English culture and education – a contribution to English language acquisition in Bulgaria – a cross-cultural analysis

Written by: Yana Slavcheva Manova, e-mail: manova.yana@yahoo.com

Aim:

In creating the image of a nation one can always rely on the traditions and customs in a particular group of people and in order to understand the attitude towards education, one should first scrutinize the meaning and importance of different aspects of the life of a nation. Intercultural analysis is a very complex matter and undoubtedly it has numerous aspects. It can be viewed from the point of values, attitude, education, traditions, behavior, etc.

In my presentation I aim at exploring the educational system of Bulgaria and the UK, taking into consideration the values that students at the average age of 15 have acquired in their lives through their families. My idea is to prove the connection between family and tradition on the one hand, and tradition and success in acquiring a foreign language, on the other.  For students at such an early age, it is quite difficult to derive the idea of future career, but it is highly probable and expected for these students to create the image of typical family values.

For the sake of my analysis, a survey was conducted among 50 students living in the UK and attending one comprehensive school in London and 50 representatives of the Bulgarian school system who study in Blagoevgrad. The students living in the UK comprise 60% Muslims, 15% Hindi, as well as 25% Christians. The interesting factor in this variety is that all of these students are second and third generation immigrants in the UK. They have acquired English as their first language at school, but have preserved the traditions of their culture, this being a clear example of living in two cultures, which is also proved by their answers in the survey.

Naming the term culture I should indicate that there are a great number of definitions of culture serving different purposes, but the most general one that is used by anthropologists and sociologists is that “culture is everything that is man-made: technological artifacts, skills, attitudes and values.”(Lawton 1975:10). Another definition of the term is: “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time” (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary,2nd edition). Culture comprises different elements, but serving the purpose of the current analysis, it is important to mention that culture is learned, shared, based on symbols, and serves as an integrated system (Samovar, Larry 2009:25, 26). There are also other elements of culture among which are “history, religion, values, social organizations, and language” (Samovar, Larry 2009:25, 26). Of all elements of culture, the one most closely related to the topic discussed is that of social organization. That group includes schools, media, family, etc. Although it is very difficult to summarize the attitudes and traditions of a nation, as one cannot say that the representatives of a group of people carry the same values, the presentation is an attempt to look deeper into traditions and their reflection on the way of thinking of students, because the meaning of culture is to be transferred to the following generations and thus to be preserved.

Findings about culture in the UK:

In the process of research about English culture one can come across different traditions, but the findings of the current survey have shown an example of culture preservations in an English environment. The students participating in the survey are not of English descend and English culture appears to be their target culture. Although the assumption about students born and bred in England would be related to the acquisition of the target culture, the survey proves the opposite. In relation to traditions, the students either do not have an idea about traditions in their family, or the traditions belong clearly to their source culture. Although 26% of the students give no answer to the question of the most important traditions in their families, there is still 40% who show interest and think of Eid and Ramadan traditions as being most memorable for them. Religious occasions and prayer, as well as respect and family honour present 24 % of the answers. These suggestions were given by the students of Muslim descent.

Another tradition is also mentioned, but referring to Hindi culture- Daar Chawal and Diwali. Having in mind the fact that there are 15% Hindi students, their traditions are mentioned by 8% of the 15-year-olds.

Christmas is also mentioned, but only by 2% of the students.

In conclusion, 60% of students think that culture is influenced by a country’s customs.

Findings about culture in Bulgaria:

As to culture in Bulgaria, the students who took part in the survey were representatives of the Bulgarian culture and Bulgarian is their mother tongue. Their traditions and upbringing follow the understanding of Bulgarians of traditions and culture, which is also seen in the answers in the survey. 78% of the students name the most important traditions in their families to be Christmas, Easter, and holidays in general. It appears that 10% do not know of any Bulgarian traditions, which is twice fewer than the UK representatives. As a conclusion, 84% of the students definitely believe that the culture of a country is influenced by its traditions.

Education in the UK and Bulgaria- a comparative view:

Education in the UK, as well as in Bulgaria, is compulsory but with a difference in the age of starting school. In the UK the period of education is between the ages of 5 and 16, with children attending state schools or independent (fee-paying) schools, whilst in Bulgaria they start school at the age of seven and their education is compulsory up to age of sixteen .The school systems of interest here are those after the age of eleven that is, secondary education, or high school (US).

Most children in the UK go to secondary schools at the age of 11 – usually to their nearest one. Most secondary schools cater for both sexes. They tend to be much larger than primary schools. Comprehensive schools as part of the British educational system provide education for students up to the age of 16 or 18. Grammar Schools are selective, they offer academically oriented general education. Entrance is based on a test of ability, usually at the age of eleven. Grammar schools are single sexed schools. Public schools are independent secondary schools. They are not run by the government. The entrance exams used by most public schools are known as Common Entrance exams and are taken at the age of 11 with girls or 13 with boys.

Secondary schools in Bulgaria differentiate in relation to their professional orientation. Secondary education can be divided into secondary general vocational. Secondary general education can be attained at secondary comprehensive schools with duration of studies 4 years and profile-oriented schools with duration of studies 4 to 5 years. Secondary vocational education can be attained at technical schools after the completion of grade 8 and a 4-year training, as well as after the completion of grade 7 and a 5-year training with intensive foreign language instruction. There are relatively few fee-paying schools in Bulgaria and all schools are mixed.

The phenomenon that is of greater interest and discussion in the presentation, however, is the attitude of students towards education and English language acquisition. As previously mentioned, all students have English as a subject at school but in Bulgaria it is a foreign language, while in the UK it is considered their first language. Notwithstanding this difference, both participants of the survey consider studying English important. 94% of the Bulgarians write that English is important for their future career and travelling, while 34% of the English students find it important for their future realization in life. Some of the explanations why students do not need to study a foreign language are because they already speak English. However, something interesting arises with the number of foreign languages that a person should study if they want to be successful in life. 56% of the participants think that one should speak two, as it is the percentage in Bulgaria. This fact leads to the conclusion that although students do not think foreign language acquisition is of vital importance for their career, still education-conscious people should speak at least two languages.

Another subject of interest is the difficulty in gaining knowledge of English. 46% of the Bulgarian students consider English easy, while in the UK the percentage is 52%. The slight difference with the Bulgarians is mainly a result of the fact that they are starting to learn the language, while the English have already got acquainted with the language. As students study different things at school, the English consider literature and speaking and writing about poetry difficult, while Bulgarians find grammar and vocabulary difficult to remember and acquire.

Conclusion:

The culture of a particular society carries the marks of all its people and the traditions of a country are spread by its people. Education, on the other hand, is the instrument of students on their long and complex way to perfection and knowledge. Language acquisition is one of the keys to that perfection. To my mind, if one is well-acquainted with their own cultural identity, they can easily create their own values and understanding of the world.

In learning a foreign language, people learn grammar and vocabulary, but also acquire the idea of the culture of the native speakers. They not only gain knowledge of the language, but also of traditions, values, behaviour, etc. That is one of the main reasons for learning foreign languages. The young representatives of the Bulgarian society proved to have an idea why they should learn a foreign language. From the results of the survey, one can conclude that the stronger and more respectable the traditions of a family are, the more eager the children become to study a foreign language and to use it in their future career and life in general.   Only in this way one can have a broader perspective of life as well as a clearer idea of the importance of English language acquisition. In conclusion, the UK educational system, although similar to the Bulgarian one, offers a different view of culture, this following the different way of life in both countries. This can be understood by the fact that the UK has always been a multinational country, while Bulgaria has followed the route of one culture and one language. Bulgarian students appear to show a clearer and stronger influence of culture on their way of thinking and they also consider English of vital importance for their future realization. From my viewpoint, the family, which is to create and preserve values, has helped in shaping the personality of the 15-year-olds and in building their opinion on different aspects of life.

The importance of foreign language learning can be seen in the answers of enough Bulgarian students to show that the Bulgarian educational system has improved the understanding of youngsters and has provoked their desire to study and acquire knowledge not only of the language itself, but also of traditions, behaviour and culture in general.

Glossary:

Chapatti - Hindi bread
Diwali - a significant 5-day festival in Hinduism, occurring between mid October and mid November. It is also popularly known as the Festival of Lights.
Eid al-Fitr - often abbreviated to Eid, is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Eid is an Arabic word meaning “festivity”, while Fiṭr means “to break fast”; and so the holiday symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period. It is celebrated after the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan, on the first day of Shawwal.
Ramadan - Each year, Muslims spend the ninth month of the Islamic calendar observing a community-wide fast. Muslims who are physically able are required to fast each day of the entire month, from sunrise to sunset. The evenings are spent enjoying family and community meals, engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection.

Bibliography:

Appendix

A SURVEY

English Education and Culture

  1. How old are you?
  2. What kind of school do you go to?
  3. What subjects do you study at school?
  4. What foreign languages do you study?
  5. Do you think that studying foreign languages is important for your future career and if yes, why?
  6. How many languages do you think a person should fluently speak to be successful in their career?
  7. What are your favourite subjects at school?
  8. What are your least favourite subjects?
  9. Do you find English easy or difficult?
  10. What do you find difficult in studying English?
  11. Do you study a foreign language? If not, which one would you like to study and why?
  12. What is more important- speaking a foreign language or using correct grammar? Would you specify your reasons for that?
  13. Do you think that a well-educated person should speak at least one foreign language?
  14. If you could choose what subjects to study at school what would your choice be?
  15. What are the most important traditions in your family?
  16. Do you think that the culture of a country is influenced by its traditions and customs?
  17. What is the most memorable and important tradition in your family?

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