Cultural Schemata Theory: Together With Formal Schemata Essay

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Cultural Schemata Theory:

Together with formal schemata and linguistic schemata, cultural schemata are some of the main types of schema theory, which is a hypothesis on how knowledge is gained and processed. Actually, schema is a technical word used by cognitive supporters to explain how people arrange, process, and store information in their brain. Notably, schemata focus on how people arrange information to long-term memory in relation to experiences, attitudes, values, strategies, skills, and conceptual understanding. The schema theory is founded on the belief that every act of an individual's understanding includes his/her knowledge of the world. The received knowledge is in turn organized into units that contain stores information.

Understanding Cultural Schemata Theory:

Cultural schemata is also known as abstract, story, or linguistic schema and is developed on the basis of people's basic experiences ("Schemata Theory in Learning," n.d.). Cultural schemata theory is described as the pre-existing knowledge about cultural elements of language being learned. This theory refers to the role of cultural relationship that is needed to understand the meaning intended by the author. Moreover, the theory is important in bringing about cultural familiarity and enables individuals to restructure the story line based on their own personal or cultural appropriate scripts. Therefore, to interpret and understand a script from a different culture, the appropriate cultural schema is considered to be essential.

It's important to note that cultural schema theory describes the familiar and pre-acquainted knowledge that a person uses when describing a familiar situation in his/her own culture. Furthermore, cultural schema theory for social interaction is defined as cognitive structures that consist of knowledge regarding the face-to-face interactions in an individual's cultural environment.

Cultural Schemas for Social Interactions:

Intercultural communication and relations between people has been analyzed in several research areas including the analysis of psychological response to unfamiliar environments. In attempts to explain these relations, various schemas have been developed with the most common types being personal, cultural, and universal schemas. In relation to social interactions, cultural schemas basically consist of cognitive structures with information about face-to-face interactions in a person's cultural environment. These cultural schemas for social interactions are developed and stored in an individual's brain through two major ways. These ways are when individuals interact with members of a similar culture in particular conditions several times and when these individuals talk about certain information with members of the same culture severally (Gudykunst, 2005).

These schemas become more abstract, organized, and compact when these people continue to encounter or talk about similar situations more often. Therefore, cultural schemas for social interactions are developed either by a person's direct experiences or by talking about information that is related to the cultural schema. The tight organization of cultural schemas through these two ways makes the information to become more usable. These people start to access the cultural schemas and use them as efficient units of information amongst members of the culture. With the cultural schemas becoming more compact, abstract, and organized, people's communication become much easier.

Generally, cultural schema theory offers an interface where the interplay of culture, cognition, and language can be observed effectively (Malcolm & Sharifian, 2001). Consequently, it can be assumed that cultural schemas act as templates that assist in the interpretation of cultural events and can be analyzed through text evaluation or experiments. Based on the cultural schemas for social interactions, a person's underlying cognitive processes...
...This is largely because an individual's participation in cultural practices enables him/her to internalize cultural values. In his/her interactions with other people, the internalized values guide the person to behave in a culturally specific way. The analysis of what is important in life is different across cultures and different types of behaviors may be regarded as suitable and valued in various cultures. In most cases, a person anticipates and examines another person's behavior depending on his/her own cultural values when communicating with someone.

Cultural Schema and Reading Comprehension:

In attempts to explain the relationship between pre-existing knowledge and reading comprehension, various researchers have conducted several studies towards this. The significance of pre-existing knowledge in reading is fundamental to the schema theory. This is largely because reading a text incorporates the interaction between the readers pre-existing knowledge and the text itself (Fuhong, 2004). In the recent past, both formal and content schemas have been given a lot of attention in the Intensive Reading class while cultural-specific schema has been rejected significantly.

However, cultural schema is an important factor with a huge impact on foreign language reading in terms of pre-existing knowledge. When individuals don't have pre-existing knowledge about relevant cultural content schemata, they tend to make mistakes while reading foreign language texts. According to the findings of the studies conducted by various researchers, cultural schema plays an integral role in foreign language reading. This is largely because real experiences and knowledge of foreign culture as well as familiarity with a foreign culture-related topic are effective for reading comprehension.

The schema theory of reading is one of the first logical ideas of English Second Language with a culture-based understanding. Based on this concept, everyone gains information from past lives or learning experiences that is in turn stored in mental structures that are known as schemata ("Schema Theory and Cultural Literacy," n.d.). These schemata are divided into formal schemata that deal with linguistic organization of texts and content schemata that focus on content area of texts. According to many researchers, these schemata especially content schemata are the reason for the inability of non-native speakers to understand a text or conversation. In addition to contributing to a better understanding of general instructions in foreign language, the theory has provided insight regarding the causes of cross-cultural interference and means of avoiding it.

One of the main reasons that specific content schema fails to exist for a reader is that the particular schema may be culturally specific and not part of the reader's cultural background. In most cases, the culture of a reader has a huge impact on everything including the reader's perspective on reading (Scott, 2001). Additional aspects that are hugely impacted by the reader's culture are his/her content and formal schemata and his/her understanding of individual concepts. Some important concepts may be absent in the non-native readers' schemata or may contain alternate interpretations.

Cultural schemata theory plays an integral role in reading comprehension by influencing the main idea construction strategies and enhancing the reading processing strategies. In most cases, expert readers use pre-existing knowledge to determine and present the main idea of a text especially when it's not explicit. Through pre-existing knowledge on a particular topic, a reader's processing strategies and level of comprehension is influenced by cultural schemata. This is largely because text and cultural familiarity impacts a person's reading comprehension with text containing culturally-familiar content schema being easy to process (Gilakjani & Ahmadi, 2011). As compared to the complexity of a text, the cultural origin of a particular text has a huge impact on an individual's comprehension.

The Development and Organization of Cultural Schema Theory:

As previously mentioned, cultural schema is developed when people engage in the same situations or exchange similar information. As people continue to behave in ways that establish their cultural schemas, the schemas are in turn strengthened as others react accordingly in a repeated manner. One of the major characteristics of cultural schemas is that they guide the encoding of information into meaningful portions. Generally, the performance of people with well-organized cultural schemas is related to their capability of perceiving and thinking on the basis of meaningful chunks. This is largely because pre-existing information or knowledge provides a meaningful…

Sources Used in Documents:


Fuhong, T. (2004, April 10). Cultural Schema and Reading Comprehension. Retrieved December 5, 2011, from

Gilakjani, A.P. & Ahmadi, S.M. (2011. June). The Relationship between L2 Reading

Comprehension and Schema Theory: A Matter of Text Familiarity. Journal of Information and Education Technology, 1(2), pp. 142-149, Retrieved from

Gudykunst, W.B. (2005). Theorizing about intercultural communication. Thousand Oaks:

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