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What We Talk About When We Talk About Culture. Frances Westbrook English Language Officer U.S. Embassy, Moscow. What is Culture?. Shared beliefs and values All humans are a part of at least one culture Cultural norms define roles

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what we talk about when we talk about culture

WhatWe Talk About WhenWe Talk About Culture

Frances Westbrook

English LanguageOfficer

U.S. Embassy, Moscow

what is culture
Whatis Culture?
  • Sharedbeliefs and values
  • All humans are a part of at least one culture
  • Cultural normsdefineroles
  • Cultural frameworksmakebehaviorpredictable and understandable
sapir whorf hypothesis
  • Sapir (1921): “Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression in that society.”

As a result of differences in language, people in different cultures will think about, perceive, and behave toward the world differently.

  • Reality itself is already embedded in language and therefore comes preformed.
  • Language determines, enabling and constraining, what is perceived and attended to in a culture, as well as the upper limits of knowledge.
culture shapes
Culture Shapes…
  • The way we think
  • The way we interact
  • The way we communicate
  • The way we transmit knowledge to the next generation
culture affects
Culture Affects…
  • The organization of learning
  • Pedagogical practices
  • Evaluation procedures
  • Rules of schools
  • Instructional activities and curriculum
edward t hall s model
Edward T. Hall’s Model

High-context cultures

  • Long-lasting relationships
  • Exploiting context
  • Spoken agreements
  • Insiders and outsiders clearly distinguished
  • Cultural patterns ingrained, slow change

Low-context cultures

  • Shorter relationships
  • Less dependent on context
  • Written agreements
  • Insiders and outsiders less clearly distinguished
  • Cultural patterns change faster
cultural classification hall
Cultural Classification—Hall
  • Low-Context Cultures - What is Said is more Important than How or Where it is Said
    • U.S.
    • Germany
  • High-Context cultures - What is Said and How or Where it is Said are Significant
    • Asia
    • Latin America
    • Middle East
cross cultural values
Cross Cultural Values


  • Freedom
  • Independence
  • Self-reliance
  • Equality
  • Individualism
  • Competition
  • Efficiency
  • Time
  • Directness
  • Openness