This article covers a preliminary investigative study on the incorporation and the use of culture in a task-based class for first-year Afrikaans language acquisition students. Our results have yielded a pilot project to research the use of culture in a task-based classroom. Our methodology is outlined below.
We used a mixed-research approach for this study. First, we administered a qualitative study through a literature review on the task-based approach, culture and vocabulary. This study also investigated the use of culture as a pedagogic tool in the task-based classroom. The students then completed questionnaires which had two main objectives: the first was to get the students’ opinions on the incorporation of culture into the language acquisition classroom; the second was to assess their cultural knowledge. Finally, the results of both the questionnaires and the literature review allowed us to develop several culturally orientated, task-based lessons. Four of those lessons were presented to the students.
Language acquisition teachers have often struggled with the role and status of culture in language teaching, because the target culture and language are inextricably linked. Therefore, the integration of these two aspects is essential, and is, in fact, becoming more popular in language teaching. Kramsch (2013:62) points out that language and culture are inseparable and “are best acquired together” (Dema en Moeller 2012:76). Kruger (2001:78) is of the opinion that language plays an important role in culture, while Du Toit (2006:42) states that culture is part of language and language is part of culture.
The definition of culture is a much debated issue, not only in general but also specifically in relation to language teaching. According to Kovács (2017:75), while future language teachers are not expected to be experts in the theories of culture, they need to be aware of what the concept encompasses and especially what it means related to the study of a foreign language. He warns against the teaching of culture through only a few explicit lessons as it is a much broader concept than that. Barany (2016:265) sees culture as “a complex system of concepts, attitudes, values, beliefs, conventions, behaviours, practices, rituals and lifestyle of the people who make up a cultural group, as well as the artifacts they produce and the institutions they create”. Morain (1986:3) defines culture as “the view of the world shared by members of a group, the patterns of behaviour which derive from that view, and the utilitarian and expressive forms which evolve from both”; and Moyo (1997:44) defines it as “the tangible symbols, interest values that people use to define themselves and the social element of all human relationship [...] and the medium in which we move and breathe and have our being”. For this article we support the definition given by the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (2014): “[T]he shared patterns of behaviours and interactions, cognitive constructs, and affective understanding that are learned through a process of socialization. These shared patterns identify the members of a culture group while also distinguishing those of another group.”
When the incorporation of culture into the language classroom is discussed, there is uncertainty as to which definition of culture teachers plan to adhere to. Kavanagh (2000:102) gives three possibilities: “Culture with a big C”, “culture with a little c” or a combination of the two. “Culture with a big C”, according to Kramsch (2013:65), is a humanistic concept, and as seen by Kovács (2017:76) as the result of the study of literature, history and arts, taught in schools. Kavanagh (2000:103) describes “culture with a little c” as the daily life and social interactions of a specific group of people which include their food, their holidays, their greeting forms, and their values, perceptions, and beliefs.
The task-based approach is a pedagogic framework for the teaching of and research on second and/or foreign languages. Baralt and Gómez (2017:29) state the following: “TBLT (Task-based Language Teaching) means teaching with, learning with, and assessing with tasks – not isolated grammar forms – in order to promote functionality in the language.” As a task and also as a work plan, we agree with Ellis (2017:509) that a task should be defined only in terms of its design features and not in terms of how it is to be implemented. Input-based tasks are needed for beginners, according to Ellis (2017:510), because “they provide learners with the comprehensible input that helps get them started in learning an L2”. For us, the comprehensible input is vocabulary. Yoshii and Flaitz (2002:34) claim that vocabulary learning is an essential part of language learning: “Learning words can considered to be the most important aspect of second language acquisition.” Susanto (2017:185) supports Yoshii and Flaitz: “Teaching vocabulary is a crucial aspect in learning a new language as languages are based on words.” Schmitt (2007:833) asserts that no method or framework will help with vocabulary teaching. Genc and Bada (2005:80) conducted a study on the use of culture in a language acquisition class. They concluded that the use of culture should help foreign language learners with their vocabulary. Kost and Sawatzky (2011) support Genc and Bada’s study: “Using the cultural information available on the Internet combined with communicative activities allowed students to work together, accomplish real-world tasks by interacting meaningfully in the target language and practicing the language structures and vocabulary items that they learned in class.”
For the purpose of this article and the broader research study we use Willis’s (1996) framework for class methodology. Three stages (pre-task, task-cycle and post-task) form the framework of task-based language teaching. In the pre-task stage, the topic and the task are introduced to the students and the lecturer either introduces the new vocabulary or revises the old vocabulary. The task-cycle is the stage in which students try to perform the task in small groups or in pairs. This stage consists of three different phases: task, planning and reporting. The lecturer only monitors the students and the focus is on fluency, not accuracy. Willis and Willis (2001:178) call the post-task stage “language focus”. They analyse this stage under two different names: language focus and language practice. In the language focus stage the students try to understand the use of the language and the rules of the target language. At the language practice stage students engage in a wide variety of different exercises to strengthen understanding.
Research is limited on the combined topics of language acquisition and the learning of Afrikaans vocabulary through the task-based approach and culture, especially that which involves university students. Our main research question is as follows: Will culture-orientated task-based lessons better assist university students in learning Afrikaans vocabulary?
Keywords: Afrikaans language acquisition; Afrikaans vocabulary; classroom methodology; culture; second-language acquisition; task-based approach