A study on the effects of some cultural dimensions on the learning of english at thanh hoa medical college
VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI UNIVERSITY OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES FACULTY OF POST-GRADUATE STUDIES
NGUYỄN NGỌC ANH M.A. MINOR THESIS
A study on the effects of some cultural dimensions on the learning of English at Thanh Hoa Medical College (Nghiên cứu sự ảnh hưởng của một số phạm trù văn hoá đến việc học tiếng Anh tại trường Cao đẳng y tế Thanh Hoá)
Field: English Language Teaching Methodology Code: 60.14.10
VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI
UNIVERSITY OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES FACULTY OF POST-GRADUATE STUDIES
NGUYỄN NGỌC ANH M.A. MINOR THESIS
A study on the effects of some cultural dimensions on the learning of English at Thanh Hoa Medical College (Nghiên cứu sự ảnh hưởng của một số phạm trù văn hoá đến việc học tiếng Anh tại trường Cao đẳng y tế Thanh Hoá)
Field: English Language Teaching Methodology Code: 60.14.10 Supervisor: Do Mai Thanh, M.A
American and English
English language teaching
Vietnam National University
TABLE OF CONTENTS Page
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PART A – INTRODUCTION
2. Aims of the research
3. Research questions
4. Significance of the research
5. Scope of the research
6. Methods of the research
7. Design of the research
PART B – DEVELOPMENT
CHAPTER I: LITERATURE REVIEW
1.1. Theoretical background
1.1.1. An overview of Culture – Language – Communication
126.96.36.199. What is culture?
188.8.131.52. Language and culture
184.108.40.206. Language and communication
220.127.116.11. Cross cultural communication
1.1.2. Cross-cultural studies on the Anglicist–Vietnamese communication styles
18.104.22.168. Subjectivity – Objectivity
22.214.171.124. Directness – Indirectness
126.96.36.199. Accuracy – Inaccuracy
188.8.131.52.1. The use of tenses
184.108.40.206.2. The use of genitive indicators
Review of previous studies
CHAPTER II: DISCUSSION OF THE SURVEY AND DATA ANALYSIS
2.1. Students’ survey
2.1.1. Discussion of the survey questionnaire and the informants
2.1.3. Comments on the results of the survey questionnaire
2.2. The teachers’ survey questionnaire
2.2.1. Discussion of the survey questionnaire and the informants
2.2.2. Data analysis of teacher survey
2.2.3. Comments on the results of the teachers’ survey questionnaire
CHAPTER III: SOME IMPLICATIONS FOR VIETNAMESE ELT TEACHERS
3.1. Teaching the target culture to students
3.2. Teachers’ role in teaching the target language culture to students
3.3. How to incorporate cultural knowledge in classroom
3.3.3. Role play
PART C: CONCLUSION
2. Suggestions for further research
PART A: INTRODUCTION 1. Rationale To any nation all over the world, culture and language are inseparable parts. Language is a product of culture and reflects culture. Therefore, during the process of acquiring another language, learners not only need to master the language but also understand its culture especially its values, norms and perception shared by native speakers. That English is so important brings the necessity of learning and teaching foreign language in Vietnam. There has been a great demand of studying it as the most universal trend. Most of the learners have a desire to reach a goal of communicative competence after each English course. It is assumed that the comprehension and knowledge on the phonological, grammatical and lexical aspects are not only the bridge to the English language teaching and learning. In fact, it is the differences in linguistics and communicative behaviors that cause the obstacles on its teaching and learning task. People should bear in mind that things such as the place of silence, appropriate topics of conversation, forms of address, and expression of speech acts are different across cultures and the ability to use language appropriately plays a very important role in the communicative process. Therefore, English language teachers should be aware of these distinctive features to help learners overcome the psychological and cultural barriers in the teaching and learning process. It can be said that Vietnamese culture still has certain influences on English acquisition. The interference of the native culture, to some extents, may limit students’ ability to acquire the second language comprehensively. Moreover, the researcher’s observation also points out that students get many difficulties in recognizing errors caused by the interference of their own Vietnamese cultural thought patterns. The most common mistakes made by Vietnamese are in greeting routines, politeness, and indirectness – directness. For example, many English speakers complain that Vietnamese are very nosy and inquisitive when they ask questions such as “Where are you going? Have you had lunch? What are you doing?” To many Vietnamese, however, these are common questions and people regard them as part of the greeting formula. In addition, English speakers often remarks that Vietnamese do not greet and address them properly. They often get annoyed or even feel frustrated with such questions. The foreigners are not aware that it is cultural
differences that cause them unpleasant feelings. At the same time, Vietnamese people do not know that they have violated the others’ privacy and caused “culture shock” to the foreigners. As a result, the two sides may fail to communicate effectively due to the cultural differences out of their expectation. Much of the reason lies in the fact that they do not pay attention to cultural differences in communication. Additionally, it is a tradition that in Vietnam English teaching process focuses on only linguistic competence and cultural knowledge is not centrered on. This has inspired me to do research on cross-cultural communication with the focus on the three cultural dimensions based on Dr. Nguyen Quang’s framework, namely: Subjectivity – Objectivity, Directness – Indirectness, Accuracy – Inaccuracy. These cultural dimensions exist in every language but differ from culture to culture. Hence this study was carried out in the expectation of studying some cultural practices in Vietnamese communication styles which affect the English learning process at Thanh Hoa Medical College. 2. Aims of the research It can be affirmed that the study was carried out with 2 main aims. Firstly, this investigation aims to find out some cultural practices in Vietnamese communication styles which affect the English learning process. Secondly, it is hoped that some pedagogical implications for the English teachers will be drawn out. 3. Research questions In fulfilling two main aims, the study needs to set up clear objectives. Two following research questions are expected to make the objectives clear. Research question 1: How do some cultural dimensions, namely Subjectivity – Objectivity, Directness – Indirectness, Accuracy – Inaccuracy affect the Vietnamese learners of English? Research question 2: What are the solutions for the Vietnamese teachers of English at Thanh Hoa Medical College? 4. Significance of the research: The investigation provides an insightful awareness of the influences of some Vietnamese communicative practices on their learners of English. As for students, identifying what influential dimensions is a good way to better their English usage. It should be noted that not all cultural dimensions can be considered to
cause the interference on the use of English. However, by the suggested implications, the research is expected to reveal some practical ways for students to practice their English and improve it. As for teachers, this is a good chance for them to reconsider the role of cultural dimensions in learning English. Through the research, they can make use of some implications in order to improve students’ competence in English. The study is also expected to generate a serious issue on cross-cultural studies. Subsequent researches can develop the idea raised in the research. 5. Scope of the research: The study focuses on investigating the influences of some cultural dimensions on the language learning. There will be three potential cultural dimensions on investigation namely subjectivity – objectivity, directness – indirectness, accuracy – inaccuracy presented in the theoretical background, and this predication will be looked into in the process of data analysis. 6. Methods of the research The study was designed to use a combination of various methods to achieve its aims and objectives (qualitative and quantitative). To begin with, an extensive review of literature was conducted, critically examining some cultural dimensions affecting the English learning. Secondly, a useful and plausible tool is conducting a survey questionnaire on second-year students and teachers of English at Thanh Hoa Medical College to investigate how cultural dimensions affect the English learning at Thanh Hoa Medical College and the solutions. 7. Design of the research: The research consists of three parts, part A – Introduction as the first part, part B – Development including three chapters, chapter I is the Literature Review in which the review of works on the similar topics and the theoretical background will be revealed. To be more specific, terms and relationship between culture, language and communication as well as the overview of some Vietnamese cultural dimensions are going to be presented. Chapter II is known as Discussion of the survey and Data analysis. Chapter III named Some implications for Vietnamese ELT teachers. Part C – Conclusion, which is the last one, concludes the major findings of the investigation, the limitations and suggestions for further research.
PART B: DEVELOPMENT CHAPTER I: LITERATURE REVIEW 1.1. Theoretical background: This part presents the background knowledge of related issues with a critical review. The understanding of Culture – Language - Communication in general as well as the relationship between culture and language, language and communication, communication and culture, the influence of native culture on English learning will be taken into consideration as key concepts. After that, potential influences of cultural dimensions will be investigated. 1.1.1. An overview of Culture – Language – Communication 220.127.116.11. What is culture? The term “culture” has been defined by many scholars. It comes from the Latin word “colere” that means to build on, to cultivate, and to foster. Culture appeared at the same time mankind appeared and began to work. However, culture is a general and abstract concept. In each domain, culture is dealt with from different points of view. Rosaldo (1984) clarified that culture is far more than a mere catalogue of rituals and beliefs. R.A.Hudson considered culture as “the kind of knowledge which we learn from other people either by direct instruction or by watching their behaviour.” This knowledge involves: -
cultural knowledge – which learned from other people
shared non-cultural knowledge – which is shared by people within the same community or the world over, but is not learned from each other.
non-shared non-cultural knowledge which is unique to the individual
According to Richard Camphell, culture in his book “Media and culture” was defined as “a broad category that identifies the ways in which people live and represent themselves at a particular historical times”. Ronald Wardhaugh shared the similar idea with him when saying that “culture is the “know-how” that a person must possess to get through the task of daily living, only for a few does it require a knowledge of some, or much, music, literature and the arts” (1985: 217). In short, the term culture has been defined in different ways by many scholars. Culture is sometimes identified with notions of personal space, appropriate gestures, time and so
forth. Culture is something to learn, it affects the way we act and respond, including the visible aspects and dos and taboos of working in other countries 18.104.22.168. Language and culture: “Just as birds have wings, man has language. The wings give the bird its peculiar aptitude for aerial locomotion. Language enables man’s intelligence and passions to acquire their peculiar characters of intellect and sentiment.” (G.H.Lewes – The study of psychology) Language is “a system of sounds, words, patterns, etc. used by humans to communicate thoughts and feelings” (Oxford advanced learner’s encyclopedic dictionary: 506). Halliday (1970: 143) pointed out three basic functions of language as following: -
Ideational function: expressing the speaker’s experience of the real world including the inner world of his own consciousness.
Interpersonal function: establishing and maintaining social relations.
Textual function: making links with language itself and with features of the situation in which it is used.
From the above functions, we can see that language and culture have a close and inseparable relationship. We cannot comprehend the one without understanding the other. Without the language of a culture, we surely have no means to communicate in that culture, and vice verse, with the absence of cultural knowledge in a language; we are unable to use the language appropriately. In general, language, certainly, is determined by culture. Early anthropologists have the belief that language and its structure were totally dependent on the cultural context in which they existed. However, thanks to language, culture is preserved and enriched. All the beliefs, values, attitudes, and perceptions ... can be transmitted via language. They are interwoven in such a way that culture influences the expressing language and language is full of cultural dimensions. Many applied linguists also concluded the interrelationship between language and culture. Edward Sapir (1921: 1961) stated that “language does not exist apart from culture, which is from the socially inherited assemblage of practices and beliefs that determines the texture of our lives.” and “language actually shapes the way in which we perceive, think and therefore act.” Language is really a mirror to reflect the ways of looking at the world. Therefore, in teaching and learning a language, language knowledge cannot be separated
from culture as Kramsch (1993) said that “a language cannot be learnt without an understanding of the cultural context in which it is used.” 22.214.171.124. Language and communication: Language – “the most important means of communication of human being” (Lenin) - is not only studied as a system of signals but also considered in many fields of communicative act. Without language, there would be limited communication. Language has a significant meaning to our identity and existence in life. It is a vivid reflection of thoughts, practices, tradition and culture. Researches are realizing the importance of culture in language and language communication. Language is a component making culture of a community and culture factors are present in language communication. As the differences and similarities among languages in phonetics, grammar and vocabulary called cross-language, different communities have different language communication styles. The differences in these communication styles are not identified easily and often cause misunderstandings. For example, the “straight-forward to the problem” style of Anglicist culture seems to contrast with
126.96.36.199. Cross cultural communication People in the same country share the same cultural values and norms, so people with the same background communicate more easily than those who come from different cultures. However, the tendency to globalization has developed so quickly that cross cultural communication is unavoidable. According to Nguyen Quang (Cross-Cultural Communication, 1998: 5), cross cultural communication is the process of sharing or exchanging information verbally or nonverbally between people from different cultures which are influenced by different cultural values, attitudes and behaviors. From this point of view, it can be seen that different cultural values and knowledge may lead to misunderstanding and culture shocks in particular contexts. What is believed to be “right” in one culture may not be appropriate in another. For example, Anglicist people may feel frustrated and unsatisfied with questions that they consider to be “too curious” or “impolite” such as “How old are you? Are you married? How much do you earn? ...”, but in Vietnamese culture, they are quite normal and friendly.
Some people use slangs so you can't look them up in the dictionary to get the real meaning, for instance, when you are in Vietnam, you will hear a man say something like "ông nội mày đấy" when they want to threat or play a joke. For example: A: Ai đỗ xe ở đây vậy? (Who parked the car here?) B: Ông nội mày đấy! (It’s your grandfather!) "Ông nội mày đấy" does not mean "grandfather" but just means "It’s me". (The implied meaning is that I’m on the higher position than you and you should be careful). And what are effects of these problems? Misunderstanding the languages makes you confused so much. For example, when Westerners visit Vietnam, they may feel disturbed when hear "What are you doing?" or "Where are you going?”. Indeed, these sentences are just "Hi" or "good morning"... or in some situations Vietnamese people never say “thank you” or “sorry”, instead they say “Em xin bác.)” or “Tôi đoảng quá!”. For example: In a shop A: Here you are. (Của chị đây.) B: I beg you. (Em xin bác.) Or someone spills some tea on someone else’s shirt, he may say “Tôi đoảng quá!” “I’m so clumsy!” These may lead you to stress if you don't know how to deal. To overcome these problems, it is necessary that people learn to recognize cultural differences and similarities. That’s the reason why they need to take in cultural knowledge while learning a foreign language as Hymes (1964: xi) stated: “We know instinctively that to understand what somebody is saying, we must understand more than the surface of meaning of words. We have to understand the context as well. The need for background information applies all more to reading and writing. To grasp the words on a page, we have to know a lot of information that isn’t set down on page”. It is similar to Nguyen Quang’s idea that on trying to be successful in mastering a second language, the learner should reach not only linguistics but also cultural knowledge of the language (Nguyen Quang, 1997: 7). 1.1.2. Cross-cultural studies on the Anglicist – Vietnamese communication styles: There are many reasons which can cause difficulties to learners in L2 acquisition namely their ability, age, attitudes. It will be insufficient if cross – cultural categories are not mentioned. There are some major cultural categories that greatly influence the process of
learning and using English language by the Vietnamese learners, namely Subjectivity – Objectivity, Directness – Indirectness, Accuracy – Inaccuracy. Nguyen Quang’s work in Foreign Language Journal (1998) allows him to draw the conclusion that there are fourteen major Anglo-American-Vietnamese cross-cultural categories as followed: 1. Subjectivity – Objectivity; 2. Directness – Indirectness; 3. Accuracy – Inaccuracy; 4. Positive and Negative politeness; 5. Self-abasement and self-assertion; 6. Abstractness – Rationality; 7. Sentimentality – Equality; 8. Hierarchy – Equality; 9. Introversion – Extroversion; 10. Deduction – Induction; 11. Group orientation – Individual orientation; 12. High context – Low context; 13. Redundancy – Economicality; 14. Staticality – Dynamicality. All or some categories may exist in many languages. However, one culture may have the preference to one side of certain category to another. For instance, in terms of accuracy – inaccuracy category, the difference in using passive voice among cultures is very noteworthy. Anglo people consider passive voice a symbol of formality and they tend to use it in formal speech and in written documents. There is no dissimilarity in speaker or writer’s attitude to the issue in active and passive voice. On the other hand, passive voice with the clear distinction of “bị” and “được” (to be in passive voices) becomes a barrier to Vietnamese learners during the process of English language acquisition. “Bị” refers to negative meaning whereas “được” implies the opposite. Hôm qua tôi bị 8 điểm (I got mark 8 yesterday) under the speaker expectation Hôm qua tôi được 8 điểm (I got mark 8 yesterday) above the speaker expectation Or some passive verbs in Vietnamese do not exist in English. Tuần trước tôi có vinh hạnh được gặp thầy hiệu trưởng.
(I was met by the Headmaster last week) Was met denotes the pleasure not passivity. It is impossible to list all cross – cultural categories here. What is more, the investigation into influences of Vietnamese cultural dimensions on English learning is the mainstreams of this study. As a result, the research will go into details with some cultural categories which may have prominent influences on the English learning. 188.8.131.52. Subjectivity – Objectivity: Each nation possesses typical viewpoints of the ego, nature and society. In general, there are two ways of recognizing the relationship between the ego and the other consisting of both humans and things among different cultures. The first one named subjectivity in which the ego considers himself or herself a subject in connection with the objects. The second way when the ego and his or her surroundings have an equal role as objects is called objectivity. The understanding of the nature of these two perceptions will be much clearer in the following definitions: “Subjectivity can be understood as the communicative way in which people consider the speakers or the writers’ position, feelings, and attitudes. Objectivity can be understood as the communicative way in which people consider the ego an object, as a result, the speaker or the writers’ positions, feelings, and attitudes are hardly seen, unless some intra – linguistic, para – linguistic and extra – linguistic factors are used.” (Nguyen Quang – cited from Nguyen Quynh Sam, 2000: 11) The substance of Nguyen Quang’s research is that subjectivity seems to dominate Vietnamese culture where as the Anglo-American are likely to prefer the objectivity. Object-oriented structures are more prominent than speakeroriented expressions in English. It is clearly shown through the following major aspects: -
Location and use of prepositions in English and Vietnamese (Subject-oriented and Object-oriented)
Passive voice in English and Vietnamese
Use of personal pronouns
In the use of prepositions in conversation or composition, the Anglo does not regard the position of ego as important in talking about the direction of their movement. Learners of English should bear in mind that it is not the position, but the direction that people in Anglo culture pay attention to. For instance, when someone says “This is the first time I have been to Sam Son.” From the utterance, it is very difficult for the hearer to make out
where the speaker is from. The aim of this utterance is to inform his or her position namely Sam Son. On the contrary, the listener or reader can easily identify the position of the speaker or writer by the following utterances in Vietnamese: “Đây là lần đầu tiên tôi đến (arrive)/ra (go to)/xuống (go down)/lên (go up) Sam Son.” A variety of positions is made use of so that it can be inferred from the sentence above the social space of the speaker or writer. It depends on the preposition to decide whether he or she is the foreigner or a Vietnamese from different places. It is the first cross-cultural category that has caused many difficulties for Vietnamese learners in mastering English as a L2. The interference of subjective culture leads to mistakes in both speaking and writing. The study on the influences of Vietnamese cultural factors on English learning among first – year students at English Department, CFL, VNU, which was carried out by Do & Van (1998) took this matter into consideration. The survey pointed out student’s mistake due to this kind of thought: “I swim under the water” (cited from a first – year student’s writing). Because of the subjectivity in Vietnamese culture, this student made use of the preposition “under” instead of “in” in standard English. One more example is the two objects “sky” and “bird”. When the bird is flying, the Anglicist say: “A bird is flying in the sky”. The reason is that in fact, the object: “bird” is moving into the object “sky”. Obviously, the Anglicist tend to leave out “ego” factor, they stand out of the world and only observe the relationship between the two objects. In contrast, Vietnamese tend to conceive their “ego”. In this case, subjective factor is clearly seen. They look up to the higher position, they see “sky” is above and “bird” is also above. The thing they concern is not the positive relationship between the bird and sky but the relationship between them and the bird. Thus they say: “Con chim đang bay trên bầu trời” (A bird is flying in the sky). The pair of prepositions “Trong – Ngoài” (In – Out) provides another evidence about the dominance of subjectivity in Vietnamese. When the ego is in a larger/lighter space compared with a smaller/darker one, he/she employs the preposition “trong” and vice verse he/she uses “Ngoài” such as “Trong nhà”, “Ngoài ngõ” (In the house, out the lane), as the lane is considered to be lighter. When compared to the road, the lane is smaller and darker, so Vietnamese people say: “trong ngõ, ngoài đường” (in the lane, on the road). The use of prepositions “Ra – Vào” (Out – In) in Vietnamese can be explained in the same way.
The use of passive voice is also an interesting indication of objectivity and subjectivity. It is obvious that the objectivity is expressed much clearly and strongly under the form of passive voice. From Nguyen Quang’s paper, passive voice is often used in case of formal speech or written communication in English. The Anglo-American has the tendency of speaking or writing in passive voice more than the Vietnamese do. In academic writing, it is sometimes necessary to compose sentences like: 1. It is believed that … 2. I am strongly convinced that … 3. He is considered to be … In these cases, the objectivity can always be seen. However, if we translate those statements into Vietnamese, the active voice sounds more acceptable: 1. Người ta tin rằng … People believe that … 2. Tôi thật sự tin rằng … I strongly believe that … 3. Người ta cho rằng anh ta … People think that he … In Vietnamese, the ego always plays a very important role, as a result, he or she should be the subject of the utterance. Once again, the subjectivity can be seen clearly. Furthermore, the passive voice in Vietnamese is often understood by two ways: “bị” and “được”. This distinction reflects the differences in speaker and writer’s attitudes towards the issue mentioned in the sentence. “Bị” indicates the bad luck or negative attitudes; on the contrary, it will be good luck or positive attitudes in case of “được”. For instance, the sentence: I got mark 7 can be translated into Vietnamese in two ways: Tôi bị điểm 7 (under the speaker’s expectation) Tôi được điểm 7 (over the speaker’s expectation). A sense of subjectivity is strongly felt in this case: English people utilize passive voice neutrally while the Vietnamese let out clearly their personal feelings. The word “được” implies something that is neutral or that the speaker is happy and pleased to do something or feel honored of doing something. For example, “được thưởng” (be awarded), “được khen” (be praised), “được yêu” (be loved), “Tôi được vinh dự gặp ngài Thủ tướng” (I had honor of meeting the Prime Minister.) whereas the word “bị” refers to the opposite meaning, for example “bị mất việc” (lost job), “bị thi trượt” (failed the exam) ...This is another matter that learners of English should pay attention to in compositions. It can be suggested that passive voice plays an essential part in English academic writing. English and Vietnamese share the same meaning of addressing systems which are used to affirm and address oneself in social relationship or kinship relation as well. In English, most of personal pronouns are neutral which reveal no special attitudes of the speaker towards the hearer. In reverse, in Vietnamese, addressing system is not only used to call each other but also expresses different feelings and relationship with the listeners.
Different address forms for the same person reveal different attitudes: negative, positive or neutral. There is a complex system of address forms in which speaker chooses an appropriate address form due to age, social status, attitudes, feelings and distance. The third personal singular “She” can be translated as follows based on different attitudes: She (neutral) Positive
Cô, chị, em, bà ...
Chị ấy, cô ấy, bà ấy ...
Mụ, con, ả, thị, con mụ ấy,
Chị ta, cô ta, bà ta ...
con mẹ ấy ...
For example: - Positive: Bà là một người phụ nữ nhân hậu. (She is a kind woman.) - Neutral: Chị ấy đang đi làm. (She is working.) - Negative: Mụ ta là loại đàn bà vô lương tâm. (She is a kind of nonethic woman.) He (neutral) Positive
Ngài, chàng, ông, anh ...
Anh ấy, ông ấy, cậu ấy ...
Thằng, hắn, gã, y ...
Positive: Ông là một con người vĩ đại. (He is a great man.)
Neutral: Anh ấy sẽ không đến đâu. (He will not come.)
Negative: Hắn chỉ là một kẻ vô công rồi nghề. (He is only a jobless man.) They (neutral)
Những con người ấy, các vị Họ, người ta, chúng nó ...
Negative Bọn nó, lũ chúng nó ...
ấy .... - Positive: Thưa ngài, các vị ấy vẫn đang chờ ạ. (They are still waiting, sir.) - Neutral: Họ là những con người của công việc. (They are men of work.) - Negative: Lũ chúng nó thì làm được cái gì. (They can do nothing for life.) In summary, English personal pronouns only refer to person who the speaker is talking to and remain neutral if there are no other supporting infra-linguistic, para-linguistic factors. Contrarily, many Vietnamese pronouns are accompanied with the speaker’s feeling and attitudes.
184.108.40.206. Directness – Indirectness The second cross – cultural dimension that may have prominent influences on English learning is Directness – Indirectness. In every language there exist the two kinds of expressions: direct and indirect ones. Therefore, it is not correct to say that a language is direct and another is indirect. In Nguyen Quang’s point of view, the evaluation of Directness and Indirectness of a language should be based on not only the language itself but also its cultural background and should be interpreted in the relation with cultural values (negative or positive cultural values, taboos ...) and the interaction between language, thought and culture. As reported by Kaplan. J (1972), “cultural thought patterns” of foreign students studying in the United States are different from culture to culture as expressed through their essays. Direct expressions are preference in the Anglo-American culture, on the other hand, Oriental people including the Vietnamese are likely to prefer indirect patterns. Many Americans even “can judge members of cultural groups that value indirectness (i.e. hesitating, not “getting to the point” and “beating around the bush”) as not bring assertive world. Nevertheless, they do not realize that a large percentage of the world’s cultures values indirectness and consider it rude to insist on getting to the point (Levine, D.R & Adelman, M.B, 1992). Instead of “getting to the point”, Vietnamese culture values the gentle way to the conclusion or the main idea of their speech and composition. This feature can be seen clearly when people have to write a letter of refusal. Supposed that there was an invitation to a wedding party, the following example will stand for a typical English writing: Unfortunately, much as I’d like to be at the wedding, especially a Dutch wedding (!), it simply isn’t impossible for me to take that weekend off; I have to work fairly late on Friday night, and friends are coming down to stay from Sunday lunchtime so there would be no way in which I could squeeze a wedding in Holland in between. (cited from Vu et. Al, 2006, p.48) The reason why the writer cannot take part in the wedding can be seen without any ambiguity. However, in one sample of letters written by a Vietnamese, it sometimes takes a long way for the reason to be mentioned as cited from one student’s letter of refusal: I would love to but unfortunately I will not be able to come. I had to write to you to say how sorry I am that I cannot make it. (cited from Van &Do, 1998) This is one example of a letter which is under the interference of indirectness in Vietnamese culture. The writer cannot find an appropriate way to explain the reason of refusal.
The differences in employing directness and indirectness between Vietnamese and American English can be manifested more clearly in subtle and sensitive topics, for example, making requests, borrowing money, love declaring, bad news informing ... In making requests, Vietnamese people tend to give reasons before requesting. They employ many lead – in sentences to reach the purposes. Nguyen Quang provides an interesting example between a research worker and his director (1997): -
Situation: A research worker in Hanoi has an ill mother in the country. He wants to have some days off to visit her, so he meets his director.
Him (H): Is it nasty today, isn’t it, sir! Director (D): Yes, I’ve got an unhappy stomach these days... It’s the bad weather, perhaps. H: Young and healthy as you are, you can’t stand it, let alone old people. D: Yes, they surely suffer. H: (a pause) My mother is eighty, you know... D: Oh, is she? It’s really longevity. H: Yes, but she’s just fallen ill due to the weather. D: Oh, my god, is it serious? H: She went to visit my sister in another village the other day and caught a cold on the way back because of the weather change. D: Any treatments for her? H: Yes, Yes, I’ve bought a lot of medicine for her...uh...by the way... I just come to ask for 3 days off t come and visit her. Is it possible, sir? D: It’s O.K. It’s Wednesday today, so you’ll have 4 days off including Sunday. H: Yes, thank you very much, sir. (cited from Ngo Huu Hoang, 1998: 47) Most of Nguyen Quang’s students read the conversation and thought that it would be polite to carry the conversation in that way to get the speaker’s purpose. However, when the conversation was given to some Australians and Americans, most of whom thought that the way the man led to his request is “extremely unnecessary”, “very confusing”, or even “irritating”. For them, the purpose of the visit should be mentioned immediately, any reason should be informed afterwards. In the study “How to convey bad news in American English and Vietnamese” of Nguyen Quang, he concludes that Americans express much more directly than Vietnamese people
do, even with such a subtle topic as death. Words such as “die”, “was killed” appear much more frequently than in Vietnamese (35/178 compared to 2/182). For example: -
Your wife tragically was one of those killed in the plane crash.
I’m sorry that your wife was killed.
It is going to be difficult for you to hear this, but I’m sorry to say I think your wife is dead.
The word “die” or “dead” tend to be replaced by the Vietnamese by other expressions: -
Không còn (not alive)
Qua đời (pass away)
Mất (pass away)
Một trong những người xấu số (among the ones who have bad fates)
Về nơi chín suối (go to the hades)
In conclusion, directness – indirectness is one of cross-cultural categories which have much influence on Vietnamese learners’ speaking and writing style. Only when having the sufficient understanding of Anglo – American tradition and doing more practices under the teacher’s instructions, learners can overcome this problem and obtain both linguistic and cultural competence. 220.127.116.11. Accuracy – Inaccuracy From Nguyen Quang’s point of view, the Vietnamese seems to be more inaccurate than the Anglo – American. He suggested some cases which can point out the differences between two cultures: 18.104.22.168.1. The use of tenses In English grammar, there are sixteen tenses to express a certain action happening at a certain time such as simple present, simple past, simple future, present continuous, past continuous, etc. And affixes are the indicator used to clarify different tenses in English. To understand this we will look at the use of some important tenses in more detail. The simple present tense is used for general statements of facts or to express habitual or everyday activities. For example: -
The Earth goes round the Sun.
I go to school everyday.
We use the present continuous tense to talk about an activity that is in progress at the moment of speaking.
It is raining now.
The simple past tense is used to indicate that an activity or situation began and ended at a particular time in the past. -
His wife left him ten years ago.
When we express the idea that something happened before the present, at an unspecified time in the past, we use the present perfect tense. -
We have eaten it before.
The present perfect continuous tense is used to indicate the duration of an activity that began in the past and continues to the present or to express a general activity in progress recently or lately. -
He has been running all the morning.
Past perfect tense is used to express an activity that was completed before another activity or time in the past. -
They had finished lunch by the time I arrived.
When we talk about an activity or event going on at a particular time or over a particular period in the future, we use the future continuous tense. -
I will be watching T.V at that time.
The future perfect tense is used to express an activity that will be completed before another time or event in the future. -
I will have finished my thesis by September.
From the examples above, it is shown that tenses in English are formed and used differently. The two ways of forming tenses in English are adding infections to the bare form of the verbs and combining inflections and auxiliaries or modals. The rules for the formation and usage of tense are fixed. Therefore, the English language is very accurate. However, the situation is not the same in Vietnamese. There are only lexical indicators such as “đã, rồi, (already) từng (ever), vừa (just), sẽ, sắp (will), toan …" to express the past, present and future. The situation seems to be simpler in Vietnamese. That is the reason why many learners of English get difficulty in finding an appropriate tense to translate Vietnamese into English. Examples of “đã” can prove much ambiguity to Vietnamese learners due to the influences of inaccuracy. “Đã” can be understood as an indicator to past tenses in Vietnamese; nevertheless, the translation into English seems to be various in terms of the verb tenses. Moreover, what determine tenses and aspects in
Vietnamese are not auxiliaries, but context clues, especially metalinguistic, intralinguistic, and extralinguistic contexts as exemplified by Nguyen Quang (2002). E.g. “Đã” is used to refer to an action which is to take place in the future. - Vào giờ này ngày mai tôi đã có mặt ở Hà Nội. (I will be in Hanoi by this time tomorrow.) 22.214.171.124.2. The use of genitive indicators As a matter of fact, the genitive indicators are the “-s” genitive, possessive adjectives and pronouns and the preposition “of”. It has the equivalence in Vietnamese named “của”. Accuracy in English indicators of possession often cannot be used interchangeably. The case of –s genitive and –of genitive should be taken into careful consideration. As suggested by Quirk, R and Greenbaum. S (2003, p 96 -97), the “–s” genitive is favored by animated nouns, in particular persons and animals with personal characteristics. We can only say the youngest children’s toys, but not the door’s window or the love of John. On the other hand, -of genitive is chosen in case of being the link between inanimate nouns such as the title of the book or the system of the society. It cannot be affirmed that –s genitive does not replace –of genitive in all cases and vice versa. Learners of English should bear in mind those above basic rules. In addition, possessive adjectives and pronouns play an important role in English. The great awareness of possession of the Anglo – American is revealed through the close relationship between noun and its possessive adjectives such as “my, your, her, his, our, their, its”. Such words are never absent in English noun phrases of possession. On the contrary, the usage of “của” is likely to be more flexible. It is the only genitive in Vietnamese; as a result it is popularly used for both animate and inanimate nouns. In many cases, the Vietnamese even obmit “của” as can be seen in the following examples: Tôi ghi bài vào vở. (Literal translation: I take note in notebook) (Standard English: I take note in my notebook) Tôi cầm lấy ví rồi đi thẳng. (Literal translation: I took purse and went away) (Standard English: I took my purse and went away) The problem is that Vietnamese learners sometimes forget such indicators of possession while speaking or writing in English due to the inaccuracy in their culture. This is another point they need to take into consideration. 1.2.
Review of previous studies
Nguyen Quang’s work in Foreign Language Journal (1998) points to draw the conclusion that there are fourteen major Anglo-American-Vietnamese cross-cultural categories.
1. Subjectivity – Objectivity; 2. Directness – Indirectness; 3. Accuracy – Inaccuracy; 4. Positive and Negative politeness; 5. Self-abasement and self-assertion; 6. Abstractness – Rationality; 7. Sentimentality – Equality; 8. Hierarchy – Equality; 9. Introversion – Extroversion; 10. Deduction – Induction; 11. Group orientation – Individual orientation; 12. High context – Low context; 13. Redundancy – Economicality; 14. Staticality – Dynamicality. Such dimensions exist in every language. The problem is that one culture may be in favour of one side of a certain dimension than another. For example, in terms of directness – indirectness dimension, Anglicist people (British, American, Australian....) tend to be more direct in speaking than Oriental people. Vietnam is an example, it is common for Vietnamese people to have the habit of “beating around the bush” before going to the main point. The study on the influences of Vietnamese cultural factors on English learning among first – year students at English Department, CFL, VNU, which was carried out by Do Mai Thanh & Van Thanh Binh (1998) took this matter into consideration. The study mentioned the common mistakes made by the first year students in the Faculty of English Language Teacher Education (formerly known as English Department), University of Languages and International Studies, VNU due to the influences of some cultural categorical dimensions. This was conducted among the 1st year students K32 in 1999 and over ten years has gone by, therefore, the results may have been different thanks to the openness of Vietnam to the world, the improvement of the process of learning and communicating in English, the incorporation of cultural points into language lessons at upper secondary schools in Vietnam. Another study by Ho Gia Anh Le in 2003 on Accuracy and Inaccuracy in English and Vietnamese also dealt with aspects of Accuracy and Inaccuracy in English and Vietnamese, the influence of this categorical dimension on English learning and some implications for the learning and teaching of both Vietnamese and English as foreign languages. The author comments that most of sentences that the pupils made were grammatically correct but there existed a lot of cultural mistakes due to the interference of cross-cultural categories in general, and Accuracy and Inaccuracy category in particular. The most typical errors are verb tenses, prepositions of place, the use of directness and indirectness in communication, insufficient redundancies in English usage.
Tran Thanh Dung’s study (2004) concentrates on cultural factors that affects on teaching and learning English in secondary schools in terms of cultural category Subjectivity – Objectivity. This implies that the subjectivity of Vietnamese learners has much effect on their process of learning English. Many pupils find it disappointed and bored with learning a second language when they meet difficulties in doing exercises. One of the reasons is that they lack cultural experience, so they sometimes make mistake while studying. Therefore it is essential that they be provided enough cultural knowledge to avoid misinterpretation in the lessons.
CHAPTER II: DISCUSSION OF THE SURVEY AND DATA ANALYSIS 2.1. Students’ survey 2.1.1. Discussion of the survey questionnaire and the informants This survey questionnaire is designed to research the interference of some cultural dimensions on the medical students, as seen from cross-culture and communication. The Vietnamese student respondents are 300 in number. They are second year students of nursing at Thanh Hoa Medical College. The survey consists of two main parts. In the first part: students are asked what to say in the following situations: 1 .Situation 1: You meet your English friend(s) in the street. 2. Situation 2: You want to borrow your friend VND 200,000 for some reason. 3 .Situation 3: Your friend says to you: “What a beautiful dress you have!” 4. Situation 4: You want to refuse your friend’s invitation to his/her party for some reason. In the second part, students are asked to translate four sentences 1. Vào Nam ra Bắc. - The aim of this sentence is to investigate how students use prepositions to translate (“to” or other prepositions). 2. Mặc dù thời tiết xấu nhưng họ vẫn đến đúng giờ. - This sentence is aimed to look into how students use “although”/“but”. 3. Bởi vì trời mưa cho nên tôi ở nhà. - This sentence is to investigate if Vietnamese students use both “because” and “so”. 4. Hôm qua tôi bị thi trượt. -
The aim of this is to check whether Vietnamese students know the difference between English and Vietnamese passive voice.
However, the survey cannot cover some following factors: -
Students’ language proficiency – what their English levels – beginning, intermediate or advanced are. All of the students are in their second year and their supposed English level is pre-intermediate.
Students’ communicative competence – this is a survey questionnaire and students are asked to express their use of English in written form, that is although there are questions to test their communicative competence and spoken language, the author can not access 300 students to measure individually.