Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

General discussion about learning languages
Gòl·lum
White Belt
Posts: 17
Joined: Wed Jul 17, 2019 5:27 pm
Languages: Catalan (N), Spanish (N), English (C1).
x 36

Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby Gòl·lum » Tue Jul 23, 2019 11:06 pm

I'm asking this because many people learn a language without being really interested in the culture where it developed. They do it out of different reasons, like adding another language to the ones they already know and to have more and better job opportunities. You have many people that learn languages on the Internet without the need to interact with native speakers or visit the country/countries where this language is most commonly spoken.

Apparently, people do this because they think a language is just a bunch of grammar/syntax rules, vocabulary and sounds. However, you can't really learn a language without being immersed in the culture where it belongs, because there's a lot of slang, idioms, songs, proverbs that relate to the way the people of that culture live and their history. So does it make much sense to start learning, let's say, Japanese, if you don't plan to live in Japan? Is it possible to learn Navajo without spending a significant amount of your life living with and like the people of the Navajo tribe?
1 x

Speakeasy
Black Belt - 2nd Dan
Posts: 2097
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2015 5:19 pm
Location: Canada (Montréal region)
Languages: English (N), French (C2). Studying: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Polish, and Russian; all with widely varying degrees of application, enthusiasm, and success.
x 5597

Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby Speakeasy » Wed Jul 24, 2019 12:16 am

This is an “easy” question to answer.

On the one hand, it is “easy” and it “makes sense” to develop a deep and enduring passion for a language (or for anything else for that matter). For the truly passionate, these feelings typically extend to every aspect of the culture from which the language arose and for them, it is simply ludicrous, if not heretical, to divorce the language from its source. Such passions can even lead to the blind vindication of less savoury aspects of a beloved culture’s history … dig deep enough into the past and you’ll find that all peoples have something which causes them shame, or which should … we’re all capable of rationalizing our choices and our behavior.

On the other hand, it is just as “easy” and it “makes just as much sense” to view a given language as nothing more than a “tool” which is useful, if not necessary, for accomplishing a specific task or range of tasks. Think of people who, by virtue of their employment, or of their economic and social conditions, or for a gillion other very powerful reasons, are faced with the prospect of either: (a) learning a language which they abhor and for whose people and culture they have little regard, or (b) accepting that they will be condemned to an otherwise significantly lower economic and social status or perhaps even face genuine persecution. I find it quite understandable that language-learners who find themselves in such circumstances should want to learn the language as a “tool” and leave the cultural aspects, if not the native-speakers themselves, to someone who would better appreciate them.

So, in answer to the question, "yes" both positions "make sense" to me.

EDITED:
Tinkering.
14 x

User avatar
Iversen
Black Belt - 2nd Dan
Posts: 2418
Joined: Sun Jul 19, 2015 7:36 pm
Location: Denmark
Languages: Monolingual travels in Danish, English, German, Dutch, Swedish, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Romanian and (part time) Esperanto
Ahem, not yet: Norwegian, Afrikaans, Platt, Scots, Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Greek, Latin, Irish, Indonesian and a few more...
Language Log: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=1027
x 5087

Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby Iversen » Wed Jul 24, 2019 1:07 am

Can you learn a language without learning anything about the culture of the places where it is spoken? Well, maybe you can, but why should you? But learning about a place (through its languages or in other ways) is not the same thing as having lived there your whole life.

I sometimes have heard my globetrotting acquaintances state that if the locals can eat something then they can too. I have another attitude: if I don't eat something at home I can't see why I should eat it during my travels. And this also spills over to other aspects of foreign cultures: for instance I can't see the point in watching football matches at home and then I don't see the point in frequenting football stadions abroad - not even in places like Brazil, which I visited recently.

Of course I acknowledge that there are differences between different countries so there are things which I only do abroad because that's the only place I can do those things. For instance I can't watch hummingbirds at home so I have to watch them where they live - but I do watch Danish birds in Denmark so it is not against my principles to watch foreign birds where they live. And yes, I DO visit museums in my home town so I also behave like a tourist at home.

Transferred to languages and culture this means that I like to walk around in foreign towns as if I lived there - even though a hotel room isn't as well equipped with dictionaries as my own flat and I can't carry my old tower PC around with me in my hand luggage. But I visit museums, libraries, supermarkets and traffic terminals, I read local newspapers and magazines and watch local TV stations and read books that tell me about the history of the place in question (like at home) - and for all those things knowing the local language is a great asset (like at home) . In Asia I unfortunately have to speak English most of the time, and that irritates me, but even there I try to imagine that I live there.

But live anywhere away from my PC and my books for months on end? No, that's not my game. And I don't try to think like a local person - which in itself would be impossible, because which local person should I then try to emulate? Instead my goal is to think my thoughts in their language.

Kunst197.JPG
Kunst197.JPG (64.41 KiB) Viewed 1838 times
5 x

sporedandroid
Orange Belt
Posts: 223
Joined: Mon Jan 07, 2019 6:54 am
Languages: English (N), Spanish (heritage/intermediate), Hebrew (pre-A1), Turkish (pre-A1, aiming for around A1)
x 207

Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby sporedandroid » Wed Jul 24, 2019 8:48 am

Iversen wrote:Can you learn a language without learning anything about the culture of the places where it is spoken? Well, maybe you can, but why should you? But learning about a place (through its languages or in other ways) is not the same thing as having lived there your whole life.

I sometimes have heard my globetrotting acquaintances state that if the locals can eat something then they can too. I have another attitude: if I don't eat something at home I can't see why I should eat it during my travels. And this also spills over to other aspects of foreign cultures: for instance I can't see the point in watching football matches at home and then I don't see the point in frequenting football stadions abroad - not even in places like Brazil, which I visited recently.

Of course I acknowledge that there are differences between different countries so there are things which I only do abroad because that's the only place I can do those things. For instance I can't watch hummingbirds at home so I have to watch them where they live - but I do watch Danish birds in Denmark so it is not against my principles to watch foreign birds where they live. And yes, I DO visit museums in my home town so I also behave like a tourist at home.

Transferred to languages and culture this means that I like to walk around in foreign towns as if I lived there - even though a hotel room isn't as well equipped with dictionaries as my own flat and I can't carry my old tower PC around with me in my hand luggage. But I visit museums, libraries, supermarkets and traffic terminals, I read local newspapers and magazines and watch local TV stations and read books that tell me about the history of the place in question (like at home) - and for all those things knowing the local language is a great asset (like at home) . In Asia I unfortunately have to speak English most of the time, and that irritates me, but even there I try to imagine that I live there.

But live anywhere away from my PC and my books for months on end? No, that's not my game. And I don't try to think like a local person - which in itself would be impossible, because which local person should I then try to emulate? Instead my goal is to think my thoughts in their language.

Kunst197.JPG

I seem to have different interests in different languages. I expect more consistency, but it seems to be random. Like I originally wanted to learn Hebrew because of its association with Judaism. I also heard good things about Hebrew poetry. That made Hebrew more appealing to me even though I didn’t care for poetry in English. I knew knowing enough Hebrew to understand that stuff would take awhile, so I looked for some Hebrew music. I ended up getting a lot into rock music even though I was fairly indifferent to rock music in other languages. I guess my interest in music is consistent. I don’t really care for Canadian sports, so I don’t care for Israeli or Jewish sports either.
2 x

User avatar
tarvos
Black Belt - 2nd Dan
Posts: 2485
Joined: Sun Jul 26, 2015 11:13 am
Location: Dark paradise
Languages: Native: NL, EN
Speak well: ES, DE, RU, FR, RO, EO, SV
Speak reasonably: IT, ZH, PT, NO, EL, CZ
Need improvement: PO, IS, HE, JP, KO, HU
Passive: AF, DK, LAT
Dabbled in: BRT, ZH (SH), FI, BG, EUS
Dabbling in: Malay
Language Log: http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/fo ... PN=1&TPN=1
x 4698
Contact:

Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby tarvos » Wed Jul 24, 2019 8:56 am

I'm much more varied, but I do separate a language from the culture when there are aspects of that culture that start to infringe on human rights. That's where I draw the line, usually.
7 x
Ich stehe zwischen zwei Welten, bin in keiner daheim und habe es infolgedessen ein wenig schwer.
Preferred pronouns: feminine.

AnthonyLauder
Yellow Belt
Posts: 71
Joined: Wed May 04, 2016 6:29 am
Location: Prague, Czech republic
Languages: English (N), Everything Else (A0)
x 377
Contact:

Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby AnthonyLauder » Wed Jul 24, 2019 10:45 am

One thing that really irritates me in language courses is when they claim to include "cultural notes", so you learn about the culture and not just the language. In reality, those cultural notes tend to focus on trivialities, such as "in this country people drive on the left" or "you should wait until the head of the family sits before you sit". Then the remainder of the course focuses on imagined scenarios such "Peter is in a bakery buying a loaf of bread" or "The business executive is taking a taxi to the airport".

These artificial scenarios are a wasted opportunity. Courses would be much more interesting if the scenarios were focused on the culture, rather than made up nonsense.

The same applies to podcasts aimed at language learners, where they fail to keep the listener's attention by inventing silly sample sentences. There are very few podcasts that get it right. One of the few that I admire in this regard is Inner French (https://innerfrench.com/podcast/), where almost every half-hour episode addresses some aspect of French culture. This way, you feel you have learned something useful through the language. Hopefully, more courses and podcasts will emulate this.
6 x

Gordafarin2
White Belt
Posts: 26
Joined: Wed Aug 22, 2018 10:53 am
Languages: English (N)
Current focus: Persian (B2), Mandarin (beginner/HSK1)
Rusty/Hibernating: Esperanto (B2), Spanish (A2), ASL (A1)
x 64
Contact:

Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby Gordafarin2 » Wed Jul 24, 2019 11:25 am

My background is in linguistics, so a large part of the pleasure I get from learning languages (especially at beginning stages) is the grammar, the phonetics, and the way words in one language are related to another language. I would have a blast learning a dozen languages to A1 divorced from any cultural context, just for the joy of learning how they work.

But to progress beyond the basics in any language, learning about the culture is essential. Not necessarily even for travel or to live in another country - but to appreciate the film and literature and music, or to talk with native speakers. Native content needs cultural knowledge. So yeah, I do enjoy the language itself, but to dive beyond superficial study is much more rewarding - you get both the pleasure of the language, and of the culture(s) it belongs to.
8 x
Leveling up in Persian...
100 hours of listening: 50 / 100
25 novels: 3 / 25
100,000 words in ReadLang: 29980 / 100000
she/her

Gòl·lum
White Belt
Posts: 17
Joined: Wed Jul 17, 2019 5:27 pm
Languages: Catalan (N), Spanish (N), English (C1).
x 36

Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby Gòl·lum » Wed Jul 24, 2019 12:16 pm

AnthonyLauder wrote:One thing that really irritates me in language courses is when they claim to include "cultural notes", so you learn about the culture and not just the language. In reality, those cultural notes tend to focus on trivialities, such as "in this country people drive on the left" or "you should wait until the head of the family sits before you sit". Then the remainder of the course focuses on imagined scenarios such "Peter is in a bakery buying a loaf of bread" or "The business executive is taking a taxi to the airport".

These artificial scenarios are a wasted opportunity. Courses would be much more interesting if the scenarios were focused on the culture, rather than made up nonsense.

The same applies to podcasts aimed at language learners, where they fail to keep the listener's attention by inventing silly sample sentences. There are very few podcasts that get it right. One of the few that I admire in this regard is Inner French (https://innerfrench.com/podcast/), where almost every half-hour episode addresses some aspect of French culture. This way, you feel you have learned something useful through the language. Hopefully, more courses and podcasts will emulate this.


Yes, I have a similar experience with language courses. At the same time, it's perhaps misleading to focus on just one or two cultures in languages that are as widespread as English and French. English is spoken in countries like India and Nigeria, whose cultures have little or nothing to do with the British and American ones. I guess it's impractical to teach about hundreds or thousands of different cultures in a language course. Perhaps in the case of languages that are used as lingua franca (including artificial ones like Esperanto that don't belong to any specific human group), it'd make more sense to skip the cultural aspect and learn them as if they were programming language. After all, most of the people that learn English or French as a foreign language do it out of necessity, and they're rarely interested in their respective cultures. Perhaps the cultural aspect is more relevant in the case of less widespread languages.
3 x

Vero
White Belt
Posts: 28
Joined: Tue Jul 17, 2018 2:13 pm
Languages: Czech (N), Spanish (C2), English (C1), Catalan (A1), German, French, Italian (passive and mostly forgotten)
x 104

Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby Vero » Wed Jul 24, 2019 12:57 pm

Depends... I think that sometimes it makes sense.

There are people who enjoy just the learning process and the language structure itself, those that are simply interested in language learning. Then I understand that the culture is not as interesting as it could be if you study the language for different reasons (that you like how it sounds for example).

And there are also some practical reasons. I need English at work everyday so I try (however I admit that not too much) to keep it at a solid level. But to be frank, the culture (British or American or other) doesn't attract me at all. Ok, there are movies, I can see it, I can see an interesting document, perhaps, but...

... compared to the deep passion I feel for every aspect of Spanish culture, or the interest I feel when I can watch some classical Spanish cinema - for me these are totally different universes.
5 x

User avatar
rdearman
Site Admin
Posts: 4726
Joined: Thu May 14, 2015 4:18 pm
Location: United Kingdom
Languages: English (N)
Language Log: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=1836
x 11256
Contact:

Re: Does it make sense to separate a language from the culture it belongs to?

Postby rdearman » Wed Jul 24, 2019 2:45 pm

Gòl·lum wrote:However, you can't really learn a language without being immersed in the culture where it belongs

Esperanto?
1 x
: 6 / 100 100 Italian paperbacks:
: 306 / 75000 Output Challenge 2019 (普通话写作):

Lollygagging Podcast available on iTunes


Return to “General Language Discussion”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: 白田龍 and 2 guests