lim, H. Y. (2003). Successful Classroom Discussions with
Adult Korean ESL/EFL Learners, The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IX, No.
5, section “Perceptions Underlying Korean Students Behaviors”, para. 1.
Retrieved August 8, 2006, from
Mangubhai, F. (1997) Primary socialization and cultural
factors in second language learning: wending our way through semi-charted
territory. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, Series S, No. 14,
O’Neal Cooper, J., Jnr. (2003). Acculturation and the
EFL/ESL Hybrid: The Optimal Distance Model Revisited – A study from South Korea. The Korea TESOL Journal, 6 (1), 101.
Richards, J. C. & Schmidt, R.
(2002) Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied
Linguistics. UK: Pearson Education Limited. p. 16.
Turula, A. Language
Anxiety and Classroom Dynamics: A study of Adult Learners: English Teacher
Forum, April, pp. 30 & 31.
Walqui, A. (2000)
Contextual Factors in Second Language Acquisition. Eric Digest. Washington DC: ERIC Cleaninghouse on Languages and Linguistics. section “The Learning
Process”, para. 2.
Williams, M. and Burden, R.L. (1997). Chapter 4, What can
teachers do to promote learning? Psychology for language teachers: A social
constructivist approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 66
The activity consists of three parts – A, B and C.
1. Learners are shown the picture of Appendix II.
2. The teacher acts out the dialog in Appendix III, taking both the role
of the Korean and native English speaker. Realia such as empty beer bottles and
glasses are placed on a table at the center of the enactment.
3. The learners try and memorize the dialog as it is enacted.
4. The teacher elicits the dialog from the learners and writes on the
board at the front of the classroom. The teacher repeats the enactment of the
dialog until the whole dialog has been written up on the board.
5. The teacher and learners discuss the functions of the language used in
the dialog and their implications (see Parts A and B of Appendix IV).
1. The teacher puts learners in pairs and hands out a sheet with the
pictures shown in Appendix V to each group.
2. The learners are given time to look at the pictures and are prompted by
the teacher to reveal if they have experienced any of the situations depicted
and if they think they could cause misunderstandings between Koreans and native
3. The learners are asked to choose one picture and construct a short
dialog for the scene a la the dialog of Appendix III.
1. The learners memorize their dialog.
2. The learners act out their dialog in front of the class.
Picture taken from Ugly Koreans, Ugly Americans, Min
Byong-Chul, (1995), p50, BCM Publications, Inc., Seoul, Korea.
people to drink too much.
Korean: Drink this special drink.
English speaker: No thank you. I feel drunk. I should stop
Korean: Don’t stop! This is a famous Korean drink. It’s beer
and whisky mixed together!
English speaker: I really must stop drinking. If I don’t
stop I will be sick!
Korean: I’m sorry. I don’t want to force you. Shall we go? I
will help you get a taxi.
Part A - Dialog Analysis:
1. Korean: Drink this special drink. – Imperative/offer.
2. English speaker: No thank you. I feel drunk. I should
stop drinking. – Polite refusal and excuse/explanation.
3. Korean: Don’t stop! This is a famous Korean drink. It’s
beer and whisky mixed together! – Strong imperative/order and attempt to
persuade by implication of Korean culture being rejected if imperative is not
4. English speaker: I really must stop drinking. If I don’t
stop I will be sick! – Stronger refusal, but still polite, almost pleading,
slight tenor change through use of the words ‘really’ and ‘must’, and more
5. Korean: I’m sorry. I don’t want to force you. Shall we
go? I will help you get a taxi. - Complete tenor change: Apology, realization
of misunderstanding, and offer of help/assistance.
Part B - Dialog structure:
1. Introduction of cultural behavior that could be open to
misinterpretation or seen as offensive to those from another culture.
2. Initial reaction from culturally different person.
3. Continuance of cultural behavior with continued ignorance
4. Stronger reaction by culturally different person.
5. Understanding, apology and refrain from cultural behavior
Pictures taken from Ugly Koreans, Ugly Americans, Min
Byong-Chul, (1995), p26, 29, 46, 52, 124 &140, BCM Publications, Inc.,
A. Eating squid in
public. B. Bragging about oneself.
C. Forcing people to
sing. D. Asking personal questions.
E. Ridiculing Korean food. F.
Being rude to waitresses.