高雄師範大學第 17 屆 全國比較文學會議「文化研究與文學教學 」
In view of the hegemony of the American culture in the Taiwan society and the predominance of American English in foreign language teaching in Taiwan, the topic treated by this essay has far reaching significance for the local context. Likewise, the thesis of this paper--that we should teach the American culture as we try to teach the English language--is well-taken. Yet, as an academic paper situated within an ever developing academic context, this paper has serious flaws. In fact, it looks more like a casual essay commenting upon certain general differences between the American and the Chinese cultures.
To begin with, the paper has not added to what other scholars have already done on the topic. The general area covered by this paper has the most to do with the field of socio-linguistics. Concerning the spread of the English language and the American culture, established scholars such as Christopher Brumfit, Robert Cooper, Joshua Fishman, or Brian Weistein have all published extensively. Their research and analyses may well help us think about the question of culture and language within a world context, yet no references were made of their work in this paper.
In addition, the importance of cultural factors and cultural differences in the process of second language acquisition has always been a central focus since the 1970s for those scholars who have been influenced by the development of concepts such as "the ethnography of communication" and what Dell Hymes has termed "communicative competence." Such communicative competence is exactly the tacit knowledge concerning such things as cultural characteristics, social norms, patterns of power maneuvers, values in life, etc., considered by this paper to be vital for any successful language learning. So, in a sense, the generalized statements provided by this paper add little to such previous work.
The author may have his own reasons for not referring to these previous research results. After all, he might be more interested in the pragmatic question of how to improve the effectiveness of language teaching. Yet, even in that area, the paper has not provided much detailed analysis. Let me mention two examples.
The major portion of this paper proposes certain distinct American cultural traits that we should pay attention to while teaching the English language. Such general statements may be quite sensible, yet what we would like to know is: in what concrete linguistic or communicative forms do these abstract differences present themselves? And, what concrete implications or suggestions do these observed cultural differences have for the pragmatic matters of language teaching? Without such detailed analysis, the thesis of this paper loses its footing.
The second problem has to do with the tension between cultural pluralism and the WASP nature of mainstream American culture presented in this paper. However, other than a few general remarks, the paper does not go into any details to analyze the content or the concrete differences in this pluralism. In the end, the only examples we get are (1) Black English has become legitimate in the United States, and (2) Someone as Chinese as tennis star Michael Chang is also an American. Such crude treatments are no more than token gestures beckoning at the fertile topic of pluralism in language teaching. After all, if the American society is changing rapidly as well as dramatically, as the author acknowledges, then in what concrete ways do these changes affect our language teaching practices? On such questions, the author is again silent.
In addition, the paper also failed to make any connection with the current theoretical paradigms within the professional field of cultural studies, which happens to be the theme of this conference. For if the insights from cultural studies can help us think about the cultural phenomena in Taiwan at all, then we would like to know: With what historical and power contexts and maneuvers is the hegemony of American culture and language teaching articulated? What institutional support does this language teaching depend on?
With at least three essays in this conference professing an undivided concentration on the question of post-colonial discourses, we cannot help but wonder: While the disadvantaged groups in the United States are struggling to keep alive and propagate their own non-mainstream American culture, and while other third world nation states try their best to shake loose from their cultural dependency on the United States, how would a pedagogy for teaching English as a foreign language, which is yet unreflective of the existing hegemony of American language and American culture, situate itself?