Culture: Readings, Vocabulary, Idioms, Sayings, Quotations, Discussion Questions, Collocations, and Tongue Twisters

Beginner-Intermediate Reading
Culture is an integral part of human life, and there are various types of cultures and subcultures that exist in modern society. The iceberg model of culture is a useful tool for understanding the complexity of cultures. Just like an iceberg, only a small part of culture is visible on the surface, while most of it is hidden beneath. The visible part includes behaviors, customs, and artifacts that we can see and touch, while the invisible part includes values, beliefs, and attitudes that are deeply ingrained in our minds.

Cultural literacy is becoming increasingly important in the 21st-century economy, as businesses and organizations are expanding globally and interacting with people from different cultures. Cultural misunderstandings can lead to conflicts, misunderstandings, and lost business opportunities. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the differences in cultures and subcultures and to develop cultural sensitivity and competence.


Advanced Reading
Culture is a complex and multifaceted concept that plays an important role in shaping individuals, societies, and economies. At its core, culture refers to the beliefs, values, customs, and practices shared by a group of people. However, it is much more than that. Culture is also about the way people see and experience the world, the art they create, the language they speak, and the food they eat. In modern society, we can identify various types of cultures and subcultures that coexist and interact with each other.

One useful way to think about culture is the “iceberg model.” Just like an iceberg, culture has visible and invisible components. The visible components are the things we can easily see and experience, such as food, clothing, music, and architecture. However, there are also invisible components that are not as obvious but equally important, such as beliefs, values, and attitudes. These invisible components shape our behaviors and interactions with others, and they often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts between different cultures.

Cultural literacy is becoming increasingly important in the 21st-century economy. As globalization and technology continue to connect people from different parts of the world, the ability to understand and navigate different cultures is essential for success. Cultural literacy can help individuals and organizations to build relationships, negotiate effectively, and innovate by drawing on diverse perspectives and experiences. In short, cultural literacy is a key skill for anyone who wants to thrive in today’s interconnected world.


  • Ethnocentrism (민족 중심주의): the belief that one’s own culture or group is superior to others
    Example: Her ethnocentrism prevented her from understanding and appreciating the customs of the local people.
  • Homogeneity (동질성): the state of being uniform or similar in nature or character
    Example: The homogeneity of the group was reflected in their shared values and beliefs.
  • Pluralism (다원주의): the coexistence of different groups or cultures in a society
    Example: The city’s cultural pluralism was reflected in the diverse range of restaurants and shops.
  • Assimilation (동화): the process of adapting to a new culture and becoming similar to it
    Example: The immigrant community faced pressure to assimilate to the dominant culture.
  • Xenophobia (외국인 혐오증): fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers
    Example: The politician’s xenophobia was reflected in his anti-immigrant rhetoric.
  • Cosmopolitanism (국제주의): the idea of being comfortable and familiar with different cultures and customs
  • Example: Her travels around the world had given her a sense of cosmopolitanism.
  • Acculturation (문화적 적응): the process of adapting to a new culture while retaining some elements of one’s own culture
  • Example: The exchange student experienced some challenges with acculturation but ultimately felt at home in the new culture.
  • Hegemony (패권): dominance or control by one group over others
  • Example: The country’s economic hegemony gave it significant influence in global affairs.
  • Multiculturalism (다문화주의): the coexistence of multiple cultures in a society without assimilation or discrimination
  • Example: The school promoted multiculturalism through its diverse curriculum and events.
  • Subculture (서브컬처): a smaller culture within a larger culture, with its own customs and values
  • Example: The skateboarding subculture had its own unique style and language.
  • Globalization (세계화): the process of increasing interconnectedness and interdependence among countries and cultures
  • Example: The rise of globalization has led to a blending of cultures and increased cultural exchange.
  • Multifaceted (다양한 면이 있는): Having many different aspects or features
  • Example: The issue of climate change is multifaceted and requires a comprehensive solution.
  • Encompass (포함하다): To include or contain something
  • Example: The term “culture” encompasses a wide range of beliefs and practices.
  • Norms (규범): Shared rules or expectations about how people should behave in a particular society or group
  • Example: In Korean culture, respecting elders is a norm that is deeply ingrained.
  • Assumptions (가정): Beliefs that are taken for granted without proof or evidence
  • Example: Many people make assumptions about others based on their appearance or nationality.
  • Values (가치): Principles or beliefs that are considered important by a particular society or group
  • Example: The value of hard work is emphasized in many cultures around the world.
  • Globalization (국제화): The process of international integration, resulting from the exchange of ideas, products, and other cultural aspects
  • Example: Globalization has brought about changes in the ways people work, live, and communicate.
  • Blur (흐려지다): To become less clear or distinct
  • Example: The lines between different cultures and identities are often blurred in today’s world.
  • Interact (상호작용하다): To communicate or work together with others
  • Example: In order to build a successful business, it is important to interact effectively with customers from different cultures.
  • Comprehensive (종합적인): Covering all aspects or elements of something
  • Example: The report provides a comprehensive analysis of the company’s performance.
  • Crude (대략적인): Simple or basic, lacking in detail or refinement
  • Example: The crude drawings on the cave walls offer a glimpse into the lives of our ancient ancestors.
  • Coexist (공존하다) – to exist together in the same place or at the same time
  • Example: In the city, different cultures and subcultures coexist and interact with each other.
  • Attitudes (태도) – a way of thinking or feeling about something or someone
  • Example: People’s attitudes towards social media have changed dramatically in recent years.
  • Misunderstandings (오해) – a failure to understand something correctly
  • Example: Cultural misunderstandings can arise when people from different cultures communicate with each other.
  • Conflicts (충돌) – a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one
  • Example: Cultural conflicts can occur when different cultures have conflicting values or beliefs.
  • Navigating (해내다) – finding one’s way through an unfamiliar place or situation
  • Example: In order to succeed in a globalized economy, individuals and organizations must learn to navigate different cultural contexts.
  • Perspective (시각) – a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view
  • Example: It’s important to listen to different perspectives in order to fully understand a complex issue.
  • Interconnected (연결된) – having connections between different things or parts
  • Example: The Internet has created an interconnected world in which information travels quickly and easily across borders.
  • Thrive (번영하다) – to grow or develop well; to be successful
  • Example: In order to thrive in the global economy, individuals and organizations must be adaptable and innovative.
  • Hegemony (지배)
  • Definition: Leadership or dominance, especially by one country or social group over others.
  • Example sentence: The cultural hegemony of the United States is evident in the global popularity of American movies and TV shows.
  • Xenophobia (외국인 혐오)
  • Definition: Intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries.
  • Example sentence: The rise of xenophobia in some countries has led to discrimination and exclusion of immigrants and refugees.
  • Assimilation (동화)
  • Definition: The process of taking in and fully understanding information or ideas.
  • Example sentence: The assimilation of cultural practices from other countries can enrich a society and promote cross-cultural understanding.
  • Cultural relativism (문화 상대주의)
  • Definition: The theory that cultural norms and values derive their meaning within a specific social context.
  • Example sentence: Cultural relativism emphasizes the importance of understanding and respecting different cultural practices and beliefs, rather than judging them based on one’s own cultural standards.

Idioms and Sayings

  • Melting pot (융합체): A society where people from different cultural backgrounds come together and contribute to a diverse and harmonious whole.
    Example: New York City is often referred to as a melting pot due to its multicultural population.
  • Salad bowl (샐러드 그릇): A society where different cultures coexist but remain separate, maintaining their distinct identities and characteristics.
    Example: Canada is often described as a salad bowl, with its many different cultures living side-by-side.
  • In someone’s shoes (누군가의 입장에 서다): To understand or empathize with someone else’s perspective or situation.
    Example: Before making a judgement, try to put yourself in their shoes and understand where they are coming from.
  • To break the ice (얼음을 깨다): To overcome initial shyness or awkwardness when meeting new people or in a new situation.
    Example: Playing a game is a good way to break the ice and get to know your new classmates.
  • Culture shock (문화 충격): The feeling of disorientation and discomfort that can occur when experiencing a new and unfamiliar culture.
    Example: She experienced culture shock when she moved to a new country and had to adjust to different customs and traditions.
  • To be a fish out of water (어색하다): To feel uncomfortable or out of place in a new or unfamiliar environment.
    Example: He felt like a fish out of water when he moved to the big city after growing up in a small town.
  • To be in someone’s blood (누군가에게는 인종적인 특징이 있다): To have a strong connection to a particular culture or ethnicity, often due to familial or ancestral ties.
    Example: She was raised in a family that celebrated their Mexican heritage, so it was in her blood to embrace that culture.
  • Culture vulture (문화 기생충): A person who is very interested in and enthusiastic about the arts and culture.
    Example: He’s always attending music festivals, visiting museums, and reading about different cultures – he’s a real culture vulture.
  • To speak the same language (같은 이해를 가지다): To have a shared understanding or perspective on a particular topic.
    Example: When it comes to their love of cooking, they definitely speak the same language.
  • To be a cultural sponge (문화를 습득하기 좋아하다): To be someone who absorbs and learns about different cultures easily and enthusiastically.
    Example: She loves to travel and experience new cultures – she’s a real cultural sponge.
  • To be a product of your environment (환경에 따라 형성되다): To be influenced and shaped by the cultural, social, and economic factors of the place where you grew up or currently live.
    Example: His love of jazz music is a product of growing up in New Orleans, where the genre has a rich history.
  • To have culture coursing through your veins (문화에 깊은 애정을 가지다): To have a deep passion for and connection to a particular culture or art form.
    Example: Her love of Korean traditional dance runs deep – she has culture coursing through her veins.
  • To be a citizen of the world (세계 시민이다): To have a global outlook and feel connected to people and cultures from all around the world.
    Example: As a diplomat, he’s traveled all over the world and considers himself a citizen of the world.
  • When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” (남의 떡이 커보인다)
    Follow the customs and practices of the people in the place you are visiting or working in.
    Example: I know you prefer using chopsticks, but when in Rome, do as the Romans do and use
  • “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” (아름다움은 바라보는 사람의 눈에 달려있다.)
    Beauty is subjective and depends on the individual’s perspective.
    Example: Some people think modern art is beautiful, but others don’t – beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
  • “Actions speak louder than words.” (행동으로 보여주는 것이 말로만 하는 것보다 더 중요하다.)
    What someone does is more important than what they say they will do.
    Example: He promised to help me move, but he didn’t show up – actions speak louder than words.
  • “All roads lead to Rome.” (모든 길이 로마로 이어진다.)
    There are many ways to reach the same goal.
    Example: You can take different paths to success – all roads lead to Rome.
  • “Different strokes for different folks.” (사람마다 취향이 다르다.)
    Everyone has different preferences and tastes.
    Example: I prefer rock music, but my friend likes pop – different strokes for different folks.
  • “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” (표지만 보고 책의 내용을 판단하지 마라.)
    Don’t judge someone or something based solely on their appearance.
    Example: She seemed unfriendly at first, but after getting to know her, I realized she was kind – don’t judge a book by its cover.
  • “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” (전체는 각 부분의 합보다 더 크다.)
    The combined effort or result is greater than each individual effort or result.
    Example: The team’s success was due to everyone working together – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • “Birds of a feather flock together.” (같은 종류는 같이 떼를 지어다닌다.)
    People with similar interests or characteristics tend to group together.
    Example: The soccer players all hung out together – birds of a feather flock together.
  • “The grass is always greener on the other side.” (바라보는 곳은 풀이 푸르다.)
    People tend to think others have it better than they do.
    Example: She thinks everyone else has an easier life, but the grass is always greener on the other side.
  • “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” (로마는 하루아침에 이루어지지 않았다.)
    Things take time and effort to accomplish.
    Example: Learning a new language takes time and practice – Rome wasn’t built in a day.


  1. “Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.” – Jawaharlal Nehru
  2. “Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs.” – Thomas Wolfe
  3. “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine
  4. “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey
  5. “Culture is the intersection of people and life itself. It’s how we deal with life, love, death, birth, disappointment… all of that is expressed in culture.” – Wendell Pierce
  6. “One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” – Frank Smith
  7. “Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first, they have to understand that their neighbor is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions.” – Paulo Coelho
  8. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain
  9. “We travel to find ourselves and sometimes we find ourselves in the airport bar.” – Anonymous
  10. “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” – Stephen Covey
  11. “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  12. “Culture is not a monolith. It’s not one thing. It’s not static. It’s not a museum piece. It’s organic.” – Tyler Cowen
  13. “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela
  14. “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  15. “The power of imagination makes us infinite.” – John Muir

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever experienced culture shock? How did you cope with it?
  2. In general, do you think language affects the way we conceptualize the world? How much do you think the characteristics of your L1 affect your thought processes and view of the world?
  3. Has learning a second language affected the way you conceptualize the world?
    Do you express yourself or think differently when speaking in your second language?
  4. Do you ‘feel’ different when you speak English? If yes, how so?
    How is speaking to your classmates in English different from speaking to them in Korean (substantively and effectively) ?
  5. What are your first memories of meeting a ‘foreigner’?
    How did you feel? Excited? Nervous? Apathetic? Can’t remember? ….?
  6. How do you feel about your country becoming a multicultural society?
    How do you think it’s doing so far? 
  7. What makes someone seem most different?  language, skin color, nationality, religion, other?
  8. How do Koreans respond or interact differently with various cultures, races, and religions?
  9. Do you think cultural literacy should be taught in schools? Why or why not?
  10. How do you feel about the ‘pure blood’ of Korea? What are the advantages and disadvantages (physical and societal) of genetic purity vs. diversity?
  11. Who do you consider a Korean? mixed race person raised here? raised elsewhere? ‘full-blooded’ Korean raised elsewhere? non-ethnic Korean raised in Korea?
  12. Would you consider marrying someone who is not Korean or mixed race? How would your parents feel? Would their nationality or race matter?
  13. How would you compare Korean attitudes toward multiculturalism and ethnic diversity to attitudes in other countries? 
  14. How do feelings about multiculturalism differ between older and younger generations (e.g. parents, grandparents, and children)?
  15.  How have views toward foreigners and mixed-race Koreans changed during your lifetime (for society in general and you personally)?
  16. What have been significant events that shaped Korean views toward race and ethnic purity/diversity?
  17. What do you think is the best approach to integrating newcomers into society?
    A melting pot or a  salad bowl?
  18. How do you feel seeing more non-Koreans in society? What do you personally enjoy and/or dislike about interacting with non-Koreans?
  19. How many mixed-race Koreans have you met (students, friends, relatives, etc.)?
    What have you heard about their experiences?
  20. What do you think are the biggest potential concerns and benefits for a society (particularly Korea) becoming more multicultural?  

Variations and Word Forms of ‘culture’

Noun forms:

  • Culture: The ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society.
    Example sentence: Learning about the culture of Korea has helped me understand and appreciate its people and history.
  • Culturalism: The tendency to judge other cultures by the standards of one’s own culture.
    Example sentence: Culturalism can lead to misunderstandings and biases when interacting with people from different cultures.
  • Multiculturalism: The coexistence of different cultures in a society.
    Example sentence: Multiculturalism has enriched Canadian society by embracing and celebrating cultural diversity.
  • Subculture: A cultural group within a larger culture, often having different beliefs or interests.
    Example sentence: The punk subculture emerged in the 1970s as a counterculture movement against mainstream society.
  • Pop culture: Popular culture, often associated with mainstream entertainment and media.
    Example sentence: The influence of pop culture can be seen in fashion, music, and movies.

Verb forms:

  • Cultivate: To promote the growth and development of something.
    Example sentence: We should cultivate a culture of respect and understanding for diversity.
  • Enculturate: To learn and adopt the customs and beliefs of a particular culture.
    Example sentence: Enculturation is an ongoing process that shapes our identities and perspectives.
  • Acculturate: To adapt or assimilate to a new culture.
    Example sentence: It takes time to acculturate to a new country and way of life.

Adjective forms:

  • Cultural: Relating to or characteristic of a particular culture.
    Example sentence: My favorite part of traveling is experiencing different cultural traditions and foods.
  • Cross-cultural: Involving or relating to two or more different cultures.
    Example sentence: Cross-cultural communication requires sensitivity and understanding of cultural differences.
  • Intercultural: Occurring between or involving two or more different cultures.
    Example sentence: Intercultural marriages can face unique challenges due to cultural differences.

Adverb forms:

Culturally: In a manner that relates to or reflects a particular culture.
Example sentence: It’s important to approach cross-cultural interactions culturally sensitive and open-mindedly.

Common Collocations related to  ‘culture’:


Noun collocations:

  • Culture shock: The feeling of disorientation or confusion when encountering a new culture.
    Example sentence: Culture shock can be overwhelming, but it’s a normal part of the adjustment process.
  • High culture: The culture of the elite or refined members of society.
    Example sentence: The opera is often associated with high culture, and requires a certain level of appreciation and understanding.
  • Culture clash: A conflict or disagreement arising from cultural differences.
    Example sentence: The culture clash between the two groups led to tension and misunderstanding.
  • Culture vulture: Someone who has a strong interest in the arts and cultural activities.
    Example sentence: My friend is a real culture vulture and always attends the latest exhibitions and concerts.

Verb collocations:

  • Culture jamming: The act of subverting or disrupting mainstream cultural messages.
    Example sentence: Culture jamming often takes the form of parody, satire, or activism.
  • Culture fit: The degree to which an individual’s values and behaviors align with those of a particular workplace culture.
    Example sentence: Hiring managers often prioritize culture fit when selecting new employees.

Adjective collocations:

  • Cultural diversity: The range of cultural differences within a society.
    Example sentence: Cultural diversity is an important aspect of creating inclusive and equitable communities.
  • Cultural sensitivity: The awareness and respect for cultural differences.
    Example sentence: Cultural sensitivity training can help individuals and organizations navigate cross-cultural interactions more effectively.

Synonyms and Related Words


  • Tradition – the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation
    Example: The tradition of gift-giving during the holidays is important in many cultures.
  • Customs – traditional practices that are often handed down through families or cultural groups
    Example: The customs surrounding weddings vary greatly between cultures.
  • Ethos – the characteristic spirit or culture of a particular group or community
    Example: The company’s ethos emphasizes creativity and innovation.
  • Lifestyle – the way a person or group lives, including their habits, behaviors, and values
    Example: The nomadic lifestyle of some cultures is vastly different from the sedentary lifestyle of others.
  • Weltanschauung – a comprehensive worldview or philosophy of life, often shaped by cultural, social, and political factors
    Example: The concept of “face” is a central component of many Asian cultures’ weltanschauung.
  • Mores – the customs, values, and behaviors that are considered socially acceptable within a particular culture
    Example: Certain mores related to gender roles have evolved over time in many cultures.
  • Philosophy – a system of beliefs or principles that guide behavior or thought
    Example: Confucian philosophy has had a profound impact on many East Asian cultures.
  • Ethnocentrism – the tendency to view one’s own culture or group as superior to others
    Example: Ethnocentrism can lead to a lack of understanding and appreciation for other cultures.

Tongue Twisters

  1. Unique New York’s cultural union unites all unique cultures.
  2. Proper cultural appreciation promotes prosperous communities.
  3. Chinese culture is a crucial component of global cultural diversity.
  4. Cultural competence can create connections, curb conflicts and cultivate cooperation.
  5. She sells seashells by the seashore in a culture of shell collectors.
  6. The cultural exchange extended beyond expected extents, exciting everyone.
  7. She chooses to choose cultural choices over chocolate choices.
  8. Cultural diversity drives dynamic dialogue during daily discussions.
  9. The cultural critic criticized critically the crowded cultural center.
  10. Generosity generates genuine global cultural growth.
  11. French cuisine culture cultivates culinary curiosity.
  12. Cultural conflicts cause chaos in communities that care about cultures.


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