ESL professor Merton Bland asked: "So what cultural elements do you feel warrant a place in the ESOL curriculum?" Dave Kees, presently teaching ESL in China, resplied, I think we have to add a few more questions to this. Again it comes to a needs analysis. So perhaps we should ask:
"So what cultural elements should be taught in ESL classes and for which students? Also, when should they be taught?"Another teacher, Nelson Banks, pointed out earlier that ESL students in America may need to learn some very American specific language and even geography. Do they need to learn every state and its capital. Low-level students should start learning some things about California (Los Angeles, Disneyland, etc), New York (Manhattan), Washington D.C. (and that it's not Washington State), etc.
According to Banks, teaching cultural elements depends on the specific needs of individual students and also the timing for teaching them. Teach cultural material when they can use the knowledge. If taught too far in advance, they may forget it before they can (or need to) use it. For example, should ESL teachers teach American sports terms, like baseball terminology, to students in China? The vast majority of Chinese don't understand baseball at all. So should we teach this to Chinese students?
Yes - if they work for Nike. Kees then recounted meeting meeting the American director for Nike in China. The director said that some of their top Chinese managers don't understand a lot of the American baseball terms Nike managers and personnel use all the time in company meetings. Expressions such as "hit a home run," "it's the last inning", and so on are baseball terms familiar to all Americans. They are also familiar metaphors and colloquial expressions used in daily speech. After questioning the Chines managers, the Nike director learned the they do not fully understanding what is said in meetings.
Although not discussed (yet), I would think that where the student is makes a huge difference too. Those who have already immigrated to or are studying in an English speaking country need more "cultural fluency." They are also exposed to it and have more opportunity to hear and use language drawing on cultural elements. These are usually from popular culture - sports, pastimes, movies, TV, music, and so on. There are also regional elements. In my opinion, it may not be realistic to learn a large "popular culture" vocabulary well enough to use it in speaking and writing. There are already so many words to learn. We can't expect to master all of them. However, your listening comprehension should be greater than your speaking vocabulary - you'll understand more expressions than you can use in speaking.
Here are some colloquial expressions from gambling. How many can you figure out the meanings for? Can you use them in sentences that are not about gambling?
- hit the jackpot
- on a roll
- ace in the hole
- play(s/ed/ing) [somebody's] cards close to [somebody's] chest
- wild card
- shoot the works
- let it ride
- put(s/ting) * money down
- beginner's luck