INGLĂ‰S Geographical, historical and cultural aspects of english-speaking countries.
Application to the classroom of the most relevant geografical, historical and cultural aspects.
1. SOCIOCULTURAL COMPETENCE: GEOGRAPHICAL, HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL ASPECTS OF ENGLISH-SPEAKING COUNTRIES 1.1. The United Kingdom 1.2. The Republic of Ireland 1.3. The United States of America 1.4. Canada 1.5. Australia 1.6. The Commonwealth
2. METHODOLOGY 3. APPLICATION TO THE CLASSROOM
INTRODUCTION English is the second most widely spoken language in the world, only behind Mandarin Chinese. It is widely spoken in all the six continents, where it has a strong and also different influence depending on the region. English is the main language in some countries like Great Britain, the United States of America and Australia, whereas in others like India, Canada, Nigeria or Pakistan, although it shares its importance with other languages, it is also an official one and the English-speaking community is large and solid. It has also great repercussions on other languages like Spanish or French, which have absorbed a lot of English expressions and terms, incorporating and mixing them with their own vocabulary. In this unit, we are going to focus on different English-speaking regions, all of them important and relevant in the global world context. In order to adapt ourselves to time restrictions, we are going to provide an outline of their most significant geographical, demographical, historical and cultural characteristics, with the purpose of presenting a general overview of their situation and most distinctive features. After this, we will study the concept of socio-cultural competence in order to apply all these notions to the foreign-language classroom.
This unit is related to Units 6, 13, 14, 18, 22 and 25 since it deals with the theme of methodology.
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1 SOCIOCULTURAL COMPETENCE: GEOGRAPHICAL,
HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL ASPECTS OF ENGLISH-SPEAKING COUNTRIES 1.1. The United Kingdom It is formed by England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its full name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but from now on, we will refer to it using the official abbreviation: the UK. It is a founding member of the Commonwealth and has been part of the European Union since 1973. England, Wales and Scotland form Great Britain. The United Kingdom is the union of these three countries plus Northern Ireland. The national capital of the UK is London, in the south-eastern corner of England, by the River Thames. The most important feature of the UK’s landscape is its low elevation. Most of its territory is lower than 200 m. However, it has an uneven landscape, mainly formed by gently sloping hills. At the same time, it is also a very varied territory, so it was affected by three orogenies (Caledonian, Hercynian and Alpine) that created a complex and diverse relief. The territory within the estuaries of the rivers Tees and Exe is known as the Lowlands. The northern sector is called the Highlands and it is composed by ancient and cracked material blocks, influenced by glaciation, erosion and faults. Lowland materials are much newer. Caledonian orogeny marked the landscape’s orientation from northeast to southwest whereas Alpine orogeny defined it. Massifs (from North to South):
Highlands: In the Northeast (north-western area, Scotland).
Grampian Mountains: Separated from the Highlands by the Great Glen Fault, where Loch Ness is. Down the Grampian Mountains, we find a depressed area known as the Midland Valley.
If we continue to the south, we find the Southern Uplands.
After them, the Pennine Mountains appear.
The Cambrian Mountains are the most important geographical feature in Wales.
The Lowlands were very important sediment deposits that Alpine orogeny deformed and folded up. Erosion has created a landscaped characterized by soft hills also known as ‘The Chalk’ .
Depressed territories such as the London area received Tertiary period sediments that progressively filled these zones. During the Quaternary, most parts of the UK were covered with ice. This ice is responsible for most of the forms of British topography today. It rounded off the tops, produced cirques (rounded and depressed areas) lakes, and glacial valleys. All these events favoured the creation of lake groups such as the Lake District (in the Cumberland Valley opposite the Isle of Man) and fiords. The UK seaboard is very steep and sawn off, due to the northeast fiords and the sea, which rose and encroached on the lower parts of the rivers to form estuaries. In Scotland, we find four important firths (estuaries) grouped together: Moray, Lorne, Forth and Clyde. This phenomenon also occurs in certain southwest regions. Vegetation in the UK is poor, for only around the 10 percent of the territory can be considered forest. From this percentage, approximately 50 percent are deciduous species and 25 percent conifers. The climate in the UK is temperate for a number of reasons. The effect of the Atlantic Ocean, the marine currents coming from the Caribbean and the different air masses affecting the islands create moderate temperatures but they also provide high humidity levels across the whole territory. Temperatures may vary depending on the region, ranging between the annual averages of 13 °C in England and 10 °C in Scotland. Rain is also an important phenomenon in the country. The UK’s hydrography is not very important and is composed mainly of small basins. The most important ones are the Thames and the Severn, in the south. Other significant hydrographical accidents are the Ouse, the Trent, the Tweed, the Forth, the Tay… Today, the UK population numbers more than 60 million people. Data from 2010 estimates it at 62-63 million inhabitants. Global population density in its territory is close to 258 inahabitants/km2 one of the highest in the European Union. Population growth in the UK (and almost all the industrialised countries) now falls within what is known as the modern demographic regime: that is, slow growth, and low birth and mortality levels. These are estimations of some relevant current demographic data:
Birth rate: 1.1%.
Child Mortality: 0.46%.
Natural Population Growth: 0.55%
Life Expectancy: a) Men: 77.7 years. b) Women: 81.9 years.
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Now we are going to take a look at the distribution of this population by country:
England has about 80 percent of the UK population, with a very high density of population with differences between the North shires, with lower demographic rates and the London conurbation with a high percentage of inhabitants per km2. Six of the seven conurbations in the UK are in England: −− Tyneside conurbation (centre of population Newcastle). −− Yorkshire conurbation (centre Leeds). −− Lancashire conurbation (centre Manchester). −− Merseyside conurbation (centre Liverpool). −− Midlands (centre Birmingham). −− London area (centre London). Other important cities are: Middlesbrough, Nottingham, Bristol, Brighton and Portsmouth.
Scotland: Here, we find the seventh conurbation, Glasgow, although the political centre is Edinburgh. Most of the Scottish population, which numbers more than 5 million, lives near the coast.
Wales: the population numbers almost 3 million people. The most inhabited part is the South with Cardiff as its most important city.
Northern Ireland: has a population of about 2 million people (1.800.000 inhabitants approx.). The East Coast, the Down Shire, is the most populous area, with Belfast as its most important city and the capital.
The growth of the UK population has been due to historical factors. Migratory currents have had a huge impact on the UK’s demography. People from different parts of the world and different centuries have been going to the British Isles, some for political or religious reasons, others for economic ones. After 1945, large numbers of European refugees settled in UK. Emigrants from the West Indies and South Asia arrived in the 1950’s and 60’s. In the 1970’s, immigrants from Latin America and Asia also sought refuge in Britain. People from the old Commonwealth (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) make up more than one half of the total ethnic minority. Immigration has contributed to population growth; in fact, it meant that half the population increased in the final years of the 20th century. Most of the emigrant population lives in urban areas. The growth in ethnic minorities has enriched the cultural fabric of Britain but also added social tensions. Early English history, like most European countries, is characterised by invasions. Romans were the first invaders in the 1st century. The Nordic tribes (Angles, Saxons and Jutes) in the 5th century were the next invaders, followed by the Vikings until the arrival of Normans who conquered England in 1066. The arrival of William of Normandy brought the French language which was used for centuries and influenced the native language. Ireland was conquered by the English king, Henry II (1154-1189). His son John (1199-1216) was compelled to grant the nobles the first Magna Carta (1215). His successor, Edward I, conquered Wales and established the first parliament.
Scotland has been under the influence of the English since the 11th century but it was in 1707 that they assented to the Act of Union. Ireland signed its Act of Union in 1801, but the continuous differences between the two countries led to revolutionary disorders that culminated in 1921 with the concession of dominion status to the Irish State. After the Second World War, it became the independent Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland, the six counties that historically formed Ulster, remained in the United Kingdom. Under the reign of George III, in 1783, American colonies won independence and in this way the British Empire diminished. But in the 19th century, during Queen Victoria’s reign, Britain’s colonial expansion reached its zenith, despite of Canada and Australia’s achievement of independence (the former in 1867, and the latter in 1901). The Industrial Revolution took place in the first half of the 19th century and gave rise to the industrial cities as we know them today. In World War I and World War II, the United Kingdom came into war fighting against German and Japanese forces. After World War II, Northern Ireland became a problem because of the differences between Catholics, who wanted union with the Republic of Ireland, and Protestants, seeking to remain in the United Kingdom. In 1990, Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister. Her monetary policy, her cutting back on social services and education, the economic situation with high rates of inflation and interest and her decision to send British forces into the Gulf to participate in the United Nations task force against the Iraq government divided the country. The question of integration into Europe was another problem for the Conservative government. In 1973 the UK joined the European Economic Community with great resistance, as we can see from the response to the Maastricht Treaty or current resistance to joining the European monetary union. In 1990, the Thatcher Era came to an end. The main achievement of the Iron Lady was, for many British people, the restoration of British pride after the Falklands victory. John Major was elected Prime Minister with the intention of keeping alive the same program as Margaret Thatcher and keeping the Conservative party in power. But the reaction against Europe, economic problems, and the indecisive leadership of John Major swept the Labour Party to power in 1997. The Labour Party won the 2001 and 2005 General Elections. During these years the country’s expansion continued until the September 11th attacks in the United States. The fight against international terrorism (the so-called War on Terror), the conflict in Afghanistan with British troops supporting the Americans and the invasion of Iraq supported by Tony Blair, increased the terrorist attacks against the UK. On 7th July 2005, four bomb explosions struck London’s public transport system. 52 people were killed. In 2007 Gordon Brown was elected leader of the Labour Party and became Prime Minister. The economic crisis of 2008 and subsequent years meant an end to credit, a reduction in consumption and the deprecation of sterling, which fell 25 percent against the euro and also brought an increase in import costs.
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The economic situation, with the UK in recession until the end of 2009, resulted in the Conservative Party led by David Cameron winning the largest number of seats since 1974 and forming with the Liberal Democrats the first coalition government since the end of World War II. The UK’s is the oldest and most influential of the English-language cultures in the world. All its different fields and features have inevitably affected not only the ones we will mention later, but probably most of the artistic expressions we know. The UK has produced some of the world’s finest literature and prolific writers. If we group together the different literary traditions of the four parts of the country this gives us one of the richest and most significant literary outputs in history. The UK’s novel genre encompasses all the topics and styles we can imagine. From the earliest writers like Daniel Defoe to Joseph Conrad and William Golding, along with the 19th-century authors like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, the UK’s literary framework has given us some of the major works we all recognize: Oliver Twist, Pride and Prejudice, Robinson Crusoe, The Lord of the Flies, The Heart of Darkness… But it would be unfair not to mention other writers and works which also marked the development of world’s literature. Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island), H. G. Wells (The War of the Worlds), George Orwell (1984), Arthur Conan Doyle (the Sherlock Holmes series), Lewis Carroll (Alice’s adventures in Wonderland), Virginia Woolf (Orlando), Aldous Huxley (Brave New World)… If we focus on the UK’s poetic output, the variety and quality is almost the same. The first great and renowned poets appeared in the 16th century during the English Renaissance. The finest exponents from this first wave of poets included Thomas Wyatt and Sir Phillip Sydney. These authors laid the foundations for subsequent trends and movements which include poets like Percy Shelley, John Keats and William Butler Yeats. This tradition culminated in a strong generation of poets in the 20th century. The most important name here is, no doubt, the Nobel Prize winner (and also renowned short-story writer) Rudyard Kipling (Barrack-Rooms Ballads, The Five Nations). British drama is probably as important as its literary output. The best-known British writer within this field is, obviously, William Shakespeare. Some of his most important works are Hamlet, Othello and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But we must not forget other playwrights like Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde (although both were Irish, they wrote most of their works in the UK) and Harold Pinter, who created gems like Pygmalion, Salome and The Caretaker. Nowadays, British theatre is following the same path as the USA and turning to the musical genre. Shows like Cats, Evita and We Will Rock You are been, or have been, performed there, achieving a great success. UK cinema has provided Hollywood with great actors and directors. The past and present cinema framework cannot be understood without the contribution of some British artists. Among the actors, we have to mention pioneers like Charles Chaplin, Cary Grant and present Hollywood stars like Sean Connery or Anthony Hopkins. The most famous British director is Alfred Hitchcock. His collaborations with the Hollywood film industry gave us titles like Strangers on a Train, Vertigo and The Birds. But some titles created on British soil have also achieved great success and had worldwide repercussions. This is the case of films like Lawrence of Arabia, Chariots of Fire and The Piano.
The UK’s music has covered a wide variety of styles. Notable British composers are Henry Bishop, William Walton and, most recently, Mike Oldfield. Orchestras have also played an important role, headed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. However, the best-known artists from the UK come from the field of pop and rock music. Among them, we find outstanding groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Clash and The Police. Singers like David Bowie and Elvis Costello are also British. Nowadays music is also influenced by a wave of British bands. This group include such big names as Coldplay, Muse and Radiohead. 1.2. The Republic of Ireland The Republic of Ireland is one of the largest islands in Europe and its physical landscape has diverse features. In the north and west of the country, we find some of its most important mountains, such as Errigal (752 m) or Croagh Patrick (765 m) or the country’s highest peak, Carrantuohill (1,041 m). The centre of the country is a vast plain, interrupted and surrounded by different mountain chains and hills. In the coast, the most relevant features are the cliffs (Moher, for example), which are one of the most important ones in Western Europe. Climate in Ireland is mild and equable, with low temperature ranges throughout the country. Although it is a wet territory, rainfall is much heavier in the west part of the country. This feature is easy to prove if we compare the 3,000 mm year average in Kerry, Mayo or Donegal with the 780 mm in Dublin. Due to its continuous precipitations, Ireland has varied vegetation, from conifers and mixed forests (least important now after the massive cuttings during the 17th century) to vast plains, farmlands and extensive grass formations. The most important river in the country is River Shannon, 340 km in length. Ireland has a population of around 6.200.000 inhabitants. The island is divided into four provinces, Connacht, Munster, Leinster and Ulster, although the latter is ‘shared’ both by the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Its most important cities are Dublin (the capital), Galway, Cork and Belfast. Irish history is marked by two major events. The first one was the different invasions that the country had to suffer, first by the Vikings and subsequently by the Normans and the English. This last invasion led to the second period of Irish history: British dominance. This situation continued until the rise of nationalism fight (headed in first place by Daniel O’Connell) provoked the partition of the country, which, with the signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921, was divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, a region under UK’s control. This social context was the reason for constant political fights and terrorist attacks by the IRA during the second half of the 20th century. In 1998, both parties signed the Belfast Agreement and violence stopped. Both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are part of the European Economic Community since 1973.
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Ireland has provided many important artists and works to popular culture. Despite the Gaelic inheritance, Irish literature and drama main works are written in English. These genres have their main exponents in writers such as James Joyce (Ulysses, Dubliners…), Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) and Nobel Prize winners, George Bernard Shaw and the aforementioned Samuel Beckett. But its contribution to culture goes even further, with relevant contemporary musicians such as Van Morrison or painters such as Jack Yeats or William Orpen. Irish film industry is not a very strong one, however, the country is the birthplace of important past-andpresent Hollywood stars such as Maureen O’Hara, Peter O’Toole, Daniel Day-Lewis or Liam Neeson. 1.3. The United States of America The United States of America is one of the most powerful and important countries in the world in many aspects. From now on, we will refer to it using two different abbreviations: the USA or US. The sheer size of the country makes it very difficult to generalize about its geographical relief. The USA’s physical geography can be divided into several sectors which we are going to analyze next. It is important to say that there is another relief unit known as the Laurentian Uplands, which is mainly part of the Canadian Shield but also dips into the USA through the Great Lakes region. The area in US territory is formed by continental ice sheets that covered the northern part of the land during the Cenozoic era. The southern part of this area is formed by a line of terminal moraines that goes from East Long Island in the west to the Rocky Mountains in the east. The northern region is covered with glacial materials, so Alaska and the mountains in the northwest of the USA were heavily eroded and had extensive mountain glaciers. In this sector we can also find important glacial lakes such as the Great Salt Lake, Lake Bonneville and Lahontan Lake. Let’s start now with the seven other sectors: The East and the Gulf Coast: The Atlantic-Gulf Coastal Plain extends along the east and southeast coasts of the United States; Cape Cod and the islands off southeast Massachusetts are also part of this region. The Atlantic Coastal Plain narrows in the north but widens in the south, where it merges with the Gulf Coastal Plain in Florida. The Atlantic and Gulf coasts are essentially coastlines of submergence, with numerous estuaries, islands, sandpits, and barrier beaches backed by lagoons. The best example of this lagoon-line is the great delta of the Mississippi River. The Atlantic Coastal Plain rises in the west to the rolling Piedmont, a hilly zone that serves as a transitional point that leads to the Appalachian Mountains. In East New England, the Appalachians extend in a few places to the Atlantic Ocean, creating a rocky, irregular coastline. The Appalachians and the Adirondack Mountains of New York (geologically related to the Canadian Shield) include the most important highlands in the East United States; Mt. Mitchell (2,037 m), in the Black Mountains of North Carolina, is the highest point in East North America.
The Plains and Highlands of the Interior: The Interior Plains stretch for more than 1,610 km, from the Appalachians to the Rocky Mountains. They lie between Canada (in the north) and the Gulf Coastal Plain (in the south) and are underlain by sedimentary rock. Almost the whole region is drained by one of the world’s greatest river systems: the Mississippi-Missouri. The Interior Plains may be divided into two different parts: the fertile central lowlands, which are the agricultural engine of the United States, and the Great Plains, a treeless area that rises from the central lowlands to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The Interior Highlands are located in the western area of the Mississippi River. This region is formed by the rolling Ozark Plateau in the northern area and the Ouachita Mountains in the east. The Western Mountains and Great Basin: West of the Great Plains we find the Rocky Mountains. This geologically young system extends into the northwest of United States from Canada and runs south into New Mexico. The Rocky Mountains can be subdivided into four sectors: the Northern Rockies, the Middle Rockies, the Wyoming Basin and the Southern Rockies. They are formed by numerous high peaks like Mount Elbert (4,399 m). The Intermontane Region is a territory between the Rocky Mountains and the high ranges in the west. It is an arid expanse of plateaus, basins, and ranges. The Columbia Plateau, in the north of the region, was formed by volcanic lava and is drained by the Columbia River and its affluent, the Snake River. The enormous Colorado Plateau, an area of sedimentary rock, is drained by the Colorado River and its tributaries which have formed the Grand Canyon. West of the plateaus is the Basin and Range province, a wide, semi-desert area. Here we find the lowest point in North America, Death Valley, which is 86 m below sea level. The largest basin in the region is the Great Basin, an area with important hydrographical features such as the Humboldt River and the Great Salt Lake. Between the Intermontane Region and the Pacific Ocean lies the Pacific Mountain System formed by faulting and volcanism. The Cascade Range extends south from Southwest Canada, first into North California, and from there on to the Sierra Nevada, a great fault block. Here we find Mount Whitney (4,418 m), the highest peak in this sector of the USA. The Pacific Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii: West of the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada, separated by a structural trough, we find the Coast Ranges, which extend along the USA Pacific coast. The Central Valley in California, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and the Puget Sound lowlands in Washington are part of this trough. The San Andreas Fault, a fracture in the earth’s crust, mimics the trend of the Coast Ranges from South-eastern San Francisco Bay to North-western Mexico; earthquakes are common throughout this area. The Pacific Coastal Plain is narrow, and in many cases, the mountains plunge directly into the sea. Alaska can be divided into four physiographic regions. From north to south, they are: the Arctic Lowlands (the coastal plain of the Arctic Ocean); the Rocky Mountain System, of which the Brooks Range is the northernmost section; the Central Basins and Highlands Region, and the Pacific Mountain System, which spreads parallel to Alaska’s southern coast and includes Mount McKinley (6,194 m), North America’s
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highest peak. The islands in the southeast region of Alaska and those of the Aleutian Islands chain are partially submerged portions of the Pacific Mountain System and are frequently subjected to volcanic activity and earthquakes. Finally, and also in the Pacific Ocean, we find the volcanic-origin Hawaiian Islands. We have briefly mentioned some of the most important hydrographical features in the United States. However, these were just a part of a wide inland waterway system, much of which has been improved for navigation and to prevent flooding. The Mississippi-Missouri river system (c. 3.890 mi/6,300 km long), is the longest in the United States and the second longest in the world. With hundreds of important tributaries such as the Red River, the Ohio, and the Arkansas, the Mississippi basin drains more than half of the nation. The Yukon, the Columbia, the Colorado, and the Rio Grande also have huge drainage basins. The Great Salt Lake and Alaska’s Iliamna are the largest US lakes after the Great Lakes and Lake of the Woods, which are shared with Canada. The climate in the USA is very different depending on the region, varying from the tropical rainforest of Hawaii and the tropical savannah in South Florida to the subarctic and tundra climates of Alaska. East of the 100th meridian (the general dividing line between the dry and humid climates) we find the humid subtropical climate of the south-eastern US and the humid continental climate in the northeast. In the southwest part of the US we can find the deserts of the Basin and Range province, with the hottest and driest spots in the United States. Along the Pacific coast there appears a Mediterranean-type climate that affects southern California. If we continue to the north, we find a marine West Coast climate and one of the wettest parts of the USA. Finally, the highest areas in the country have typical highland climates. The USA’s vegetation is as varied as its climate. In Northern Alaska, we find the tundra, formed by mosses, lichens, low shrubs and flowering plants. Inland, and to the south, appears the taiga, a forest mass with conifers, spruces and firs that goes into New England and the Great Lakes region. Forest reaches its prime in the North Carolina and Tennessee area. As we continue to the south, this density starts to decrease. So, due to climate and soil conditions, the Gulf of Mexico area cannot allow this kind of vegetation. Instead of this, we find pine trees, cypresses and mangroves, whereas in the Florida region there are tropical and subtropical species. Density is also scant in the regions west of the Appalachian Mountains. The lush hardwood forests of the Mississippi Valley slowly become smaller in size and density and give way to isolated stands of oak and grass prairies. Further west, the climate becomes drier, leading to grass vegetation first and ending with desert territories. This emptiness is broken by the ranges of the Rocky Mountains, where we can find relatively important vegetation masses. This group finishes when we enter the Pacific States. Although we can find small vegetation masses, most of the territory is desert with the cactus ‘forest’ from the Mojave Desert being its most important feature.
The US population is mainly focused on urban areas. More than the 80 percent of its population lives in cities and demography in rural areas seems to be stationary or even decreasing. According to 2010 data, more than 273 conurbations have more than 100.000 inhabitants, 9 were above 1 million and 4 (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston) had more than 2 million. Immigration has played a huge role in the demographic framework of the US since the beginning. After the settlement of the first European white colonies in the 14th century, different migratory waves have affected the country. A large number of Africans were transported to the country to work as slaves on the Southern plantations. During the demographic expansion to the West, a new wave of European immigration affected the USA, and Irish and Germans became the predominant group. After the Civil War, the European tendency changed, and the most important groups of immigrants came from Eastern countries. During the peak years of immigration, between 1890 and 1924, more than 15 million immigrants arrived in the United States. The immigration law of 1924 meant heavy restrictions for these movements, creating a blockade which lasted until the mid1960’s. Since the 1980’s, large numbers of new immigrants have arrived. In 2000, the proportion of foreign-born people in the US population reached 11.1 percent the highest since the 1930 census; more than 40 percent of the more than 31 million foreign-born people had arrived since 1990. According to these historical features, is easy to deduce the multicultural framework of the USA. Its population nowadays is around 313.000.000 inhabitants, with European descendents being the most important group (approx. 80 percent of the total number). Today’s most important minority is the Hispanic community, which represents approximately 15 percent of the total population. AfricanAmerican people account for 13 percent of the inhabitants, followed in importance by people of Asian descent which are more than 3.5 percent of the total number. Finally (and excluding less important communities such as Pacific Islanders) we find the Native American group, which only represent approximately 1 percent of the US population. This diversity also implies the presence of a huge variety of languages in the country. About 82 percent of the people speak English and about 12 percent speak Spanish as their first language. There are large numbers of speakers of many other Indo-European and Asian languages, and most languages of the world are spoken somewhere in the United States. History of the US is short but full of events. Before America declared its independence in 1776 a good number of countries had attempted to build their empires in North America. First, the Spaniards reached Florida in 1513; the French explored the Mississippi in 1673; the Russians reached Alaska in 1741; and the British settled in 1607 in Jamestown and the ‘Pilgrim settlement’ took place in 1621 at Plymouth. After the British defeated the French in 1763, the fight against the British policy and government broke out in 1775. America declared its independence and won the war against the British army in 1783. Articles of Confederation were created to govern the new nation and after these proved inadequate a new Constitution was drawn up, ratified and took effect in 1789. George Washington was the first President.
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The conquest of new west territories and the difference between the industrial North and the agricultural South, which was based on slavery, created differences and difficulties. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, who advocated the prohibition of slavery, led South Carolina to secede. Within a year, ten more Southern states had joined South Carolina. The result was the Civil War which ended in 1865 but this did not heal the wounds and, in fact, segregation continued for almost a hundred years. The involvement of the United States in foreign affairs began with the war against Spain and can still be seen today in the conflicts with Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan… in its quest for world prominence. This desire for prominence led it to enter World War I where it played a decisive role in the Allied victory. The decade that followed the war was a period of prosperity that came to an end in 1929 with the stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression. The election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt heralded the beginning of a period of recovery. His New Deal legislation revolutionised the country and full economic recovery was achieved with the massive production on the eve of World War II. The Allied victory in 1945 gave the United States the leadership of the Western world but the beginning of a new war, the Cold War, with the Soviet Union. The Cold War led to American intervention in Korea (1950-1953) and Vietnam (1961-1973). Opposition to the Vietnam War and the fight for basic civil rights caused a moral crisis in the United States. The economic problems, inflation and unemployment in the 1970’s, gave way to an era of economic prosperity in the 1980’s. The 1990’s brought a change in economic relationships with the emerging countries, Japan and Germany, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In response to the attack by Islamic terrorists on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11th 2001, George W. Bush, with the support of NATO and the international community, launched Operation Enduring Freedom to overthrow the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. In March 2003, President Bush, in an alliance with other countries, including Spain, ordered the invasion of Iraq which led to the overthrow and capture of Saddam Hussein. The lack of popularity of this policy and the global economic recession led to the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American president, on November 4th 2008. US culture is the most influential nowadays. Its current literature, cinema and theatre are probably the best known worldwide. US literature, although one of the most recent, has been really important and given the world with excellent writers and works, especially from the 19th century onwards. America’s first best-seller, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin brought to light an excellent generation of novelists such as Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Henry James and others who left us works such as Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn and Daisy Miller. The 20th century was so prolific that it should be divided into at least in two parts. In its early period, we find authors such as Edith Wharton,
William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and Francis Scott Fitzgerald. These authors created a varied body of magnificent literature that deals with many different topics and includes classics such as The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, As I Lay Dying and A Farewell to Arms. The second stage of this century produced a new generation of authors, some of them still with us, who mainly reflect American post-war and current reality, describing different aspects of American society, like immigration, poverty, death and consumerism. This wide range of writers includes well-known figures such as Saul Bellow, J. D. Salinger, John Updike, Philip Roth, E. L. Doctorow or the most recent Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon, who are the main exponents of the 21st century’s new literary wave. Among their works, we find novels that have already become classics, like Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ series, Herzog, American Pastoral, The Catcher in the Rye and White Noise. We cannot forget to mention American’s poets and essayists. Some of the leading figures of American poetry include Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and, of course, the father of American poetry, Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass). Among the second writing style, we should underline two 19th-century writers: Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. US theatre is also an important part of the world’s culture today. Although there were previous important authors and works. US drama reached its peak during the period between World War I and World War II. This period saw the appearance of major figures such as Paul Green and George S. Kaufman who created works like In Abraham’s Bosom or Guys and Dolls. This generation led to a new one in the post-WWII period, headed by authors like Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams with Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Recently US theatre has moved towards the musical genre. Musicals like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and West Side Story remain audience hits, and have been adapted and performed in many other countries. Hollywood is the largest and most influential film industry in the world. It is based in Los Angeles, California, and its movies form the history and the present of the industry and include past and present directors and actors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Jack Nicholson, Woody Allen…, who have transcended screen frontiers. The public has them to thank for such legendary titles as The Apartment, Annie Hall, E. T., Casablanca, Gone with the Wind…, which had an impact on generations past and present and will probably do the same with the future ones. The US has also been the cradle of several important music styles. It has brought us genres such as jazz, blues, country and, more recently, hip hop. It has also provided major artists from other genres, such us Rock and Roll, as well as singer-songwriters. Most of today’s most important mainstream singers are also American, and its pop songs and performers are at the top of the hit parade worldwide.
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1.4. Canada With a wider territory than that of the United States, Canada covers most part of the North-American continent. Its topography is extremely varied. In the east, the mountainous maritime provinces have an irregular coastline on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic. The St. Lawrence plain, covering most of southern Quebec and Ontario, and the interior continental plain, covering southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan and most of Alberta, are the principal cultivable areas. Westward toward the Pacific, most of British Columbia, the Yukon, and part of western Alberta are covered by parallel mountain ranges, including the Rockies. The Pacific border of the coast range is ragged with fjords and channels. The highest point in Canada is Mount Logan (19,850 ft; 6,050 m), which is in the Yukon. The most important river systems are the Mackenzie and the St. Lawrence river. Canada’s climate is not as cold all year around as some may believe. In winter, temperatures fall below freezing point throughout most of the country, but the south-western coast has a relatively mild climate. Along the Arctic Circle, mean temperatures are below freezing for seven months a year. During the summer months, southern provinces often experience high levels of humidity and temperatures that can surpass 30 degrees Celsius regularly. Western and southeastern Canada experience high rainfall, but the Prairies are dry with 250 mm to 500 mm of rain every year. This difference in its weather conditions implies a high flora diversity, including broadleaf and rainforests in the southern and western areas, deserts and badlands in certain regions and arctic plains in the northern part of the country. Canada has an estimated population close to 34 million inhabitants. Its most important cities are Toronto, with a population above 5 million people, Vancouver and Montreal, both with more than 3 million people. The capital of the country is Ottawa, with barely more than 1 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area. Canada’s history is marked by intermittent and provisional settlements. Different tribes and people occupied and left the territory until the first important and permanent French settlement in the 17th century, which created a colony known as New France. In 1642, the Frenchs founded Montreal. But the English were also interested in Canada and this rivalry will mark the next centuries in Canada’s history. Between 1756 and 1763, both countries fought in the Seven Years War. The British won, but the political situation in the country remained unstable until the establishment of a Canadian central government in 1867 which was ruled from Ottawa, the new capital. The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century were prosperous years for Canada, with a strong growth of its population and economy. This situation changed during the 30’s, but Canada’s economy recovered after the Second World War and during the 50’s and the 60’s, it has experienced a great boom. Since then, the country has suffered more or less serious recessions, but nowadays it has confirmed itself as one of the most important economic powers in the world.
Due to the different nationalities and influences composing its background, Canadian culture is really diverse and prolific. Although not being as famous as that of its neighbouring country, Canada has provided important artists and works in very different genres. Some of its most famous writers are Nobel Prize nominee Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale) or Michael Ondaatje, best known for being the author of the book in which Hollywood’s blockbuster The English Patient is based. Canada’s own film (and also television) industry has grown stronger in the last decade, but the country has been giving excellent figures to the field for a long time, since film directors such as David Cronenberg and James Cameron are Canadian. Toronto also organizes one of the most important film festivals in the world. The country has a long tradition of outstanding painters. Since the appearance of the ‘Group of Seven’ at the beginning of the 20th century, the country has attended to a continuous renewal of artists and artistic movements with great impact in modern art. The best examples are, probably, the ‘Eleven Group’ and individual painters like David Milne and Paul Kane, both centred in reflecting some of the most important features of the country such as its traditions and landscapes. 1.5. Australia This country is ironically the sixth biggest country in the world and, at the same time, it is part of the smallest continent. Australia is one of the lowest-lying countries in the world. The whole continent was once part of the ancient supercontinent known as Gondwana, which separated over 200 million years ago into Africa, Australia and South America. Australian territory is formed by very different materials, both ancient and new. The rock variety created a very diverse landscape. Fossil records show that the desert interior has been, at various times in the past, both beneath the sea and covered in lush forest. The Great Dividing Range, which is the ‘spine’ of Australia, runs for 3,500 km down the Eastern seaboard separating the arid interior from the fertile coastal lowlands. It runs from the northern tip of Queensland right down to Victoria in the South. It is divided into three main blocks: the Mountains of Queensland, the Macpherson Range and the Blue Mountains. The latest formation, west of Sydney, was eroded by the many rivers that flowed through them, creating a vast canyon extension mixed with hill ridges. Besides the Great Diving Range, there are other elevations, mainly in the western area, where we can find massif chains relatively low (between 1,000 and 1,500 m) alternated with desert areas. After crossing the Great Diving Range, we descend into a different landscape which is called the red heart of Australia. Hundreds upon hundreds of miles of mostly flat, unchanging, arid landscape make up a desert area which is known as the Outback. Here we can find some interesting geological features. The most famous of these phenomena is the Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, a red sandstone monolith which stands alone in the middle of the desert.
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The predominant aridity of the country and the low average rainfall implies a lack of hydrological features. The most important one is probably the Great Artesian Basin, Australia’s most important water resource. Australia’s climate and vegetation is as varied as its landscape. In the northern region, we find a tropical climate with a dry season. It is a hot climate with the hottest season being also the most humid. It has high temperatures through the whole year and its vegetation has tropical features. In the eastern region of the country, a subtropical climate with hot summers and warm winters is found. The Tasmania Island has its own weather characteristics. It is an oceanic climate, humid, with strong rains almost throughout the whole year. Temperatures are lower than in the rest of the country. The last climate type we find in this country is Mediterranean, and it is found in the eastern regions of the country. Australia’s population level is low. The country barely reaches the 20 million of inhabitants, and, taking into account the wideness of the territory, demographic density hardly verged on the 3 inhabitants/km2. There are three main reasons for these data:
The geographic and climatic conditions: besides its extension, much of Australia’s areas are difficult to populate since they are arid and desert zones.
Australia is a belated populated country. First settlers did not arrive until the 19th century.
The country suffered strong restrictions against immigration. Only since the 1980’s, Australia’s borders opened to receive migratory waves.
Australia’s population is basically concentrated in urban areas near the coast. This country is one of the best examples of what we call ‘urban macrocephalia’ , this is, a concentration of most part of the total population in a few, enormous cities. These huge metropolises are Sydney (with more than 4 million inhabitants), Melbourne (3 million), Brisbane (1.3 million), Adelaide and Perth (1 million approx.). The first recorded European contact with Australia was in March 1606, when Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon (1571-1638) charted the west coast of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. Later that year, the Spanish explorer Luis Váez de Torres sailed through the strait separating Australia and Papua New Guinea. Over the next two centuries, European explorers and traders continued charting the coastline of Australia, then known as New Holland. In 1688, William Dampier became the first British explorer and in 1770 Captain James Cook, aboard the Endeavour, extended a scientific voyage to the South Pacific in order to further chart the east coast of Australia and claim it for the British Crown. Britain decided to use its new outpost as a penal colony. About 160.000 men and women were brought to Australia as convicts from 1788 until penal transportation ended in 1868. The convicts were joined by free immigrants beginning in the early 1790’s. The wool industry and the gold rushes of the 1850’s provided an impetus for increasing numbers of free settlers to come to Australia.
The Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 through the federation of six states under a single constitution. The non-Indigenous population at the time of Federation was 3.8 million, while the estimated Indigenous population was around 93.000. Half of the people lived in cities, three-quarters were born in Australia, and the majority was of English, Scottish or Irish descent. One of the first acts of the new Commonwealth Parliament was to pass the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, which limited migration to people of primarily European origin. This was dismantled progressively after the Second World War. Today Australia has a global, non-discriminatory policy and it is home to people from more than 200 countries. From 1900 to 1914 great progress was made in developing Australia’s agricultural and manufacturing capacities, and in setting up institutions for government and social services. The First World War had a devastating effect on Australia. In 1914 the male population of Australia was less than 3 million, yet almost 400.000 of them volunteered to fight in the war. An estimated 60.000 died and tens of thousands were wounded. The period between the two world wars was marked by instability. Social and economic divisions widened during the Depression years as many Australian financial institutions failed. During the Second World War, Australian forces made a significant contribution to the Allied victory in Europe, Asia and the Pacific. After 1945 Australia entered a boom period. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants arrived in Australia in the immediate post-war period. The economy developed strongly in the 1950’s. Other developments included the expansion of government social security programs and the arrival of television. Melbourne hosted the Olympic Games of 1956, shining the international spotlight on Australia. The 1960’s was a period of change for Australia. The ethnic diversity produced by post-war immigration, the United Kingdom’s increasing focus on Europe, and the Vietnam War (to which Australia sent troops) all contributed to an atmosphere of political, economic and social change. In 1967 the Australian people voted overwhelmingly in a national referendum to give the federal government the power to pass legislation on behalf of Indigenous Australians and to include Indigenous Australians in future censuses. It was widely seen as a strong affirmation of the Australian people’s wish to see their government take direct action to improve the living conditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In the 1970’s and 1980’s major changes in Australia’s social and economic policy agenda and extensive reforms in health, education, foreign affairs, social security and industrial relations took place in the country. In the 21st century Australia prepares to build a modern country equipped to meet the challenges of the future –climate change, health system, educational problems, and labour laws. Due to its historic features and the current globalization context, Australian culture is and has been strongly influenced and devoted to Western cultural currents. According to this, Australian culture, if not the most important, it is still a relevant exponent of English language culture.
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In literature, we can find important authors in almost any gender. Probably, the best known is Nobel Prize winner, Patrick White, author of novels such as The Vivisector, The Eye of the Storm and The Living and the Death. But we cannot forget about other important writers. In poetry, we should underline names such as Henry Lawson and C. J. Dennis and works such as The Sentimental Block. With works such as Illywhacer, Oscar and Lucinda, For the Term of His Natural Life and The Harp in the South, Australian’s novel covers a varied range of topics from traditional love, war, human relations and modern urban life. Australian drama is mainly based on Australian’s life and costumes. Among the most relevant figures, we find the previously mentioned Patrick White, but also more specific authors such as Steele Rudd, Ray Lawler, Alan Seymour and Nick Enright, whom we owe Australian’s best known plays. Probably the most significant ones are Rudd’s On Our Selection, Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and Enright’s A Property of the Clan. Some of them are also recognized overseas for their screenplays and television works. Although Australia has its own film industry, the country is better known for exporting cinema stars overseas. The precursor of this tendency was the actor Errol Flynn. This exodus of actors continued in posterior years. Relevant examples are Nicole Kidman, Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe or, more recently, Heath Ledger and Eric Bana. Historically, Australia’s most significant music genders have been folk and country. The first one is as old as immigration and although it is not very relevant beyond its frontiers, it is really popular in Australia’s territory. A similar thing happens with country music. This gender does not have a strong audience outside Australia and the US, but in these countries it is respected and relatively important. It has also exported some important artists like Olivia Newton John or Keith Urban, who have achieved great success in the USA. We cannot finish this section without mentioning some other figures Australia has given to other musical genders. Rock and pop stars like AC/DC and Kyllie Minogue and other successful bands (also difficult to classify) like the Bee Gees are also Australian. Australia also preserves some traditional and characteristic movements and culture expressions which belong to indigenous communities. 1.6. The Commonwealth The Commonwealth is an association of independent countries where English is the first or one of its official languages. It is home of two billion citizens of diverse ethnicities and faiths which belongs to different countries with historical, linguistic and political ties. Nowadays, it is ruled by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, a rotating group of nine Foreign Ministers, which assesses the nature of any infringement and recommends measures for collective action from member countries. It has the authority to suspend or even recommend to Heads of Government that a member country be expelled. Besides, there are three intergovernmental organisations in the association: the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Foundation, and the Commonwealth of Learning. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of the Commonwealth and Kamalesh Sharma, current Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, is the principal global advocate for the Commonwealth and Chief Executive of the Secretariat.
The idea for this union took root in the 19th century, when Canada became the first colony to be transformed in a self-governing ‘Dominion’ . This gradual change of the Empire continued and soon, other countries like Australia, New Zealand or South Africa followed Canada’s steps. After the First World War, all these countries became autonomous communities associated to the British Commonwealth of Nations. New countries like India achieved their independence and became members of this union. The decolonisation wave implied a quick growth of the association, with most of the African, Caribbean and Mediterranean old colonies like Ghana, Kenya, Malta and the Solomon Islands joining the Commonwealth. Nowadays, it is formed by 54 countries, including territories like Cameroon, Malaysia, Singapore, Nigeria or Jamaica besides of the aforementioned.
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2 METHODOLOGY Once we have established and studied some of the most relevant geographical, historical and cultural aspects of English-speaking countries is time to move on and get to the next level, since this knowledge is only the first step for achieving real socio-cultural skills. Reformulating some of the terms gathered in Developing the Intercultural Dimension in Language Teaching, socio-cultural competence would be the knowledge-acquisition of a different language that allows speakers both to satisfy their communicative needs and achieve a wider and deeper understanding of the way of life, thinking and behaviour of people with a different cultural heritage. According to Celce-Murcia et al. (1995), this field is composed of four main elements:
Socio-cultural factors: participants and situational variables such as age, gender, time, place…
Stylistic appropriateness factors: politeness strategies and conventions.
Non-verbal communicative factors: kinesics and proxemics.
Cultural factors: Socio-cultural background knowledge.
In today’s context, where we are heading towards a globalized society in which migratory currents and the transfer of workers are normal and frequent situations, we should prepare students for being able to manage themselves in this framework. This means that the classroom can no longer be a place to study the same old concepts but many other things (LoCastro, 1996). Adapting this situation to second-language teaching, means including second-language cultural features in the learning process. There are 3 different approaches to both general and language teaching: reproductive, analytical and speculative (Ballard, 1996). Today’s educational system confines these methods to the different stages in a student’s life. Following Ballard’s (1996) ideas, the reproductive approach –where teachers select, structure and transmit the information they consider relevant, and students memorize and reproduce it through homework and exams– should be the predominant one in primary and secondary education. In higher education, the main objective is to develop independent and analytical ways of thinking in order to force the students to develop their own ideas and judgements. Concepts are no longer fixed and teachers are not just sources of knowledge but guides who help the students to develop new skills and ideas. This sector would be dominated by the analytical approach. The last one, the speculative method, is characteristic of post-graduate studies, and is based in the constant extension revision and change of knowledge. Teachers should help, encourage and guide students in order to make them part of this process. However, as we have mentioned before, this division does not make sense anymore. Today’s education should be more active and must interrelate with new branches and disciplines. For second-language teaching, this implies combining language and socio-cultural concepts, in order to allow the student to acquire a wider and better control of the second language. One of the teachers’ main objectives should
be to give their pupils at least a basic socio-cultural background before they leave primary and secondary schools. This process is not easy and should be divided into different stages. Before we start drawing up a specific syllabus, we should take into account that every different culture is learned on the basis of the maternal one (Witte, 1993). This means that socio-cultural teaching has to be, inevitably, a comparative process (Matthes, 1992) where we are going to deal with two different cultures and we should know how to manage possible clashes and conflicts. So the first step would be to make the students aware of the problems of intercultural learning and establish a clear difference between generalization and stereotype to avoid possible misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the concepts they are going to learn. The next stage in developing socio-cultural awareness would be teaching the students the competences they should develop. We can develop them in three main blocks: the most relevant socio-cultural features of Englishspeaking countries, the different kinds of specific situations the student may face and the different roles involved in them (Witte, 1993). Focusing on these specific areas has three main goals (Zaninelli + ARNDT, 1993). First of all, it allows the students to recognize and allow perceptions of the world different to theirs; secondly, it teaches them the abilities necessary to change their own vision, so they can assimilate these phenomena and, finally, it gives them the competence to modify their behaviour in order to adapt it to these particular circumstances.
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3 APPLICATION TO THE CLASSROOM As we have said before, geographical, historical and cultural knowledge of Englishspeaking countries is just a base to start working. General notions in all these fields should be known, but achieving socio-cultural competence is much harder and requires daily work in other aspects. In order to achieve all the aforementioned goals, teachers should provide a combined approach to second language. According to this, they should mix traditional ways of teaching with new methods. The syllabus should be refocused in order to erase language acquisition as the central concern and transform English into a tool for achieving further and more detailed knowledge. Activities must vary and cannot be limited to traditional exercises like memory recall tests, summarising, identifying…, which are based on the application of formulae established prior to the activity. Teaching should no longer focus only in the education field, but try to reach and teach concepts related with very different spheres: social, professional and even ‘leisure’ skills should be included and taken into account when thinking about and designing course programs. These new guidelines should incorporate role plays placing the student in specific situations, comparative analysis of both cultures and more theoretical concepts of the socio-cultural main features of English-speaking countries. Teachers should also adapt their behaviour, give more freedom to students’ oral and written expression and encourage them to ask questions, promote their originality and arouse their curiosity. In short, teachers should not forget about traditional methods, but they should combine memorisation and imitation-based learning with the introduction of new concepts like sociocultural features and practical examples. The inclusion of these new elements should allow students to put themselves into intercultural, real situations and resolve possible conflicts that may appear. New methods should also promote analytical thinking and speculation; this may give students the necessary tools to improve both their language and socio-cultural competences in future courses whereas, at the same time, stimulates an autonomous approach to the subject by establishing a deeper connection between pupils and knowledge through the transference and incorporation of classroom concepts into their daily lives. There are different ways to put all these factors into practice, but we can provide some effective clues that may help teachers in their first steps. For example, it may be important to review text books in order to see how they introduce sociocultural competence in their syllabus and how we can improve and complement its approach. It is also advisable to provide some kind of test to the students at the beginning of the course to see what they already know about English culture, customs and traditions and establish a starting point and an average classroom level to begin developing proper activities.
Socio-cultural competence includes the concepts we presented in the first part of the unit together with other traditional features and habits that may affect or influence the communicative process. Teachers should be aware of these facts and include them in the learning process using both theoretical concepts and practical exercises.
CONCLUSION Knowing the most important geographical, historical and cultural features of English-speaking countries is essential to develop cultural awareness, one of the main aspects of socio-cultural competence which involves three other factors (socio-cultural, non-verbal communication and stylistic appropriateness) that affect the communicative process. Teachers should be aware of these notions and try to implement them in the classroom combining traditional methods with original activities such as role plays, study of typical texts and situationsâ€Ś
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REFERENCES BALLARD, B. (1996): ‘Through Language to Learning: Preparing Overseas Studies for Students in Western Universities’ . In COLEMAN, H. (ed.): Society and the Language Classroom, pp. 148168. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. BROMHEAD, P. (1988): Life in Modern America. 3rd ed. Harlow: Longman. BROMHEAD, P. (1991): Life in Modern Britain. 9th ed. London: Longman. BYRAM, M., GRIBKOVA, B., and STARKEY, H. (2002): Developing the Intercultural Dimension in Language Teaching. Available in http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/source/guide_dimintercult_ en.pdf CELCE-MURCIA, M., DORNYEI, Z., and THURRELL, S. (1995): Communicative Competence: A pedagogically Motivated Model With Content Specifications. Available in http://escholarship. org/uc/item/2928w4zj COLEMAN, H. (ed.) (1996): Society and the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Geografía Universal (2003): Barcelona: Salvat Editores. GOUDIE, A. S., and BRUNDSEN, D. (1994): The Environment of the British Isles. An Atlas. Oxford: Clarendon Press. HINKEL, E. (1999): Culture in Second Language Teaching and Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. IFOR, E. (1977): A Short History of English Literature. 4th ed. Harmondsworth: Penguin. LOCASTRO, V. (1996): ‘English Language Education in Japan’ . In COLEMAN, H. (ed.): Society and the Language Classroom, pp. 40-58. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. MACINTYRE, S. (2000): A Concise History of Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. MATTHES, J. (1992): ‘“Zwischen” den Kulturen?’ . In Zwischen den Kulturen? Die Sozialwissenschaften vor dem Problem des Kulturvergleichs. Göttingen: Schwartz. MÉNDEZ, R., and MOLINERO, F. (1998): Espacios y Sociedades. Introducción a la Geografía Regional del Mundo. Barcelona: Ediciones Ariel. MUSMAN, R. (1985): UK, USA. London: Macmillan Publishers. MUSMAN, R. (1986): Background to the USA. 4th ed. London: Macmillan Publishers. PATERSON, J. H. (1984): North America. New York: Oxford University Press. RICKARD, J. (1997): Australia: A Cultural History (The Present and the Past). London: Longman.
RODRÍGUEZ LÓPEZ-VÁZQUEZ, A. (1993): Symposium ‘Didáctica de Lenguas y Culturas’ . A Coruña: Universidade da Coruña. SKYLAR, R. (1994): Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies. New York: Vintage Books. THOMSON, D. (1965): England in the Twentieth Century. London: Penguin Books. THORP, W. (1962): La literatura norteamericana en el s. XX. Madrid: Tecnos. TRIM, J. L. M., and VAN EK, J. A.: ‘Socio-cultural Competence’ . In Vantage, pp. 95-105. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Available in: http://ebooks.cambridge.org/chapter.jsf ?bid=CBO9780511667114&cid=CBO9780511667114A017 VANSPANCKEREN, K. (2007): La literatura de los EEUU en Síntesis. Available in: http://www. usembassy-mexico.gov/bbf/le/usliteraturebrief_sp.pdf VV. AA. (1996): América del Norte, América Central y Grandes Antillas. Barcelona: Debate Ediciones. WEBBY, E. (2000): The Cambridge Companion to Australian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. WYTTE, H. (1993): ‘¿Es posible “enseñar” una cultura ajena?’ . In Symposium ‘Didáctica de Lenguas y Culturas’ , pp. 159-167. ZENZ, E., FUCHS, S., GROMANN, D., MELCHER, S., and RADSPIELER, M.: Socio-cultural Competence and Teaching Materials. Available in: http://scc.uni-graz.at/blog/wp-content/ uploads/projects/ss03/group_3.pdf
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WEBLIOGRAPHY www.AEC.gov.au www.about-australia.com www.america.gov www.australianhistory.org www.canadianbiodiversity.mcgill.ca www.census.gov www.countrystudies.us www.australia.gov.au www.dfat.gov.au www.fedstats.gov www.infoplease.com www.irelandinformation.com www.irishcultureandcustoms.com www.kclibrary.lonestar.edu www.statistics.gov.uk www.thecommonwealth.org www.trail-canada.com www.world.bymap.org www.yesaustralia.com
Geographical, historical and cultural aspects of english-speaking countries. Application to the classroom of the most relevant geografical, historical and cultural aspects. 1. 1 SOCIOCULTURAL COMPETENCE: GEOGRAPHICAL, HISTORICAL
AND CULTURAL ASPECTS OF ENGLISH-SPEAKING COUNTRIES 1.1. The United Kingdom It is formed by England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Landscape is complex and diverse.
Lowlands: mainly soft hills also known as ‘The Chalk’ .
Highlands: Northeast (north-western area, Scotland).
Grampian Mountains: separated from the Highlands by the Great Glen Fault.
Midland Valley: down the Grampian Mountains.
Southern Uplands: to the south.
Cambrian Mountains: in Wales.
Flora in the UK is poor. The 10 percent of the territory can be considered forest. Climate in the UK:
Moderate temperature. 13 ºC in England and 10 ºC in Scotland are the annual averages.
High humidity level, especially in the Northern area.
UK hydrography: Scant importance. The Thames and the Severn are its most important features. Population in the UK: about 63 million inhabitants –a high population rate, in fact, one of the highest in the European Union. 80 percent of the population of England in highdensity conurbations. Six of the seven conurbations in the UK are in England. UK history: Invasions and conquests: From the Romans to the Normans, the different invading countries had an impact on early English history. The conquest of Wales, Scotland and Ireland: Northern Ireland remains part of the UK and the Republic of Ireland is granted independence. The British Empire: The American colonies until their independence in 1783, and Canada and Australia, which achieved their independence in 1876 and 1901, were part of the huge British Empire. British intervention: In World War I and World War II, British intervention against Germany and Japan played a decisive role.
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In 1990 British forces took part in the Gulf War against Iraq and in the same year the fight against Argentina in the Falklands. The September 11th attacks in the USA and the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan led the British government to support Bush’s politics and increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks against the UK resulting in the London bombings on 7th July 2005. UK literature: From Defoe to Kipling and with poets like Sidney, Keats and Dylan Thomas, all of them have improved literature as a whole. British drama has given us some of the key figures in theatre history, including William Shakespeare, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Harold Pinter. Film: The UK has given us some of the best known actors and directors: Charles Chaplin, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Alfred Hitchcock… Music: Notable British composers have also an important role in classical, pop and rock music.
1.2. The Republic of Ireland
Geography: −− Mountains in the north and west of the country: Errigal, Carrantuohill. −− Plain in the centre surrounded by mountains and hills. −− Cliffs in the coast. −− Climate: mild, low temperature range, wet all through the country. −− Vegetation from mixed forest to vast farmland plains. −− Main rivers: The River Shannon.
Population: −− Four provinces: Cannacht, Munster, Leinster and Ulster shared with the UK. −− Main cities: Dublin, Galway, Cork, Belfast.
History: −− The invasions. −− The British dominance and the nationalist fight which in 1921 divided the country into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Culture: Outstanding figures in literature like Jonathan Swift, James Joyce or drama writer George Bernard Shaw; musicians like Van Morrison and Irish actors like Maureen O’Hara or Daniel Day-Lewis, who have provided an important contribution to European and American cinema.
1.3. The United States of America Then sheer size of the country makes it very difficult to generalize about its geographical relief. We find:
The Laurentian Uplands.
The East and the Gulf Coast.
The Plains and Highlands of the Interior.
The Western Mountains and Great Basin: They can be subdivided into: −− The Northern Rockies. −− The Middle Rockies. −− The Wyoming Basin. −− The Southern Rockies.
The Pacific Coast, Alaska and Hawaii: Alaska may be divided into: −− The Arctic Lowlands. −− The Rocky Mountain System. −− The Central Basins and Highlands Region. −− The Pacific Mountain system which includes Mount McKinley.
Most relevant hydrographical features in the United States: the Mississippi-Missouri river system, the Yukon, Columbia, Colorado, the Rio Grande… and the Great Lakes, the Great Salt Lake and Alaska’s Illiama. The climate in the USA is very different depending on the region. It varies from the tropical rain-forest of Hawaii and the tropical savannah in Florida to the subarctic and tundra climates of Alaska. The USA’s vegetation is as varied as its climate, ranging from the tundra in Northern Alaska to the taiga in the south, the forest in the North Carolina and Tennessee area and desert territories. The US population is focused on urban areas where 80 percent of Americans live. Immigration has played a huge role in USA’s demographic frame since the beginning. Population nowadays is around 313 millions. The most important minority is the Hispanic community followed by African-American people, Asia descent people and the Native American group which only represents the 1 percent of the US population. This diversity implies a huge variety of languages. The USA history: Before America declared its independence in 1776 a good number of countries attempted to build their Empire in North America (Spaniards, Russians, French and British). To govern the new nation, after the British defeat, in 1789 a new Constitution was created, ratified and took effect. George Washington was elected the first President. The differences between the industrialized North and the agricultural South, built upon slavery, led to the Civil War, which ended in 1865. The intervention of the United States in foreign affairs began with the war against Spain, the entry in the World War I and World War II. The Allied victory in 1945 gave the United States the leadership of the Western world and marked the beginning of the Cold War against the Soviet Union. The American intervention in Korea and Vietnam caused a moral crisis in the country. More recently the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon led to the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom and the intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lack of popularity of these conflicts and the economic recession led to the election of the first African American president Barack Obama in November 2008.
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US literature has provided the world with excellent writers and works like Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Henry James, who left us incredible works such as Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn and Daisy Miller. The 20th-century generation was formed by writers such as William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald who created magnificent literature with works such as The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, As I Lay Dying and A Farewell to Arms. The second half of the century included well-known figures such as Saul Bellow, J. D. Salinger, John Updike and Phillip Roth, or the most recent, Don DeLillo or Thomas Pynchon, with novels such as American Pastoral, The Catcher in the Rye and White Noise. Poets: Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound and T. S. Elliot. US theatre was in its prime during the period between the two world wars with authors like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, with classics such as Death of a Salesman and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Hollywood and its film industry have determined the current lifestyle of the western world. Directors like Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang in the past or Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen in the present, have had an impact on the past and present generations and will do the same with future ones. Music and genres such as jazz, blues, country and hip hop have influenced music all over the world.
Geographical features: Canada covers most of the North-American continent. A very varied topography. Eastward we found: −− Mountainous provinces and an irregular coastline in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. −− The St. Lawrence plain which extends southern of Quebec and Ontario. −− The interior continental plain through Manitoba, Saskatchewan and most of the Alberta area. Westward of the country: −− Mountain ranges including the Rockies covered several regions like British Columbia, the Yukon and part of Alberta. Mount Logan is the highest point in Canada.
Climate and Vegetation: Several differences within the country, with very low temperatures in certain areas and mild climate in the south-western coast. The Arctic Circle has freezing temperatures for most of the year. Flora in Canada varies from rainforest in the southern and western areas to deserts and badlands in some parts of the country and the arctic plains in the north.
Population and most important cities: Low demographical rates and a population estimated about 34 million. Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa (the capital) are the most important cities in the country.
History: the most significant historical events that have shaped Canadian history are French and British settlements and 17th-century fights. The French founded New France and Montreal in this century. The settlement of a Canadian central government in Ottawa in 1867 gave stability to the country. After a period of economic recession at the beginning of the 20th century, population increase and economy growth have confirmed Canada as one of the most important economic powers in the world.
Culture: Different nationalities and influences within the country give Canadian culture a diverse and interesting background. Outstanding writers as Margaret Atwood or Michael Ondaatje, film directors like David Cronenberg or James Cameron, painters forming ‘the Group of the Seven’ or ‘the Eleven Group’ have contributed to a renewal of the artistic movement and have influenced the world’s artistic movement.
Topographical features: −− The Great Dividing Range: the Mountains of Queensland, the Macpherson Range and the Blue Mountains. −− The Outback.
Hydrological features: the Great Artesian Basin.
Climate and flora: tropical in the northern region, subtropical in the eastern regions and the Tasmanian Island with its own oceanic climate.
Population: very low demographic density, mainly concentrated in the coast and huge cities like Melbourne, Brisbane or Sydney.
History: From its discovery in 1606, the British conquest, the Commonwealth of Australia, its contribution to the First and Second World War until the 21st-century country.
Culture: Literature: Outstanding figures in novel and drama such as Patrick White (The Vivisector, The Eye of the Storm or The Living and the Death) Henry Lawson or CJ Dennis in the first group and Steele Rudd, Ray Lawler, Alan Seymour or Nick Enright within the second. Actors and film directors like Errol Flynn, Russell Crowe or Mel Gibson are Australian too. Among musicians, we should highlight world-famous rock and pop artists like AC/DC or Kyllie Minogue. Australia keeps and preserves some traditional culture expressions.
1.6. The Commonwealth It is an association of independent countries where English is the first or one of its official languages. It has its roots in the old British colonies and it is currently formed by 54 members from different regions of the world. This list includes India, Jamaica, Kenya, Malta or Malaysia. They all share cultural, historical and social features.
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2. 2 METHODOLOGY Socio-cultural competence can be defined as the knowledge-acquisition of a different language that allows speakers to satisfy their communicative needs and leads to a better understanding of a different way of life, behaviour and culture. It is formed by four main factors: socio-cultural, cultural, non-verbal communication and stylistic appropriateness. Teachers should include all these concepts in the second-language classroom. There are three approaches to the task, applied frequently to different educational stages:
Reproductive: for primary and secondary; teachers select and structure and students reproduce and imitate.
Analytical: for higher education. Here, the teacher is a guide.
Speculative: for post-graduate studies. The teacher helps to the constant revision of knowledge.
3. 3 APPLICATION TO THE CLASSROOM Today’s education should mix the three methods and combine language and sociocultural background. So, at an initial stage, students should be aware of the problems of intercultural learning. At a second stage, students must develop competence in the language, discovering relevant traits of English society, facing specific situations and getting involved in them. Teachers should combine traditional and new methods. It is advisable to use memory recall tests and exercises, but also other activities like role playing, allowing the student to face practical situations.
EVALUATION 1. How many conurbations are there in the UK? a. Five: Dublin, Glasgow, Lancashire, Merseyside and the Midlands area. b. Six: Glasgow, the London area, Lancashire, Tyneside, Merseyside and Yorkshire. c. Seven: The London area, Tyneside, Lancashire, Merseyside, the Midlands area, Yorkshire and Glasgow. d. Eight: The London area, Tyneside, Lancashire, Merseyside, the Midlands area, Yorkshire, Bristol and Glasgow. 2. The most important mountainous features in the UK are: a. Highlands, Grampian Mountains, Southern Uplands, Pennine Mountains and Cambrian Mountains. b. Highlands, Grampian Mountains, Southern Uplands, Pennine Mountains, Cambrian Mountains and the Lowlands. c. Highlands, Southern Uplands, Pennine Mountains and Cambrian Mountains. d. Highlands, Grampian Mountains, Southern Uplands, Pennine Mountains, the Rocky Mountains and the Cambrian Mountains. 3. Among USA’s most relevant hydrographical features we can find: a. the Rio Grande, the Colorado River and the Thames. b. the Mississippi-Missouri river system, the Rio Grande and the Great Lakes. c. Lake Michigan, the Mississippi-Missouri river system and the Great Artesian Basin. d. rivers Mackenzie, Colorado and Yukon. 4. Which armed conflicts have marked USA’s history in the 21st century? a. Iraq, Vietnam and Korea. b. Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. c. Afghanistan and Iraq. d. Iraq, the Cold War and Vietnam. 5. Which of the next writers is NOT a Nobel Prize winner? a. Rudyard Kipling. b. Samuel Beckett. c. Margaret Atwood. d. George Bernard Shaw.
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6. Which of the next geographical features are all Australian? a. The Great Diving Range, the Uluru and the Mountains of Queensland. b. The Uluru, Mount Logan and St. Lawrence River. c. The Mountains of Queensland, Carrantuohill and the Rockies. d. The Great Diving Range, the Rockies and Mount Logan. 7. The Commonwealth is currently formed by: a. 65 countries. b. 45 countries. c. 58 countries. d. 54 countries. 8. Ireland is divided into: a. four provinces: Connacht, Munster, Cork and Ulster. b. four provinces: Connacht, Munster, Leinster and Ulster. c. five provinces: Connacht, Munster, Cork, Dublin and Ulster. d. two provinces (Connacht and Munster) and two counties (Cork and Dublin). 9. Socio-cultural competence: a. is an irrelevant fact for both communicative and learning process. b. is a relevant fact involved both in communicative and learning process. c. is a discourse syntactical feature. d. is a skill only teachers should be aware of. 10. According to Celce-Murcia et al., socio-cultural competence is composed of: a. four Factors: cultural, socio-cultural, non-verbal communication and stylistic appropriateness. b. three factors: socio-cultural, non-verbal communication and stylistic appropriateness. c. five factors: cultural, socio-cultural, non-verbal communication, stylistic appropriateness and proxemics. d. five factors: cultural, socio-cultural, non-verbal communication, stylistic appropriateness and kinesics.
Published on May 13, 2012