Is It Enough to Learn a Language? Should We Also Learn About the Culture?


Expert Author Bee Primrose

Whether learning a language for business or pleasure, would learning the culture of a people make it easier to absorb the nuances of the language? Food is an international ‘language’ that quickly introduces a number of topics to discuss, whether in Spain, Russia or Italy.

Many schools face an uphill struggle in teaching foreign languages to children, who are often unwilling to learn. School trips to enrich the learning experience are often expensive and places are not always available for all students. An enthusiastic teacher can make a huge difference but so can other initiatives – and not just for children, as discussed further down the article.

In business, if a company has established links with certain companies abroad, they tend to actively recruit bi-lingual staff but what if a small company suddenly finds itself with an important contact in South America who has only a smattering of English? It is possible that members of staff will need to travel to Brazil or Venezuela and will find basic Portuguese or Spanish very useful.

However, learning the language is only half the battle. There are differences, for example, if you are learning informal Spanish for holidays in Javea or learning formal Spanish for business in Mexico City, where improper use of the appropriate personal pronoun may be seen as impolite or even arrogant. Indeed, there are considerably different pronunciations of the word ‘gracias’ between Spanish speaking areas in Europe as well as south America.

As in the UK, there are strong regional dialects in all countries and where the language has been adopted in another country, differences have grown over the years: USA, Canada, Australia, North Africa, South America, the Caribbean, etc.. Switzerland is particularly interesting – a small country with French, German and Italian speaking regions.

Learning languages through the medium of food is universal – wherever people travel, they read menus and sample local cuisine – it’s a good start. Conversation is about food, typical dishes of the region, differences between the original recipe and its variations. Living in the UK and visiting restaurants run by Italians is much easier than finding a Russian theme.

Combining food, culture and language tuition should be a successful recipe for learning. Not just sampling food in a restaurant but learning how to prepare ingredients and cook them gives more depth to the subject and broadens the vocabulary. Even very young children can learn to create a pizza with ‘formaggio’ when carefully supervised.

London-based Languages Alive tailors language courses for business and pleasure, including cooking and tasting sessions.


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