How does culture shape language learning

There are many reasons you might study a foreign language. You might want to live and work in another country, or you may want to be able to get around better when on vacation. Whatever your reason for learning a second language, you will likely find that it is more challenging than you think. In fact, it's not uncommon for students who have learned a foreign language at school only to discover that their skills are significantly weaker when they visit the country where the new language is spoken.

Language and culture

Language is a cultural artifact. Every word within a language was invented and given meaning by the culture that created it. This means that if you want to know the true meaning of any word, you have to research its origins and the society that gave it life.

Culture shapes words in three ways:

- how people use language

- what people talk about

- how people feel about words

For example, the word "nice" has been used in English for hundreds of years. Originally it meant "foolish, stupid." Today, it means "pleasant, agreeable." Words change throughout the years, decades, and centuries!

Culture is a powerful thing. There are many countries that have different languages, or dialects, due to culture. The theory of Sapir-Whorf postulates that "humans acquire their native language through interaction with their culture." Culture influences the way we think, our values and how we communicate.

Interference in language in relation to culture

The two main types of interference are (1) semantic and (2) phonological. Semantic interference occurs when there is a similarity in the meaning of the words from more than one language. Phonological interference occurs when you produce a word or sound in one language, but it sounds like another word or sound in your native language. Both have an influence on the way bilinguals process information and therefore affect their performance on tests such as reading comprehension, writing, listening, speaking and pronunciation.

So how do these concepts relate together? These cultural differences explain the existence of interference in language, both semantically and phonologically. You hear it when a Chinese person pronounces "r" as "l" (rexicon for lexicon) or a Spanish person speaks words with "v" as "b" (barious for various). We have to get past these interferences in order to be understood well, especially in the context of the English language.


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