Modern Technology and Cultural Proficiency

Nyusya Milman, Indiana University

In spite of consensus within the teaching profession that language cannot be taught separately from culture, there continues an imbalance between energies devoted to research on language learning and testing as opposed to developing culture-friendly materials. Results from a survey of foreign language teachers on technology and teaching culture (Moore, Morales and Carel, 1998) indicate that although a lot of foreign language specialists make considerable use of video-materials, especially foreign film, there is little use of interactive media such as CD-ROMs and video disks.

ACTFL National Standards for Foreign Language Teaching recommend that teachers approach the teaching of culture in three ways: cultural products, cultural practices and cultural perspectives (ACTFL, 1997). The need for such clearly stated national goals and guidelines for the teaching of culture in the profession arose from a situation seen as problematic over the past four decades (Brooks, 1968, Lafayette, 1976) and continues to presents a challenge to teachers of foreign languages for variety of reasons, but primarily because of the limited materials available.

Teachers of Russian, in particular, suffer from the lack of appropriate materials--media materials supplemented with especially designed methodologically sound pre-viewing and post-viewing exercises. Brown, Lewis and Harceload (1983) state that one of the advantages of using interactive media in foreign language learning is an opportunity for students to proceed from the printed word (the textbook) to a combination of sight, sound and movement. Video disk technology offers excellent real life settings, so that students can be immersed in language and culture at the same time and learn language within the cultural context. Furthermore, such media are a perfect format for providing students with role-playing situations and other simulated cultural interactions which enable them to learn appropriate cultural behavior.

Existing research in the use of computers to enhance language learning tends to focus mainly on reading and writing. The sparse work done on computerized materials for teaching culture focuses primarily on products and practices of culture. Such a model may not be effective for providing students with investigatory tools with which they can come to an understanding of the perspectives of a given culture. It seems to me that new ways are urgently needed for students to learn not only about cultural products and practices of the native speakers of the target culture, but precisely about cultural perspectives. Foreign language specialists, particularly of less commonly taught languages, need to improve their knowledge of how to integrate technology along with other activities in classroom instruction.

The proposed talk is going to be focused on the integration of technology into the language classroom and the role it plays in the process of achieving student's cultural proficiency by:

    1. Addressing the place devoted to use of visual media--Video, Internet, CD-ROMs--in an interactive language classroom;
    2. Suggesting appropriate time for students to be exposed to products and practices of culture;
    3. Discussing ways in forming student's cultural perspectives;
    4. Presenting ways of measuring student's cultural proficiency;
    5. Advising materials available for the students of Slavic languages.