Cultural Awareness in Omani English Language Teachers

Introduction

English language teaching is one of the most important fields in the teaching process around the world. Bassnett et al. (2000) says that second language learners usually experience difficulty when interacting with native speakers. This difficulty is as a result of missing gaps between teaching and classroom setting. The second language learner is expected to use grammar structures without being made aware of the cultural background of the language. Wei (2005) further states that teaching culture knowledge implies that the learner has to be made aware of the interactive use of sports, lifestyle, education, dialect, language, regional variation and maps (Stice, 1987).

Teaching culture when teaching English provides the students with the opportunity to appreciate and understand values. It also equips them with the knowledge of different ways of doing things. The students are made to use as a way of accepting differences in the global society (Wei, 2005). This project is designed to investigate the cultural awareness in teaching English as a second language in Omani schools among teachers. Since knowing English culture is important for teachers, they need to be aware of it. It seems that there is a gap between the Omani culture with students and English language as a target in the classroom.

Project Question and hypothesis

The project seeks to investigate whether it is important and relevant for teachers to be aware of the cultural differences between Oman and English during practice of ELT. In addition, this research is conducted to see if the English language can be taught without linking it to the English cultural context. In order to teach culture in practice of ELT, the teacher has to have cultural knowledge, cultural value, cultural behaviour, and cultural skills.

Relevance of the research to the topic

During a five year period of a degree in English language, it is clear that the ELT curriculum design in Oman is based on the Omani culture without any relation to English cultural context. It is obvious that there is a difference between the two cultures. In addition, the college course emphasizes on preparing teachers using the ELT methods. This results in creation of a gap between the teaching processes in practice of ELT (Wood, 1998).

One misconception that has persisted in Omani classrooms when teaching English as a foreign language is that English is merely a code that has to be mastered (Brown, 1994). The learners are only expected to acquaint themselves with the grammatical rules and a few other aspects embedded in the social context of the language (Bassnett, 2000). Such misconception as noted by several research studies done in the field language and culture, contribute to learners inappropriate use of language outside classroom (Wood, 1998). It has contributed to the development of several approaches in teaching English as foreign language such as social linguistic (Gao, 2006). Such approaches fail to have a deeper insight in trying to create a connection between language and culture (Gao, 2006).

Methodology

This research was accomplished by distributing survey questionnaires to English language teachers. The population for this study was 60 teachers. Gender distribution of the participants was equal; meaning that 50% of were female teachers and 50 % were male teachers. The female teachers used in this study teach in Omani female schools. The participants were selected systematically in order to distribute the questionnaires to graduate teachers from different institutions of higher learning within the country. The questionnaire tool used for the study had both open-ended questions and closed-ended questions.

The second part of the survey sought to interview the head of English language teaching in Dhofar and three other English language supervisors in the same department. They were asked whether they observed situations where cultural awareness was needed for English language teachers. The interview also sought to determine whether they have conducted any workshops about English language and issues of cultural differences in using language. In addition the interview process sought for their responses on whether the teaching process can be affected by preparation of English language teachers with the awareness of cultural differences between English and Arabic. Finally, the interview intended to seek the response of both the supervisors and Head of department to see if the curriculum in the Omani schools considered the differences between cultures.

Rationale for methodology

The study used a quantitative approach which will employ survey and questionnaire for data collection and analysis (Groves, 2010). The main reason for picking on quantitative design procedure is because of the nature of the study. The study is descriptive in nature implying that the subjects are measured at once (Groves, 2010). The study intended to establish the association between variables and not causality. The variables used in the study had to be quantified to establish the extent of their association (Groves, 2010). For instance, one of the independent variables used in the study was ‘teachers with more than seven years experience’. The study sought to establish the association between this variable the cultural awareness during practice of ELT.

Findings and Analysis

The data collected from both the interview and questionnaire materials were analyzed using statistical methods of analysis. All the participants selected for the study took part. Therefore the results were analysed for 60 participants. Table 1 below indicates the response given by both the female and male teachers in the questionnaire.

Variable Results from female teachers (in percentage) Results from male teachers Result from teachers with more than 7 years experience
Connection of culture with teaching Yes 67
No 33
Yes 69
No 31
Yes 81
No 19
Cultural context of student’s conversational learning Omani – 42
English – 23
None – 32
58 Omani
24 English
18 none
35 Omani
51 English
14 none

57% of the female teachers believe that listening is the most favourable skill to be linked to language and culture while only 35% believe writing is the most favourable skill. Very few female teachers believe in reading and speaking. The skill of speaking was expected to show better results among the participants because student use the grammar learnt in classrooms to interact with people from different cultures. For the male respondents, 60% percent believed that speaking was the most favourable skills to be linked with language and culture, while only 23% believed writing was more favoured.

Results from the interview

Supervisors

Teachers need to link the language in the classroom to its cultural setting. This will make it easier for learners to comprehend and practice the language.

Head of department

The views of the head of department were as follows:

  • There is no clear policy from the Ministry of what teachers should use.
  • Teachers haven’t got that much knowledge about it and they are making decisions according to their experience in the class

Implications of the findings

From the findings of the study, it is clear that the ELT curriculum in Oman needs to be reviewed to take account of incorporating culture in practice of ELT. It is only with the experienced teachers who tend to significantly agree that teaching culture is important in teaching language. The less experienced teachers mostly rely on their experiences in class. Most of them still do not see the need of emphasising on culture when teaching English language.

The findings could suggest that curriculum developers and teachers have to take into consideration the social cultural background of learners as well as the cultural context of language especially when coming up with materials for learning and when developing and implementing curriculum (Charkins, et al., 1985). Since English is an international language, its usage is within the global context. Without giving students the cultural background of English, the teachers are simply giving the students empty symbols and expect them to attach meaning to the (Naiman, et al., 1975).

Therefore, English student may find themselves using the language within a context where they are not supposed to use. The students would lack knowledge of proper cultural context to use the language. As a result conflict may arise (O’Malley, et al., 1985). It is not quite easy to teach culture when teaching language. Basically, the role that teachers play when teaching culture is that of guidance (Atkinson, 1998). This means that the teachers only get to show the way of how things are supposed to be done. The teachers make students become sensitive and aware of important cultural traits (Brown, 1994).

According to Bruner (1990) students taking English as a second language have a varying sensory preference. Cultural influence is asserted to be the main contributor to this variation (Wehrwein, et al., 2007). Students with Asian background are identified to have high preference of visual learning style (Wagner, et al., 1986).Importance of culture in teaching and learning. When teachers act oblivious to the norms and expectations of the students, is simply denying the experiences of the learners (Kagan & Kaplan, 1995).

This means that teachers are not taking into account the variation of culture in a classroom and therefore it can lead to difficulties in teaching language (Mulalic, et al., 2009). Teachers have to engage the students in the cultural background of English language usage (Myers, 1962). Within a classroom, teachers must know that there is variation of cultural background of the students (Piaget, 1971). Students come from different areas and regions of the world. Therefore teachers have to realize that whatever content they deliver can be interpreted differently by different students. Basically, students give meaning to the content material based on their cultural context (Mulalic, et al., 2009).

Challenges faced in the course of the study

There are some issues that had to be considered in this research. It was not easy to get both teachers and supervisors to participate in the study. This is due to the changes in the Ministry of Education that made them to fear that their answers will be taken against them. It took the intervention of the head of department for them to agree to participate in the research. He had to explain to the teachers that this study has no relation to decision makers in the ministry of education. The other challenge was the difficulty of forming questions that will not change the way teacher think about the issue under investigation. The questions therefore were structured in a manner to give the respondents the freedom to choose and not target them to respond in a certain way.

Conclusion and recommendation

This study was designed to investigate the cultural awareness among teachers in teaching English as a second language in Omani schools. From the findings, it can be concluded that Omani teachers consider the need for cultural awareness when teaching English in class; quite a significant number separate language with culture during practice of ELT. It has also been established that the structuring of the curriculum in Oman contributes to the fact that there is little connection between culture and language in ELT classes. This means that some of the teachers may have cultural awareness but because of the curriculum structure, they may be forced not to link culture with language during teaching. Therefore, a lot needs to be done in the education system and training of language teachers in the various institutions of higher learning (Stice, 1987).

Survey tool: Questionnaire

Culture and Language Teaching

The information in this questionnaire will be used for the purpose of a research on ELT conduct in University of Bradford. All the provided information will be used in this study only.

Section 1: general information

  • Your gender (Please tick appropriately)
    • Female ◻
    • Male ◻
  • Age (years) (Please tick appropriately)
    • 18 – 23 ◻
    • 36 – 41 ◻
    • 24 – 29 ◻
    • 42 – 47 ◻
    • 30 – 35 ◻
    • 48 – 53 ◻
    • 54 and above ◻
  • Indicate the college you graduated from…………………………………..
  • Indicate your subject area…………………………………………………….
  • For how long have you been working? (Please tick appropriately)
  • Less than
  • 5 Years ◻
  • 6 – 10 Years ◻
  • 11 – 15 Years ◻
  • 16 – 20 Years ◻
  • More than 20Years ◻

Section 2: Other information

  • Do you usually link your teaching with culture? (Please tick appropriately)
    • Yes ◻
    • No ◻ (if no, go for question 3)
  • In which context would you like your students to learn how to take a part in conversation: (Please tick appropriately)
    • Omani culture ◻
    • English culture ◻
  • Indicate the extent in which you agree with the following statements
Teaching of culture in practice of ELT Strongly Agree Neutral Strongly Disagree
1. It is not important for any language teachers to link language with the target culture

Please state the reason for your response in (1) above. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… …………………… (Specify)

  • If there is a link between language teaching and culture, choose where you would make use of it. If you believe culture is not important go to the next question. (Please tick appropriately)
    • Speaking ◻
    • Reading ◻
    • Writing ◻
    • All of the above ◻
    • Listening ◻
  • How will you deal with a situation where English has to be used in its cultural context? For example: writing an invitation letters.
    • Explain the cultural difference between L1 and L2.
    • Change the activity to make it something related to Omani culture.
    • Keep going with the activity and let the student answer it without any changes.
    • Do nothing and go to the next activity

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