Culture is the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people or society. It is a blend of thought patterns and characteristics of a group of people. By interacting together, people grow together, and they become an entity when compared to other groups of people.
Even among individuals who share the same characteristics and living in the same society you may find subcultures that define their views and ideas. This is due to factors like social status, education etc.
Language and culture are deeply connected as one affect the other. Language allows the expression of thoughts and feelings and facilitates communication between people.
The culture in a society is always changing and so is the language to match the evolving values within this society. Language expresses the cultural beliefs.
There is an intergenerational culture which is also reflected in different expressions or slang understood only within the age group who created them.
Language reflects people’s perception of the world.
Language reflects people’s perception of the world. The same language spoken in different regions, sounds different and it is due to the cultural impact. For example, the Spanish spoken in Mexico is different from the one spoken in Dominican Republic or Argentina. Even though it is the same language, the historical evolution of each of these countries mentioned has played a part in it. To illustrate, due to the massive immigration of Italians, the Spanish spoken in Argentina has inherited a different intonation more like the Italian language.
The history of a culture is directly linked to the terms expressed in a language. For instance, the word ‘ojalá’ in Spanish is a direct influence from the Arabic word ‘insh-Alla’ and this is due to the Islamic conquer of Spain that has left its cultural print.
Culture influence the way you interact with people.
If you are French, you will greet people with two or three kisses (pre Covid-19 obviously) whilst here in the UK a kiss is almost seen as an invasion of someone’s private space.
Culture helps you build your values and strengthens your bond with the group you belong to.
So, what does all this have to do with language learning?
You cannot honestly separate culture from language an vice versa.
If you just learn a language and you don’t study the culture of the people speaking this language, it will be like a missing piece of a 2000-piece puzzle. Even though you managed to put all the parts together the picture will never be completed until you find that one missing piece. All this to insist that you must learn about the culture if you genuinely care in building an authentic relationship with the people.
You must know the cultural nuances of the language if you want an effective communication with people of a foreign country. This will help you prevent big cultural gaffes like using ‘tu’ in French with someone you don’t know or older than thirty. You should also be aware of the language blunders: certain words are acceptable with friends but not in a social environment.
When learning about the culture as you are learning the language, you will avoid these mishaps by understanding the connotation of a word and carefully choosing to use it or not.
Another important aspect of learning about the culture is that you become more tolerant because you gain an understanding of the people, you feel more connected to them, you are more prone to adopt an open mind and understand different cultures, you are more willing to explore and interact with them. This will consequently change you.
This is the reason why I am so passionate about helping hundreds learn a new language, not only because it opens a door to a thousand opportunities, but also because it is the best way to build bridges between nations and cultures. And maybe this is the way to end all wars.
In what ways learning about the culture of the language you are studying is helping you? Comment below.