1In the Spanish context of Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP), teaching a specialized language and teaching a language for specific purposes are now seen as two sides of the same coin. On one side is the theoretical approach. On the other side is the practical approach of providing learners with the necessary tools for communication in a specific context with specific aims. Critical in examining these perspectives is what one considers as culture. These concerns are discussed in the four sections of this article:
Common views on the definition of cultural content for Business Spanish curricula.
Establishing relevant cultural content through a previous needs analysis.
A proposal to define cultural content in Business Spanish curricula.
Implications for including culture in LSP: a specific methodology.
2In the Spanish teaching context of the last two decades, it has been generally accepted that the concept lengua de especialidad, taken from the French langue de specialité, includes the nature and variations of a language when it deals with a specific field, as stated by Moreno (1999: 4) or Martín & Sabater (2011: 16). These specific fields have been traditionally classified into two categories: scientific-technical and legal-economic. The concept lengua de especialidad in the Spanish teaching context refers mainly to a theoretical approach that focuses on the analysis of specialized language.
3This approach points out the specificity of certain lexical, grammatical or pragmatic phenomena as well as speech and text typology. On the basis of ‘specificity’, different focuses of analysis have been emphasized since the sixties. Initially stress was put on the use of different ‘levels of language’ that must be considered when preparing a language course (Halliday & McIntosh 1964: 202). A decade later, particular emphasis was placed on the target situation, whose models of analysis were developed primarily by Munby (1978).
4During the eighties, what could be called a more “practical” approach analyzed the role that the development of the four communication skills (listening, reading, speaking and writing) had in the learning process. Starting from this model, Hutchinson and Waters presented their learning-centred approach (1987) which focused, in a very innovative way, on methodology and the learning process itself. Development in the field of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) has strongly influenced the approaches used in teaching Spanish as a foreign language and also in teaching LSP. The main distinction that teaching Spanish for specific purposes implies is that, besides discourse analysis, of contexts and of communicative needs in a specialized domain, certain methodological differences must be taken into account and need further research.
5In the current context of increasing complexity in professional relations and new communication technologies, answers are needed for these three questions:
How is a specialized language used by certain users when it comes to effectively managing communicative situations?
What other non linguistic factors play a role and when?
How should they be integrated into the learning process?
6In the teaching of language in its general scope, culture has taken a predominant role following the consolidation of the communicative approach and task-based learning in the nineties. It is widely accepted that language learning implies cultural comprehension alongside linguistic acquisition. This linguistic acquisition can hardly be complete or may even be ineffective if it is not accompanied by correct use in a cultural sense. However, this general affirmation is still a problematic issue when it comes to including cultural content in learning materials or syllabuses. What aspects of culture should be included in each stage of the learning process? How can culture be taught so that it avoids stereotypes or axiomatic messages?
7Quite a few studies have addressed the aforementioned questions concerning General Spanish teaching. The questions have also been applied to teaching Spanish for specific purposes. However, thorough research on cultural matters in this domain is still scant.
8The ideas of Hofstede (Aguirre 2011: 125) and Trompenaars (Felices 2004: 8) have definitely influenced the business Spanish curricula. Using their theories, a series of oppositional cultural groups have been defined according to the relation they display towards variables such as space, time, hierarchy or personal emotions.
9Following the principles of Trompenaars and Hofstede, manual authors have selected cultural content on the basis of a categorization of attributes that business groups in different Spanish-speaking countries are supposed to have. In his conclusions, based on empirical data collected through questionnaires worldwide, Hofstede (2001: 11) provided a categorization of cultural components that are present in work organizations, taking national cultural patterns as the main reference to establish categorization. This fact, however, does not imply that we can always find the same components being displayed by different groups with the same nationality or even by all members integrating one group.
10Other theories such as Hall’s, have also had an impact on teaching manuals for Business Spanish (Aguirre 2011: 121). Hall classifies culture in two dimensions, context and time, where he distinguishes cultural groups according to their level of dependence on the situational context or their concept of time (Aguirre 2011: 124).
11Provided that intercultural communication is based on predictable and to some extent pre-established assumptions, some widespread axiomatic messages have been persistent in the teaching context of business Spanish, such as:
Foreign professionals must know and understand the fact that Spanish-speaking professionals come late to business meetings (Felices 2003: 18-19).
Business negotiations take place in restaurants (Lozano & Vaquero 2005: 111).
Meetings last for a long time as a lot of irrelevant, even personal issues are discussed before coming to the point (idem).
Spaniards often interrupt others during professional meetings and nobody should feel uncomfortable for this reason (Tano 2009: 28; Iriarte & Núñez 2009: 28-29).
12The opposition between different national groups interacting with each other has been thoroughly studied from the perspective of discourse analysis by Scandinavian researchers. Fant & Grindsted (1995) did research on the analysis of discourse of Scandinavian and Spanish business negotiators when they interacted with each other in business meetings. They first identified the interlocutors’ professional objectives and then determined professional aims to be a fundamental variable in intercultural professional communication. Furthermore, participants’ data such as nationality, age, professional background and goals relevant for the communicative situations they were participating in were described.
13With professional objectives as the focus, a clear objective of the discourse analysis was also established: it would focus on the discursive strategies used by each party to achieve communicative goals. Fant’s research (1989) showed that communicative goals influence the type of cultural information provided by each communicative situation.
14A further crucial element dealt with by Fant and Grindsted (1995) is the differentiation between ‘stable’ cultural values and ‘situation-dependent’ values. Situation-dependent values are those which are easier to change and adapt to each situation, such as management of time, manners or dressing. Stable values are described as those which are less subject to change, more attached to mentality or a certain way of making things work. Fant’s approach (2007) proposes changeability as a key factor in interculturality. Cultural information provided by teaching manuals must be adapted to different contexts and communicative situations. This fact needs to be emphasized in order to avoid counterproductive effects and essentialist views of culture, a phenomenon which was criticized by Dahlén (1997), among others.
15Understanding cultural content as simply a result of opposition between cultural groups can lead to develop curricula which are, regrettably, 1) completely independent from linguistic acquisition and communication effectiveness and 2) irrelevant for learners’ communicative needs.
16There is a general consensus on using the model of needs analysis to define linguistic and communicative content in curricula for specific purposes. I propose using this method to determine learners’ needs in relation to the cultural component for specific purposes.
17Some general key questions need to be answered when planning a syllabus for specific purposes: why would course participants need the kind of specific course that we are planning? And what do they want the course for? These questions, which may seem quite obvious at first, do not necessarily have to be asked in regard to a course for general Spanish. The content is based on the Plan Curricular del Instituto Cervantes and by taking general Spanish courses, students accept the assumptions and requirements generally established by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
18The answers to the aforementioned questions are usually found through an analysis of learners’ needs. The model of needs analysis, derived from Munby’s framework, is considered the first step to establishing a course syllabus for specific purposes. Needs analysis can be done by collecting data from the course participants with questionnaires or interviews. However, a more solid needs analysis can be provided by identifying communicative situations derived from the professional functions and goals. A selection of professional goals is the first step to conceiving a syllabus for specific purposes.
- 1 Curricular Plan for Business Spanish.
19Within the framework of a communicative situation, professionals will have to work out specific tasks which imply both oral and written communication skills. Swales’ proposal for a definition of task (1990: 75) points out that “tasks are clearly ‘sequenceable’ both in practice and theory, […] the activity needs to be ‘goal-directed’ for assignation of task status”. A sequence of tasks has also been called an ‘event’, a term which is also used by the Plan Curricular de Español de los Negocios1 (Martín & Sabater 2011: 26).
20According to Munby (1978: 98), communicative events
derive basically from the nature of the participant’s work and the interaction of relevant inputs from the following variables: occupational/educational purpose, physical setting, role-set, medium, mode and channel […] Those activities, from which grammatical features eventually derive, are later processed into microfunctions and then linguistically realized.
21This identification of events shows that the specialized language in a specific professional field may vary according to working positions, professionals’ communicative aims, their speech partners and their situational context. It is clear that, besides specialized vocabulary and syntax, a wide range of pragmatic and intercultural skills is needed.
22This is illustrated in the following diagram (figure 1).
Figure 1. The role of the cultural component in professional communication
23A needs analysis based on linguistic features can be done by looking into a specific communicative situation integrated into a professional event. Once communicative needs for a specific situation have been identified, discourse analysis will provide information on grammatical, lexical or functional elements that learners need to acquire.
24However, communicative situations may not always clarify what kind of cultural content is involved. Cultural content is better identified in events or tasks, where professional decision-making influences communicative goals and strategies. In this regard, the authors Martín & Sabater have designed the Plan Curricular de Español de los Negocios, which displays the B1-B2 content of the Plan Curricular del Instituto Cervantes, focusing on the further specification of communicative functions and means for the business context. Among other elements, cultural references and content are kept the same as in the general Spanish curricula. It seems then that neither needs nor discourse analysis have been used to further describe cultural content for professional purposes.
25The analysis of communicative needs can provide useful information on relevant cultural elements to be considered in a course syllabus, but it is still a pending issue whether to connect the conclusions of discourse analysis in the professional field with the cultural components that the communicative functions may refer to. This has led to a diffuse notion of what cultural content is in foreign language teaching for professional purposes. The identification of cultural elements in business Spanish must be related to a needs analysis, similar to the one that has been made to identify linguistic needs. This will provide a selection of cultural content relevant to learners’ needs and consistent with the linguistic elements of a syllabus.
26Culture in business is changeable and adaptable, so the question is how cultural content can be defined and transmitted so that learners can use cultural information in a practical way and connect it with communicative and professional goals. To achieve this, three types of cultural content can be included in LSP manuals.
27The first type of cultural content proposed here deals with what Fant and Grindsted call ‘stable cultural values’ (1995: 114). Fant (1989: 250) had argued that values may change in the different cultures but undoubtedly, influence in a certain way the different steps of doing business. These values coincide with a national mentality that has been modeled by a series of variables. Values attached to mentality are, therefore, difficult to adapt to a different scenario and usually persist in changing situations. As an example, Fant mentions the way of conceiving group membership, self-assertiveness or cooperativeness in negotiations. Fant examined empirical data in order to measure to what extent certain cultural values determined communication between Spaniards and Scandinavians.
28However, although we could find stable values playing a role in e.g. negotiation types, it has not been proven that this kind of information has a practical impact on successful language learning or on successful intercultural business communication. In order to become meaningful, a set of values needs to be contextualized in communicative situations and connected with communicative tools and functions. At the same time, communicative functions need to be associated with specific cultural meanings in order to become effective.
29Below is an example from activity 1.3 in Felices’ reference manual for business and culture in the Spanish-speaking context (2004: 14-15):
- 2 El negociador o negociadora de Argentina: correcto, cordial, emotivo, le da importancia a la famili (...)
What is the negotiator in Argentina like? He is correct, friendly and emotional, family is important to him, he respects hierarchies, he dresses in a conservative way, he usually respects timetables although he can accept short delays2. (Our translation)
30Setting aside whether or not this description of an Argentinian negotiator is based on empirical research, it brings to mind an ideal of the Argentinian ‘mentality’. It seems in this example that national features have been transferred to the business ‘personality’. However, to what extent is this kind of information relevant for learning purposes? How can this information be used by a professional in a practical way? Does it not imply a pre-conceived idea of how Argentinian negotiators should be? What happens when our learners meet business Argentinians who do not match this description? Does this information give us a hint as to how Argentinians ‘make things work’ in business?
31The activity then provides the following information: if a foreigner is going to work in Argentina, he/she should know that waiting for a negotiator before a meeting is quite normal. In the example provided by the book, an impatient German negotiator leaves before the Argentinian negotiator has arrived. The solution offered for this cultural conflict is then a writing task where the German negotiator apologizes for his leaving and asks for a new appointment.
32Regarding this solution, learners could ask themselves the following questions: how long is the foreigner supposed to wait? Is the foreigner never entitled to feel rejection because of a delay? Is there a justified cause for the delay? Is it a strategy or is it just carelessness? An alternative solution to this conflict could be to call the delayed person on the phone if the person waiting considers that the delay is becoming too long. This alternative depends on the individual’s concept of time, if both parties have intercultural skills they will find a mid-point between their respective time concepts.
33This idea of ‘making people wait for an interview or a meeting’ is also recurrent in the Spanish context. This matter is connected to social habits, where being on time is a more flexible concept than in other countries. However, there are reasonable limitations to delays and new technologies have made it inexcusable to make someone wait without giving him/her notice.
34In short, the kind of information that has to do with social behaviours in business should not be automatically assumed. We could talk about a ‘globalized’ common sense where correctness in appointments and first contacts is appreciated in a very similar way. Precisely these matters that have to do with time concepts have been globalized by the new communication technologies.
35When dealing with cultural content that derives from the national context, the practical relevance of information must always meet the learners’ needs. In the following example I propose here, a German enterprise is carrying out negotiations with a Spanish architecture firm for a construction project in Germany. After several months of negotiations, the Germans are getting frustrated as they have not managed to sign a written contract with the Spanish company. At the same time, the Spanish architects assure them of their commitment and that they have already started to work on the project. The Germans suspect that reluctance to sign a contract can mean a possible lack of engagement, while the Spaniards consider German anxiety as a sign of unjustified mistrust as they are already actively involved in the project. This case study will be useful for learners who are likely to open businesses or look for counterparts in Spanish-speaking countries.
36An analysis of the tendency towards the use of verbal contracts in the Spanish context will surely help our learners to react positively when a trust relationship is being developed. According to A. Señor’s research, ‘trust’ and ‘flexibility’ are considered important values when setting up negotiations (Señor 2002: 940). These values reflect the ‘personality’ of the Spanish negotiator, which is then connected to cultural values at a national scale.
37The questions of ‘trust’ and ‘flexibility’ in the business system means that unnecessary bureaucracy might be avoided and verbal contracts would usually be seen as valid as written ones if a trust relationship exists. In this case, an extended practice which may find an explanation in national cultural values is also validated by law. Article 51 of the Spanish Commercial Code establishes freedom of choice in the business contract form. Foreign investors and enterprises should be aware of the common practice of verbal contracts and their possible consequences in order to decide what to do in each case.
38Cultural content associated with national values is not only relevant for direct interaction, oral or written: it is also valuable knowledge for decision-making in different business areas. For example, international businesses attempting to capture the attention of a target audience in the Spanish market will need to become familiar with national cultural values, habits and widespread social concepts in order to develop successful marketing strategies.
39The Spanish teacher’s objective is not to provide learners with the right answers to professional practice. Learners will use their own professional experience, their common sense and their professional goals to make their own decisions when they are in possession of enough relevant cultural information.
40The second type of cultural content proposed here is also connected with national cultural structures, even though remarkable variations can be found in the business field and even in the different activity sectors.
- 3 The difference between tú and usted is generally considered sociolinguistic. However, we will see t (...)
- 4 Royal Spanish Academy.
41One relevant issue here is the use of tú and usted (translated in French as tu and vous) in the business context3. The pragmatic use of these two pronouns is influenced by cultural concepts both in the general language context and in the business context. Generally speaking, the first difference between both pronouns refers to the informal (tú) and the formal (usted) registers. According to the RAE4 definition (2005), usted implies certain emotional distance, courtesy and formality. In principle, this definition seems to relate closely to the business context.
- 5 The pragmatic use of usted and ustedes varies in the different Spanish-speaking countries. The exam (...)
42The Plan Curricular de Español de los Negocios associates the use of usted and the formal register to hierarchies in business (Martín & Sabater 2011: 41). However, the use of usted in business relations in Spain5 does not always coincide with a hierarchical rank. It certainly has some special features which are seldom taken into account in teaching Spanish as a foreign language despite its relevance in successful intercultural communication.
43As stated in our previous example, trust and flexibility are two key values that play a significant role in business relations. Expressing courtesy, formality and emotional distance hardly helps to create a trustful and flexible atmosphere. On the contrary, in a wide range of business communicative situations, proximity and personal acknowledgement become relevant rather than hierarchies and formality. Thus, the use of usted will be maintained in order to make a first contact with a potential business partner but it will be abandoned once contact has been established and mutual interest in the relationship has been implicitly or explicitly expressed. Consequently, first names will be used instead of surnames:
Estimada Sra. López > Estimada Pilar.
44Once first contact has been established, personal acknowledgement is made by expressing emotional proximity. Carrying on using the formal register (surname, usted) would hinder trust and would express the opposite to commitment. On the contrary, it stresses emotional distance and courtesy, values that are irrelevant for Spanish negotiators who want to build a fruitful and clear business relation.
45The use of usted is generalized when a hierarchy needs to be stressed or built. For instance, in communication with clients, the addresser will keep the formal register as a way to put the client on the higher level of a figurative hierarchy. Students addressing teachers or patients addressing doctors would use the formal register also to create a figurative ‘hierarchy’.
- 6 These data were obtained from a survey delivered to 13 professionals holding middle management posi (...)
46Therefore, the formal register is generally used when it has the objective of stressing a hierarchy and it is usually abandoned when expressing trust and commitment makes hierarchy irrelevant. Concerning the use of the formal register when addressing a superior in business hierarchies, remarkable differences can be found in various activity sectors. Soler-Espiauba (1994: 204) notes that hierarchy differences are pointed out by the use of usted in the bank sector. However, professionals who hold middle and management positions in other sectors such as culture, education, social media, food and drinks factories, social services, catering, technology or the construction sector have stated that they do not use usted to address supervisors6.
47Besides the activity sector, differences can also be found in relation to the position that the professional holds. A receptionist in a hotel is much more likely to address the hotel director in a formal way than a professional who holds a middle position at the same hotel.
48Thus, the widespread concept of a conservative hierarchy as a key value in the Spanish business organizational structure (Iriarte 2009: 28-29) is not necessarily connected to the use of usted with bosses and supervisors in many activity sectors (Señor 2002: 204). A few activities have been proposed in the manual Socios 2 (Martínez & Sabater 2008: 46) on cultural business norms in the different sectors.
49The third type of cultural content proposed here has to do with the broadening of the concept of culture itself. As can be observed in our previous examples, ‘culture’ coincides with legal issues in the first example and sociolinguistic content in the second. Culture in business is the result of different processes that influence decision-making. These processes derive inevitably from all issues that play a role in business, such as values and social behaviour but also economic, political and legal frameworks.
50A wide range of ‘cultural’ knowledge also involves information related to economics, law, politics and social structure in business organizations. All this information shapes the addresser’s communicative goals and decisions and it influences the addressee’s comprehension of the communicative situation. An anti-discrimination policy, for example, can modify many aspects in labour relations, the same way as an economic recession strongly influences business priorities and strategies.
51As Tayeb (1994: 439) stated, economic and political events have an impact on social behaviour and values and thus, they can be considered as part of cultural variables. A wider sense of the notion of culture is thus necessary to compose curricula in LSP.
- 7 E.g. The manual Expertos (M. Tano 2009: 34-35) offers cultural information on collective negotiatio (...)
52Some recent manuals, such as Expertos (Tano 2009), Empresa siglo XXI (Iriarte & Núñez 2009) or Al día (Prost & Noriega 2010) offer interesting approaches on a wider concept of cultural content, including economic or legal issues as a source of cultural information. The main problem arising from this genre of cultural content is the need for constant updating. For example, a change in legal provisions regarding the labour market or bureaucratic procedures for opening new enterprises can affect cultural behaviour in business7.
53The recent Plan Curricular de Español de los Negocios (ibid. 2011: 41) underscores the communicative functions that are most commonly used in the business field. However it does not provide specific cultural references for professional purposes. In this regard, it merely refers to the cultural content listed in the Plan Curricular del Instituto Cervantes. The absence of specific cultural content in a Curricular Plan for LSP shows that cultural content has been adapted to professional environments but a methodological approach for teaching culture with specific purposes is still in process.
54The dimension of culture that dominates LSP teaching does not always coincide with the anthropological conclusions about what interculturality is (Trujillo 2002). Cultural information in LSP cannot be exclusively provided by ‘opposing’ two different ‘behavioural frames’ that may have some influence on oral discourse. In the end, this information is frequently irrelevant when real communicative situations take place.
55Globalization and the new communication technologies tend to create a type of negotiator or business agent that is becoming gradually more active internationally and is acquiring a ‘globalized’ way of behaving in oral exchanges with international partners.
56It is becoming more difficult to find examples of negotiations that have been disrupted because of behavioural or gestural differences. A blundering use of linguistic pragmatics and a lack of cultural knowledge in a wider sense are most commonly the reasons for misunderstanding in business relations and unsuccessful business projects in a foreign context.
57As Trujillo (2002: 107) states,
interculturality is defined as critical participation in communication, being aware that the assumption of culture as a watertight compartment related to nation-states or certain social groups is a fallacy whereas diversity is the feature which characterises reality.
58A wide range of misunderstandings generated by a lack of intercultural skills in the written language can be found in, for example, correspondence. These intercultural ‘mistakes’ are likely to have a big impact on the written communication process; whereas some ambiguities can be cleared up instantaneously in oral language, the process of solving mismatches in written communication is complex and takes longer.
59‘Cultural content’ in a Spanish curriculum for specific purposes is a generalist label. It refers to a series of diverse extralinguistic elements that help professionals make decisions in a specific context. These decisions concern communicative and professional goals. Culture must always leave the door open to learners’ own ways of making things work. Thus, finding solutions to cultural conflicts is part of the communicative practice in the classroom but in most cases, solutions cannot be provided by teaching manuals themselves.