In the summer of 2008, I was living in Japan for a few months and working on my dissertation. I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by Ms. Folake Abass of the JALT GALE sig. In that interview I first laid the groundwork for my thoughts about distinguishing between linguistic system and linguistic culture.
Abass, F. & Harrison, M. (2008).Discovering voices, discovering selves: A dissertation about language and sexuality in Japan. GALE Newsletter, Spring 2008. http://tokyoprogressive.org/gale-sig/Spring%202008%20Newsletter.pdf
I quote James Gee about the nature of language teaching as being much more complex than simply “language”. Language teaching involves teaching culture as well. From here I began to realize that for many language learners, a language stops at a book. There is never much of an opportunity for application of skills and the language becomes merely a topic to be studied.
In my case (it is through my lens that my own wonder and hence, analysis, are presented in this project), it was Spanish, the textbook was Nuestros Amigos, and the culture consisted of food, television, and my housekeeper, while the system consisted of constant tests, wrong answers, irregular verb conjugations, nasty classmates, etc. My affect attributed to Spanish was festive and optimistic but ultimately eclipsed by the affect of the challenges I faced at that period in my life (Spanish was one more challenge to fail at during a period where I was already overloaded); in short, I never found my driving need.
When the target language (system) has a home, a community, a people, in short can actually be experienced to the extent where a need for acquisition is recognized (and this is highly personal and context-dependent), the cultural aspects of the language may finally come alive and new insights into the value and usefulness of the linguistic system may be gained.