Culture teaching in ELT: a study of a culture-based course in undergraduate English programmes in China

  • Dai LIN

Student thesis: PhD Thesis


This research is designed to investigate the treatment of culture in education policies, teachers’ beliefs and the current practices of culture teaching in undergraduate English programmes in China, with a particular focus on the teaching of the culture-based course A General Survey of English-speaking Countries. This qualitative research involves documentation, interview and classroom observation as the main methodological tools for data collection. The National Curriculum for English Majors is analysed to find out how culture is treated in ELT education policies. 10 teachers from 10 higher institutions in Shanghai, China were interviewed and two individual case studies were carried out using interview and classroom observation data and other supplementary data. A model of multi-layered analysis is adopted. Through the triangulation of various methods and data sources, policy-making at the macro-level is linked to teachers’ perceptions of culture-teaching, then to their classroom practices at the micro-level. In this way analysis, description and explanation of how culture is being taught in English language programmes in China are provided. The findings of the current study suggest that: 1) the national guidelines for undergraduate English programmes have a clear intention for a strong commitment to promote students’ cultural understanding and intercultural communicative skills, but the impractical curricular policies can become potential constraints to the teaching of culture. In the process of interpretation, institutions and departments are not playing a sufficient part in curriculum and syllabus design and development, and teaching in the classroom is often without clear guidelines; 2) Teachers are increasingly aware of the dynamic and variable nature of culture, which academia strongly suggest should be incorporated into its teaching. However, concerning target cultures in ELT, teachers are predisposed to British and American cultures. They have encountered a series of challenges such as an overloaded syllabus, the overwhelming task of preparation, fear of lacking overseas experience and knowledge, lack of institutional support and relevant training, students’ lack of motivation and large classes. These challenges can be attributed to two major factors: the complex nature of culture teaching and the low status of culture-based courses in language programmes; 3) Teachers’ attitudes, beliefs and their cultural experiences have impact on their pedagogical choices. There are shared patterns as well as variations in teachers’ pedagogical approaches. The actual classroom practices are mostly teacher-centred and involve merely transfer of knowledge centred on the surface level of cultural knowledge. The cultures of the UK and the US are considered to be representative of the target cultures and dominate the content in teaching. In addition, the integration of culture and language in the classroom practices manifests itself in different ways. In one approach, language instruction is frequently inserted into teaching as it is considered to be one aspect of culture teaching. In another, and more common approach when culture teaching is equated with imparting cultural knowledge, teachers often give up English as the sole medium of instruction and make use of Chinese as a support for culture teaching. Furthermore, Chinese culture is also integrated to enhance cross-cultural comparisons and make culture teaching more efficient. The research findings have a number of implications for further study, as well as tentative suggestions for curriculum design and implementation, teacher education and teaching practices. It is hoped that they will provide a new perspective on the complexity and intricacy of the matter of culture teaching. �
Date of Award8 Jul 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Univerisity of Nottingham
SupervisorMukul Saxena (Supervisor) & Xin Gao (Supervisor)


  • culture teaching
  • nation-culture-language
  • ELT
  • implementation of education policy
  • curriculum
  • teachers' perception and practice
  • World Englishes
  • UK-US centric perspective

Cite this