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Linking Cultural Training And Grammar

Fitting cultural information in with a grammatical syllabus without taking up extra time.

There are many good reasons for bringing the topics of cultural training such as body language differences and politeness universals into EFL classes, including improving international communication skills and providing students with an interesting topic. It is also almost impossible to do functional language such as apologizing or requests properly without mentioning cultural similarities and differences.

There are also several things that can put teachers off bringing these topics into the classroom. One reason is the difficulty of tying cultural training topics in with the language in the textbook. Another is doubts about whether looking at these kinds of topics in class actually has an effect on student attitudes and behaviour when they communicate with foreign people. A third one is that there are so many possible cultural differences to speak about that the whole course could turn into only communicating about communication!

The easiest solution to these kinds of doubts is choosing cultural topics that tie in with particular language points, as this allows you to “kill two birds with one stone”, or at least ensure that the students are learning one thing even if the other doesn’t properly go in. This article provides examples of cultural training activities that can be combined with particular language points.

Tenses And Verb Forms

Present Simple/Adverbs of Frequency

Students can discuss how often they think people do traditional things such as wear flamenco dresses nowadays. They can also try to fill in a calendar by saying what people do on those days somewhere in the world, maybe researching on the internet to help.

Present Continuous and Present Simple

Give students worksheets with Present Continuous sentences including actions which are more common in some countries than others, e.g. “You are eating with your hands” and “You are giving someone a hug”. After playing a guessing game where one student mimes a sentence until the others guess it, they can discuss how often they do those things (e.g. “I sometimes eat with my hands, for example at KFC”) and how other countries differ. The same thing also works for gestures that vary by country, e.g. “You were signalling that someone should stop speaking”. If you give them a worksheet with a list of countries with time differences compared to where they are now (e.g. “Switzerland – two hours ahead”), they can also imagine what is going on there at exactly the moment they are speaking and also explain the typical daily lifestyle until their partner guesses which country they are speaking about.

Past Continuous

Mimes can be used in the same way as with Present Continuous above simply by asking students to shout “Stop!” then they think they can guess and then Past Continuous when they do so, e.g. “When I shouted stop you were hailing a taxi.”

Going to

Mimes also work for “going to”, this time by students miming just up to the actual action but not quite getting there, e.g. washing their hands etc and kneeling down for “You are going to pray at a mosque.” Students can also guess the country from what their partner says they are going to pack and take with them (e.g. “I’m going to take an umbrella and an English dictionary” for the UK) or what they are and aren’t going to do while they are there (e.g. “I’m going to visit lots of temples” for Thailand).


Students guess the country from things that were invented there, are produced there and are done there (e.g. “Presents are given on Xmas Eve”).


This is the natural form to use when discussing do’s and don’ts such as “Don’t touch anyone’s head in Thailand” and “Cover your head in a mosque.” Students can guess if the pieces of advice should be positive or negative imperatives, match sentence halves, or discuss whether do’s and taboos about their own country/countries (e.g. from the Culture Shock! books) are accurate.

First Conditional

This form is the natural one to talk about international superstitions, rules and punishments, reactions (“If you blow your nose in public, people might look at you disapprovingly”) and vague travel plans (“If I go there, I’ll probably spend most of my time on the beach”).

Second, Third and Mixed Conditionals

Students can choose another country and make sentences like “If I had been born there, I’d probably be richer now/I would have skied more as a kid” for Switzerland until their partner guesses where they are talking about.


Students “bet” on which country is being described by choosing a modal of probability (“It could/may/must be…”) depending on how sure they are about their guess and then gaining or losing that many points (e.g. 10 points for “must”) depending on whether they are right or not.

Other Grammar Points

Relative Clauses

Students can practise this by defining foreign foods, festivals, traditional clothes, tourist sites, etc, e.g. “Black pudding is a sausage that is made out of blood.” They can also talk about varieties of English with sentences like “‘Barbie’, which is Australian slang, means ‘barbeque’.”


Student can practise the “only one” / “one of some or many” meanings of “a/an/the” by trying to guess which of those determiners should be used in culturally specific cases such as “The Royal Family” for the UK but “A royal family” for Malaysia, “A capital city” for the UK, etc. Students can also guess more of a range of determiners, e.g. how much salt and pepper it is acceptable to put on your dinner, how many flowers you can take to a dinner party, etc.


Students fill the missing prepositions in do’s and don’ts sentences such as “You shouldn’t point your feet __________ someone in Thailand” for “towards” and “You mustn’t pass food __________ your chopsticks to someone else’s in Korea, Japan or China” for “from”. Prepositions can also be used to describe gestures in different countries, e.g. “Put your right index finger __________ the side of your nose and tap three times” with “along” for “Mind your own business.”

Written by Alex Case for EnglishClub | April 2012
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic blog.

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