Why Cultural Knowledge is So Important


Today´s blog post discusses the issue of learning culture when learning a language. The easy answer is that language is a reflection of culture...but who wants an easy answer?

Seriously, language is a reflection of culture, because each culture provides variations to a language based upon its history and its people. For example, in the 1950's, the word "whatever" did not have the connotation of attitude and sheer exasperation that it has when it is said today. The pop culture of the last two decades has inserted many new words into the everyday speech of U.S. citizens, as well as those worldwide. Many of the words we use in general, today, as well as specifically for the study of mathematics, language and other subjects, have their roots in the Greek and Latin languages.

As an example, let's look at one of my favorite words--"spa." (I'm especially thinking about the spa today, because I'm cold and I see snow.) The Greek and Roman tradition of spa baths has begun to permeate our culture today. The Greeks may have started the tradition, but the Romans took it the tradition to luxurious heights and, in 14th century Europe, the word "spa" came to mean any health improvement locale or resort near a natural body of hot spring water. In that era, people would bathe publicly in the nude. Today, however, one doesn't have to go to a resort in which there are natural hot springs--like my personal favorite, Hot Springs, Arkansas--because health clubs recreate the experience with thermally heated waters. And, most importantly, because our culture is concerned about various health issues, spa patrons generally don't bathe nude.

Thus, the word "spa,' provides a great look at culture and language. After all, the ancient Romans could not have had the concept of "tweeting"...or, did they? Well, that’s a topic for another post! What's your favorite example of the culture's impact on language today?

Patricia G.


Patricia G.

Family ESL or Spanish Teacher; Corporate ESL/English Coach

50+ hours
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