Integration of Language and Culture in the Elementary Telugu Curriculum

Telugu belongs to the Dravidian language family and is the second most spoken language in India with more than 80 million speakers. Telugu is mainly spoken in and is the official language of the state of Andhra Pradesh in India. It was given classical language status by the Government of India in 2008 because of its rich thousand-year-old literature. Telugu is highly influenced by Sanskrit. To date, there is no comprehensive textbook for teaching Telugu to heritage and non-heritage language students. The formal method that has been followed so far has not been very successful in developing communication skills and introducing Telugu culture to students. Language and culture are inseparable. Traditionally, culture was thought of in terms of art, music, philosophy, cuisine etc. But culture also means the traditions, values, beliefs, and customs that a particular society shares. It is reflected in the following statement from the National Center for Cultural Competence (NCCC):

“NCCC defines culture as an integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, languages, practices, beliefs, values, customs, courtesies, rituals, manners of interacting and roles, relationships and expected behaviors of a racial, ethnic, religious or social group; and the ability to transmit the above to succeeding generations. The NCCC embraces the philosophy that culture influences all aspects of human behavior.”
“The exquisite connection between the culture that is lived and the language that is spoken can only be realized by those who possess a knowledge of both” (National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 1999, p. 47).

The purpose of learning any living language is to communicate in that language. By following the traditional learning methods, it takes longer to achieve proficiency in communication. Also it is not possible to teach a lot about culture using a textbook. So there is a need for alternative methods and resources to integrate culture and language. My integration of language and culture project originated from of the realization that classroom teaching with formal grammatical methods is not enough for students to develop cultural awareness and communication skills. Film clips in general can give a better cultural experience and understanding than a regular textbook because they show clearly how people think and behave in a given situation. By using film clips, it is my objective to improve listening comprehension, reinforce language and linguistic skills learned in class, develop interpretive skills, and help students gain more cultural knowledge and experience.

Since videos are attractive, eye-catching, and interesting, students cannot help but notice them and will be motivated to learn the language. For the students, the instructor is one of a very few who communicate with them in Telugu. Therefore, video clips can expose students to more authentic language, more day-to-day communication. A video clip can also be used as an introduction to a topic or to emphasize the main points and vocabulary of the lesson taught in the classroom. Moreover, video clips have the advantage that they may be played repeatedly and a limitless number of times. When the video clip is used for homework or an assignment, students can work at their own pace by repeatedly playing the clip, understanding the situation, and answering questions. Sometimes the films may not portray the reality of the society. In such cases, other images or clips can be used to show the students real-life situations. In this project, I attempted to create a model curriculum for an Elementary Telugu course integrating language and culture using film clips. The goals for this model unit were to improve the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing in a cultural framework.

Model unit of curriculum
As part of my project, I have developed a model unit of curriculum on the topic of Greetings. Objectives of this unit are to learn how to exchange greetings, how to use appropriate greetings, and to learn cultural values.

There are different ways of greeting in Telugu, such as formal (familiar, unfamiliar), informal, and modern, based on age, social status, social rank, etc. All these will be explained with audio/video conversation, text, cultural notes, and grammar. Namaskaram or Namaste is the common word for greeting somebody in Telugu. It can be used anytime of the day.

The words “Are you well?” or “How are you?” will ways follow the greeting word Namaste.

In exchanging greetings, it is customary to fold your hands and sometimes to shake hands. Salutation, bowing the head, touching one’s own heart, touching the feet of the person whom you want to greet or folding hands without saying anything are also other ways of exchanging greetings that are practiced in Telugu. In informal greeting, the words dandalu, which is also the greeting of God, is used as substitute to Namaskaram. Just folding hands or bowing the head are also expression of greetings. Ayya, Ayya garu are added as honorific suffixes to the addressee and another honorific suffix, andi, is used to the greeting itself.

Telugu language has variety of dialects such as regional, class, religious, caste, and in some cases family. All these dialects are not adequately covered in typical classroom materials. In textbooks only one kind of language—standard language—is used. Also a textbook can only help the reader to imagine, but it does not give the same feeling as a video clip. Film clips can help the viewers experience real-life situations and help to learn the culture.

Cultural notes:
Family members and friends use the informal form of address by using the pronoun you- singular with each other.

In the formal address the pronoun you or reflexive pronoun you-plural and honorific suffixes like andi, gaaru, ayya, ayya garu, amma garu, etc. are used.

To illustrate the formal address, the following film clip is used. The clip is taken from the Telugu movie Bangaru chilaka (Parrot).

Integration of Language and Culture in the Elementary Telugu Curriculum

In the above conversation, the landlord is addressed with the greeting of God, with plural suffix, and two other honorific suffixes at the end. In return the laborer was addressed in the singular.

I have used the film clips from the Telugu movie Godavari in order to show the addressing and kinship terms. Godavari is the name of a river in South India.

In this clip, we see the old lady was addressed as grandmother even though she was not related to the person. It is Telugu custom to address people with kinship terms or honorific suffixes. This clip also shows asking personal questions such as what the caste is and why she was traveling alone, etc. It is quite common to ask personal questions in Telugu culture.

Integration of Language and Culture in the Elementary Telugu Curriculum

Process for using film clips
Film clips are provided by the BLC. Each video clip was given a title and had to be prepared before use in class. The preparation involved “tagging” and “annotating” the clip. The description, vocabulary, and tags were added during this process. Questions were added to the clip so that they pop up at the right place while the clip is running as illustrated in the clip shown.

The questions were all in English, as students would not be answering them in the target language. A worksheet with questions in Telugu and requiring responses in Telugu was also prepared. These clips can be ordered through the BLC website. The link to clip was placed on bSpace (the course management system) to enable in-class viewing or for students to view at home. The text will be given in Telugu with extracted vocabulary. Also a grammar lesson and cultural notes will be prepared. Exercises will be given at the end to reinforce what was learned.

There was a good response to the use of film clips in classroom. Following are few comments from students:
“I think the clips are very important for the class. It is important to understand the Indian culture and to learn how to communicate non-verbally within the Indian community.”

“The most helpful has been watching Telugu clips, in which we are able to observe hand gestures, facial expressions, and colloquial language.”

“We learned to understand social structures or specific costumes of the people of Andhra Pradesh.”

As you can read in students’ own words, using the film clips has enhanced the overall classroom experience of learning Telugu.

Integration of culture in the language classroom is a new concept, especially for South Indian languages that use exclusively traditional methods to teach language.

It is also a challenging and interesting experience for the instructor to pick an appropriate video clip, as well as to prepare the framework and materials based on it. It is my hope that this project can be used to teach Telugu effectively at UC Berkeley.

1. Lange, Dale L. “The teaching of culture in foreign language courses” in Modules for the professional preparation of teaching assistants in foreign languages, Grace Stovall Burkart, ed. 1998. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

2. Kaiser, Mark and Richard Kern. 2009. “Motivating students using various classroom techniques,” Presentation at the Language Lecturers’ Workshop, Department of South and South East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley.