Does Teaching English Mean Teaching Culture?

In the US, even though it may not be so common to learn foreign languages well, people often acknowledge that learning a foreign language is important not only for communication but also for giving insight into another culture. One of my favorite things during my high school French class was learning etiquette do’s and don’t’s and of course, sampling those sandwiches au chocolat.

But many have made the point that as a lingua franca, English is learned to enable people to communicate with anyone from another country – not merely native English speakers. Certainly ESL students in the US intend to use English to communicate with native English speakers, but I’d guess that a large portion of EFL students abroad (and likely even those who come to English-speaking countries to study short term) don’t.

So my question is: do you teach culture when you teach English?

In my case: generally, no. If some cultural topics come up and make for an interesting discussion, I go for it. But while it may be interesting for students to learn some fun trivia, I find they already tend to know quite a bit about how things are in the US. In general, I’m cautious about coming across as “teaching” more than just language. “I’m an American and so my views are right” is not a very appealing stance to take.

For kids’ classes, where getting their attention is key, there may be useful things about teaching aspects of culture – and for the record I don’t think there’s anything wrong with teaching “culture” as pieces of trivia. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that there is a line between teaching culture as “this is one way it’s done” and “this is the right way to do things.”