This week, Aisha, Helen and Stephen talked about the importance of learning about French-speaking cultures while studying the language, and some of the cultural knowledge that particularly intrigued them. Here’s what they said.
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Transcript: Video 1 Is it important to learn about the cultures of French-speaking countries alongside the language? Why?
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Is it important to learn about the cultures of French-speaking countries alongside the language? Why?
I think it’s really important to learn about the cultures of French-speaking countries when you’re learning the language. I think it makes the language just so much more satisfying. I really wanted to be able to understand about French history, politics and society, and so learning the language while also learning something about those areas was really interesting to me. I also think that having some cultural awareness helps you to look at historical and current affairs with a more open mind.
So, one of the things I learned about French culture when I was learning French was that-- I learned about France as a secular state with separation of church and state, and particularly about the implications of that for education. I knew nothing about this at all before learning French with the OU, and I just found it really interesting, and actually quite different from education in the UK.
I would say that as a language learner, it’s really important to learn about the cultures of French-speaking countries because they differentiate from other parts of the world, and it’s really important that we as a society are aware of the differences, we tolerate the differences, we accept these differences. And in essence it’s really useful for us – especially if you’re travelling to a Francophone country, it’s really useful to know things that you should and shouldn’t do. The different customs perhaps, that you might not be aware of, just so that you don’t get a cultural shock when you do visit these countries.
For example, the double kiss greeting, which is predominant in all French-speaking countries. As for me, I would say personally that was a major cultural shock for me. I didn’t realise that it was done even among, for example, colleagues. Something that I found really interesting about French culture, I learned that in the workplace, French people do not have a culture of ‘snacking’, having snacks while working. It’s actually something that is really frowned upon. And that was really interesting but bizarre at the same time, considering that in England I think it’s absolutely normal. You do get to see that snacking is essentially British culture.
For me, it’s the icing on the cake to learn about the differences between French culture and my own. It’s fascinating learning the history and culture of another country, and learning the language makes it all the more possible to delve deeper.
There’ll always be customs and practices in other countries that you need to be aware of, so you don’t offend the hosts if you go against these unwritten rules. In particular, it’s important to be respectful to older or more senior people. For instance, knowing whether or not to use the polite forms of ‘you’ is a necessity in French. In English, we use the same form no matter what the hierarchy, but we have other ways of showing deference to someone more senior. All of these nuances that are taken for granted in a foreign country are important to the indigenous population, and so they should be respected.
Find the stuff that you’re interested in – whether that’s history, art, sport, politics, film, literature, or anything else – and keep digging. Continuing to study French will bring you all the tools and skills necessary to follow your interests.
End transcript: Video 1 Is it important to learn about the cultures of French-speaking countries alongside the language? Why?