Learner-Centered Cultural Understandings

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Hugh Kirkwood, Rikkyo University

Reference Data:

Kirkwood, H. (2016). Learner-centered cultural understandings. In P. Clements, A. Krause, & H. Brown (Eds.), Focus on the learner. Tokyo: JALT.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s (MEXT’s) policy for foreign language education in Japanese elementary schools includes the aims that it should increase both learners’ awareness of cultural differences and learners’ appreciation of their own culture. Some teacher-centered approaches to culture in Japanese foreign language learning contexts, however, may be problematic due to their unintentional reinforcement or promotion of overly simplistic views of culture or stereotypes. In this paper I introduce episodes from my own teaching in which students were encouraged to consider, be creative with, and share both their existing and new cultural understandings without teacher control. These episodes suggest that while student-centered approaches to cultural understanding in the language classroom may require careful consideration of student needs and support from sympathetic institutions, such approaches have the potential to increase students’ willingness to participate in cultural learning and to inspire nuanced understandings of culture.