Culture texts for ESO: learning to read or reading to learn?

Reading is an essential part of language learning at all levels. But in the ESO classroom, are students learning to read in English or reading to learn about the world around them? Hopefully a bit of both, argues Catherine McBeth.

Author: Catherine McBeth

What do I mean by culture?

As part of the research process for writing ESO materials, I often find myself talking to teachers of English in schools all around Spain. One of the questions I often ask is about ‘culture’ in the classroom. At first, the response is almost always positive: students love to hear tales of life in London, Dublin or Glasgow, or to untangle the lyrics of their favourite British or American songs, as well as learning about the idiosyncrasies of Anglo-Saxon life. But then come the buts: I wish I had time but …, My students like it but they haven’t got the level yet, It’s a great idea but it’s not in the exam …

In the not too distant past, language learning was regarded as the key to the ‘high culture’ of another land, literally unlocking its libraries and making its literature accessible without translation. You needed the language in order to get to the culture. Now though, in our multicultural, globalised world, we know that language and culture go hand in hand; students can not really ‘know English’ without knowing something of the people who speak it, of the places where it is spoken, of the thoughts and ideas and feelings which lie behind the words. That is this thing called culture, which sometimes gets left by the wayside when there’s so much language to cover.

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