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Cultural identity in multicultural education by means of elt

The situation in the modern world is characterized by significant expansion of political, cultural and economical contacts between different states so that a personality,which is s till in the process of development, is in a very difficult situation, because it is influenced by variety of norms and values of other cultures, different cultural forms, styles and directions. In the network of these processes we feel widening of interaction, interdependence and interpenetration of cultures and nations. It is far to say that the impact of globalization in the cultural sphere can lead to blending of cultures and disappearance of their cultural and ethnic diversity, unique customs and traditions. Typically, it has been associated with the destruction of cultural identities, victims of the accelerating encroachment of a homogenized, westernized, consumer culture. Those people who are studying foreign languages and cultural peculiarities of Englishspeaking countries sometimes people treat their own culture, language, customs, and norms of behavior scornfully. A personality can get lost among the other cultures’ priorities. That’s why the problem of tolerant attitude towards different cultures and at the same time keeping your own cultural identity is the most important socio-cultural objective of our society, especially taking into consideration a wide range of nationalities living in Kazakhstan, this question is of more value for us.

Integration into the world community and the process of construction of the Democratic society poses for the Kazakhstan educational system a new purpose, that of educating students capable to identify themselves not only as the representatives of their national culture living in the concrete country, but also as citizens of the world participating in the dialogue of cultures and realizing their role, importance and responsibility in global universal processes. This problem is especially actual for preparation of skilled pedagogical personnel which by nature of professional work should be able to act as subjects of cultures’ dialogue. This is the reason why the question of cultural identity is becoming more and more important, and we are to solve it as on a global level of the state, so on the level of every educational institution, especially speaking about cultural identity of students of linguistic and pedagogical universities.

The notion “cultural identity” has relatively recently appeared in pedagogical literature in 90-s of the XXth century, and very often it’s replaced by a variety of close, but not identical meanings. Before trying to determine this term, we are to understand what the term culture means. Many scientists define culture as an environment where cultural identity is formed.

In “Philosophical dictionary” culture means the system of historically developing programs of human’s activity, behavior and communication, as the condition of reproduction and change of social life [1; p. 271].

According to M. Collier and M. Thomas culture is the historically transmitted system of symbols, meanings and norms [2; p. 99-122]. It means that every group of people, which claims to be a culture, should stick to some concrete rules. There are lots of different types of cultures even within one country. They could be formed by a range of indicators, according to: their professions or occupations (ex.: the culture of teachers, journalists or workers), their geographical position (citizens of Ust-Kamenogorsk, Astana, or rural and urban residents), religion (Muslims, Christians, atheists), origins (immigrants, immigrants in the second generation, “oralmans”), social status (elite, middle class, unemployed), political views (liberals, democrats and etc), ethnicity (Asian, European). Thereby we can associate every individual in line with all these characteristics.

Still, there is no straightforward relationship between cultural identity and social concepts such as Religion, Family and Gender. Our identities are embedded in a Web of Identity [3], which is a visual representation of the intersection between identity and society (picture 1).

Picture 1. Web of Identity (Livesey, 2004)

The Web of Identity illustrates that the interaction between identity and social structure is complex and multi-layered. Individuals are surrounded by large social forces; they live out their lives, making decisions and choices but have limited options available to them. Our identity is for the most part influenced by our social surroundings, as the forces of the social collective are much greater than the will of the individual to construct his or her own identity.

The number of elements forming cultural identity is variable, that’s why every person can simultaneously be associated with many groups. Thus we distinguish collective and individual cultural identity. The greater experience of multicultural communication and broader a socio-cultural position of a person (ex: I’m – a student, I’m – a citizen of Kazakhstan, I’m – a citizen of the whole world), the better he or she understands his/her role, place, significance and responsibility in global universal processes.

In this context cultural identity of students is very important because the principles of their life are affected by processes of commercialization and entrepreneurship, that causes various problems: a person loses the stability of his inner world, his spiritual and moral values. In such conditions cultural identity helps students to realize and defend their position, to accept universal values, and to pose educational and creative goals, contributory to their spiritual progress, to realize the importance of all subjects studied at the university in socio-cultural context.

Only the personality with rather steady moral position can realize his activity in the dialogue of cultures, due to which happens the formation of a moral man of culture. The influence of cultural factors on a person is not one-sided process, because a person isn’t an object, but a subject of activity and his interaction with cultural facts is dialogic [4; p.64].

There is a variety of definitions on “cultural identity” given by Kazakh, Russian and American authors, let’s consider the most popular and current thinking on this issue.

According to Grigoriev “cultural identity of adolescent can be understood as his cultivation and nurture of himself in the field of cultural circumstances of his life” [5; p. 1-4]. This researcher applies the notion of cultural identity in the process of pedagogical support of development of tolerance of seniorschoolchildren. For this purpose he uses texts of everyday life culture, firstly these are the texts of arts (literature, music, cinema), secondly, mass-media texts (TV, newspapers, magazines etc.), thirdly, texts of youth subcultures.

P.V. Sysoyev describes the cultural identity as “certain traits of a group, represented in a concrete situation and thereby putting an individual into the group’s members, also the recognition of the person’s place in the spectrum of cultures and the activity, aimed at adding oneself on one or another group’s membership”. He suggests that to identify oneself culturally means to realize oneself as a subject of native and studying foreign cultures [6; p. 1]. He also advocates cultural identity as one of the components of bilingual socio-cultural competences [6; p. 19].

H.B. Krylova regards that cultural identity is “a process of realization and creations of individual’s view-system in cultural area about his place and cultural content of communication in this area” [7; p. 56]

“Cultural identity”, according to Stuart Hall can be viewed through two different ways. The first position views cultural identity in terms of one shared culture, reflecting typical historical experiences and shared cultural codes. Further, these cultural codes and mutual historical experiences “provide us, “as one people”, with stable, unchanging and continuous frames of reference and meaning” [8, p.393]. The second point of view relies mostly on the individual’s experience of their culture. Through this view, culture is always changing, it is not static as claimed by the first definition. “Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialised past, they are subject to the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture and power” [8, p. 394]. We all write and speak from a particular place and time, from a history and a culture that is specific to us, in other words from a “position of enunciation”. The ‘black experience’ which Hall refers to as a commonly shared history and ideology, pendant on color, is in reality something which relies heavily on individual experience, and each experience in this case is context positioned. For example, the black experience of a Jamaican and an African living in Britain will be different even though they are both black. Hall talks about the synthesis of cultures, of having an original culture that is dominated by a colonizing culture and the result being an integration of the two into something completely new. This mixture is the essence of what makes up-to-date Jamaica. People can’t return to the mystical origins of an idealized time in history and ignore the influences of the colonial invasion.

On the assumption of all the definitions of cultural identity given above, we can approach the cultural identity as the process and the result of a personal choice and appropriation of values system, providing a person’s readiness for intercultural dialogue of cultures and acknowledgement of his/her cultural identity [6; p. 2].

We are exploring the process of student’s cultural identity in a broader scale: in the network of native culture and the culture of studying language countries. Because language – is a cultural phenomenon, and the culture is transmitted from generation to generation by means of a language. That’s why we can state that there is a natural link between the language of representatives of a certain social class and their culture and cultural identity. With the help of pronunciation, accent, vocabulary, word choice, using of grammatical structures, topics of discussions, points of view and etc we can determine the person’s belonging to different social, political, ethnic groups. For example, using the words like cool = excellent, good deal; sucks = bad; to be geeked = to be really excited about something, etc. in speech can characterize young people, as it’s the youth slang. Therefore a language factor will take a great part in the process of bilingual education of students. Jugging by language, participants of intercultural communication will form their attitude towards cultural identity of an interlocutor [9; p. 44]. For this reason studying the culture of a multicultural society, such as American, European or Asian, we should pay attention towards the spectrum of cultures, and studying the ways and strategies of self-determination of cultural groups and interaction with their representatives. It promotes their better understanding of foreign cultures and forming the tolerance towards the participants of communication. And it’s very important for such countries as Kazakhstan, where about 130 nationalities exist peacefully, to maintain the state’s stability and the development of multicultural person which is stated at the “Conception of ethno cultural education” and appears to be the key-purpose in our pedagogy today.

Taking into consideration the fact that cultural identity is one of the results of multicultural education, it makes especially favorable conditions for cultural identity of students of linguistic pedagogical professions if it is organized on the model of education which: takes account of socio-cultural peculiarities of co-learned languages and cultures and the cognitive aspect of mastering the foreign country’s culture by means of native and foreign languages; uses problematically-oriented model of educational process where different types of communicative and problem-solving tasks dominate, including tasks on multicultural development of students.

Cultural identity in the process of language multicultural education means the ability of students to:

  • realize themselves as the subjects in native environment;
  • understand that group belonging changes depending on the context of communication;
  • reveal cultural similarities between representatives of cultural groups;
  • determine their own place, role, significance and responsibility in global universal processes;
  • initiate and take an active part against cultural aggression, discrimination and vandalism.

Sysoyev offers six conceptual points of identity [6]. It consists of cognitive, reflective, behavioral and moral components; it can be individual and group; it’s multidimensional and multifaceted; dynamic; can be natural or artificial, conscious unconscious; it regulates variants of acceptability and variety.

In the theory and methodology of teaching foreign languages these conceptual points and frames of cultural identity can be used for:

  • development of socio-cultural observation;
  • didactic modeling of universal thinking;
  • choosing of didactic material for ELT programs;
  • choosing topics for ELT;
  • development of problem-solving tasks contributing to student’s cultural identity on the basis of reflection;
  • introduction of problem-solving tasks aimed at writing and oral opinions about oneself;
  • introduction of problem-solving tasks aimed at giving students some ideas on cultural diversity as a norm of coexistence of cultures in the modern multicultural world.

The process of cultural identity of students by means of foreign language doesn’t mean that they should change their cultural or group identity. By the moment of teaching some types of identity, such as gender or ethnic, will have been formed. It’s important that students come to recognition of belonging to a concrete cultural group and know what kinds of expectations the society has towards representatives of these groups. A foreign language gives unique conditions for a secondary socialization of learners, and it’ll play a specific role for their awareness of all existing variants of behavior according to every type of the culture in a co-studying of native and foreign cultures. Here, in Kazakhstan, we have at least three major cultures: Kazakh, Russian and English obligatory studying at every school, so we are to think carefully about didactical content of programs for English language classes, which influences on forming their cultural identity.

Cultural identity can act as an approach to foreign language teaching and its main goal as an approach will be to provide students with knowledge about major cultural groups of foreign countries, their own cultural identity and technologies of changing their own cultural identity in the dialogue of cultures.

Teaching a foreign language culture would be more efficient for formation of cultural identity if it starts with closer types of foreign cultures for students, and only then passes to more distant types, thereby teaching them to appreciate their peers form foreign countries not as representatives of “different” or “alien” countries, but as contemporary and citizens of one world, united by mutual values, interests, occupations, problems and solutions. It will be of great interest to represent the culture of political organizations, social layers of population, such as workers, doctors, teachers, etc., but it will help students in creating a real portrait of studying culture and broaden out their knowledge about all existing cultures. But Sysoyev notes in his article [9; p.46], that all the comparisons are to be held not on the principle of “good” and “bad”, but according to the presence and absence of some facts in a foreign and native cultures. Here, the main role of a teacher will be to explain the tendencies in behavior of major social groups and to study with the students norms and values of these cultures, trying to analyze their representative’s behavior, form the position of this group’s cultural identity. This analysis will favor students’ intercultural competences development.

Applying this approach, students will be able to be active participants of the dialogue of cultures and be aware of what and where is acceptable in communication, it means that cultural identity approach could help to overcome a communicational barrier, and students won’t be fear of using something odd while talking to a foreign person.

Analyzing the phenomenon of cultural identity we have come to a conclusion that it’s the process continuing during the whole life. By the way, this process is more effective at youth. It’s the result of a person’s studying different cultures, understanding their values; cultural identity is shown in the person’s behavior towards his place in a multicultural society. Cultural identity is applicable as a miniapproach towards teaching languages of intercultural communication, such as English, intended for formation of multicultural competences and tolerance towards participants of the dialogue of cultures and skills, needed for successful communication. Evidently it’s one of the various approaches for the increase of the dialogue of cultures and multicultural communication effectiveness. So, we hope that this area will be further developed, as it is really necessary for such a multicultural state as Kazakhstan to provide stability and mutual understanding of different cultures.



  1. Philosophic dictionary / ed. of I.T. Frolov. – M.: Republic, 2001.
  2. Collier M.Thomas M. Cultural Identity: an Interpretive Perspective // Theories of Intercultural Communication / Y.Y. Kim, W. Gudykunts (eds). – Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1988.
  3. Livesey, C.2004, Culture and identity, Sociological Pathways. http://www.sociology. org.uk/ pathway2.htm.
  4. Passov, E.I. Communicative foreign education. Conception of development of individual in a dialogue of cultures. – Lipetsk, 1998. – 156 p.
  5. Grigoriev D. V. Pedagogical support of development of cultural tolerance of senior school-children, www.1september.ru.
  6. Sysoyev P.V. Teaching cultural identity and dialogue of cultures by means of foreign language. www.prof.msu.ru.
  7. New values of education: Thesaurus for teachers and school psychologists/ ad. N.B. Krylova. – M.: Innovator, 1995.113 p.
  8. Hall S. Cultural Identity and Diaspora. London: Macmillan 1993.
  9. Cultural identity as a part of polycultural education in Russia by means of native and foreign languages. Foreign language at school. 2004. – № 5, p. 43-47.

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