Flags from different countries in a group

Best Materials for Teaching Culture in the Language Classroom (with Lesson Ideas)

As teachers, we are always looking for ways to make our lessons interesting, right?

Well, culture is a very powerful hook. It can heighten the interest and motivation of your students. So, how can we bring all this beauty and excitement into the classroom?

There are a range of ways to teach culture in the language classroom, including with authentic materials like videos, culturally significant food, and even live native speakers.

In this post, I’ll discuss some of the best materials for teaching culture, as well as powerful techniques you can use to engage your students in the topic.


Materials for Teaching Culture

1. Expose Your Students to Authentic Materials

If you don’t already know, authentic materials are what native speakers use on a daily basis. Exposing your students to authentic material gives them an unparalleled look into how the language is wielded on a day-to-day basis by native speakers.

Authentic materials also continually demonstrate to your students that there’s a whole culture, a whole group of people who use the target language on a daily basis.

Google Images can be a great source of authentic materials to bring to class. For example, if you’re teaching French, type “French ads” in and you’ll be flooded with great French-language ads that have linguistic value. Not only are the images likely to be visually arresting, but the text they come with is likely to be direct and to the point.

YouTube is a great source of authentic videos. The world over, native speakers are producing videos for their fellow natives and language learners can pick up so much by following some of these channels.

For example, if you teach the Spanish language, you can tell your students to subscribe to channels like enchufetv or benshortstuff.

2. Compare Students’ Own Culture with That of the Target Language

Your students’ own culture can be used as a foil for the target culture. They’ll be able to appreciate it more because they’ll have a way of comparing practices and traditions. The quirks of the target culture can make for memorable points of comparison.

You can, for example, highlight that while Americans shake hands when meeting strangers or acquaintances, bowing is the norm in Japan. Meanwhile, the French (oh, the French!), in addition to handshakes, can sneak in a kiss (or four!) on the cheek.

Even the absence of a cultural equivalent can be used for juxtaposition. The very absence makes for a memorable lesson.

Because of its novelty or unfamiliarity, you can milk a single cultural practice for some excellent language lessons. Don’t miss the opportunity to teach not only simple vocabulary, but whole concepts, by discussing a particular feature in the culture.

Take Arabic and the religion of Islam, for example. You can use Islamic culture to teach vocabulary along with concepts like adhan (call to prayer), salat (prayer), iftar (breaking of the fast) and halal (lawful).

Simply by discussing the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, you can touch on a rich variety of vocabulary that goes along with it.

3. Introduce Your Students to Live Native Speakers

For your students, there’s nothing like having a native speaker standing in front of them, talking about their culture. You may be a native speaker yourself, but when a visitor comes in, everybody snaps to attention.

You can make this a really memorable learning experience for your students. So choose carefully who you place in front of them. Choose someone interesting, who can confidently speak in public and who knows how to tell a good story.

Ask them to talk about what it’s like living in her country. What are some practices and traditions? What kinds of things might make a Japanese person tick, for example? What food do the Spanish eat for dinner, and at what time? Do the French really eat frog legs and snails? If so, what do they taste like?

If yours is an advanced language class, you could ask her to talk about linguistic tricks: the short cuts, the grammar rule violations that native speakers commit. This will help your students understand that language is very much a living, breathing creature.

4. Explore Culture Through Food

There’s nothing like tasting something new (and surprisingly good!) to understand that a new language is a different way of seeing, using and arranging things.

A cooking class and a language class in one? It’s not at all impossible. You don’t even have to know how to cook in order to effectively teach culture! The ingredients and recipes themselves, as well as the process of cooking and the thought behind the steps, will do that for you.

As always, don’t forget to take advantage of the linguistic side of culture. Food can be a great vocabulary-teaching tool.

Take Japanese for example. If you just teach your students the word yaki (to grill or fry), they will in no time remember what takoyaki, teppanyaki and teriyaki mean.

5. Teach Memory-friendly Songs

We know that songs are good mnemonic devices. That’s why we’re able to easily memorize hundreds of songs without consciously doing so. In addition, songs are a good way to teach culture.

Children’s songs are a good way to start. Some great examples are “Oranges and Lemons” (English song about different churches in London) and “Bahay Kubo” (a lively Filipino song about locally-grown fruits and vegetables).

You are actually giving your students a serious leg up when you teach language using music. Not only are you making it easier for them, you’re also giving them a break from the sermon-type teaching that’s endemic in language classrooms today.

So lead your class in a song. Pair the words and phrases with exaggerated and creative actions/gestures to further cement them in the memory. You can easily find songs for teaching the target language, whether it’s French, GermanSpanish or even Latin.

6. Use Online Resources That Add Value to Your Lessons

If your goal is to teach culture in the language classroom, there are several online resources that you can run to.

Check these out:

  • World Stories: This is a repository of children’s stories from all over the world. Each story reflects the culture of a country. So if you’re on the hunt for tales that not only teach beautiful moral lessons but give insightful peeks into a culture, this site is a good bet.
  • FluentU: This language learning program lets students watch a range of authentic videos in different languages, including music videos, cartoons, trailers and more. They can watch along with interactive dual-language subtitles so they can hover over unfamiliar words to find out what they mean.
  • Time for Kids: The children’s version of Time has a special section that deals with different countries and interesting facts about them. There are pictures that your students can view on their own to go on a trip around the world, all while sitting at home!
  • Scholastic.com: This site has a great section on teaching cultural diversity. It includes lesson plans, articles and activities that language teachers can use to supplement their core language programs.

These resources show the “big picture” and feature the multiplicity of cultures and perspectives that exist. Before you go and zero in on a target culture, it’s a good idea for you to get students to understand that there are not just two cultures in the world (“mine and others”).

Why Teach Culture in the Foreign Language Classroom

You will make it so much easier for your students to learn a language once you’ve planted the seed of diversity in them. They’ll not struggle so much with difficult grammar rules once they internalize that there are other beautiful and equally valid ways of seeing things.

When your students see the big picture, they’ll accept differences with an open mind. They’ll find it so much easier to internalize that apples can also be called manzanas.

This is really one of the reasons why it’s vital to teach culture in language classes. It not only breathes life into grammar and vocabulary, making them so much more interesting, but makes us appreciate and celebrate our differences.


So, there you go. Six incredibly effective ways to teach culture in a language class.

Try them out. You’ll not only pack your lessons with interesting bits of information, you’ll witness students becoming more motivated to acquire the language you are teaching.

That’s a win-win!

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