Thursday, June 19, 2014

No Culture Left Behind

Tag! Salve! I'm a world language teacher. I support students as they build skills to comprehend and produce a new language. I also provide them with opportunities to experience different perspectives on this thing we call life. 

Not too long ago, I listened to a woman speak about what German companies are looking for in prospective American employees. [I'm paraphrasing here.] She said, "Yeah, it's nice if Americans can speak or read or write some German, but what German employers are really looking for is an understanding of German culture, values, and perspective." 

WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!? I've been drilling my students on verb conjugation, adjective endings, spelling rules, 16 ways to say "the", prepositions, noun cases, word order, ...... and now you're telling me that global success is more dependent on CULTURAL KNOWLEDGE & UNDERSTANDING?

"It's high time, that something changes.!" Frankfurter Flughafen, 2013
So, I began to change what I did/do. No more heroes and holidays or foods and festivals. When I create or select a LANGUAGE activity, I ask myself, "What aspect of CULTURE is present? A product, practice, perspective? If none, where or how can I add one in?" 

After doing this for a few years, I am still hitting bumps along the road. Parents of students and colleagues make complaints about culture education in the world language classroom all the time. "Too much Austria!" "All you teach is Mexico." "I can't assess culture." "I don't have time for culture." "Switzer-what?" So, I'm still searching for methods and strategies to make my teaching of culture even better.

  • How does one teach culture most effectively?
  • What are my obligations to representing the expanse of the culture relating to the German-speaking world?
  • What does a teacher of Spanish do, when there are 20+ Spanish speaking countries?
  • With Google at the steering wheel, will my students gain valuable knowledge or skills related to culture?  
  • What serves the student better: a.) a buffet-style presentation with a taste of everything along the way? b.) a three-course meal with a solid serving of a few items that the teacher/chef feels are his/her best? c.) a pile of ingredients with instructions to the students to make something? d.) something else??

Truth be told, I've NEVER had a student complain about any culture lesson. They look forward to learning about the new culture. They long to visit the places that we discuss and explore. They beg for more culture! Many of them sign up in the first place for a world language class, because of  their interest in the culture or history of the people whose language they will be learning to use. It is such a disservice to not deliver culture in a world language classroom.
Making Schultüten for German 1, 2009
A few articles about teaching culture: (ELL has been working on this for a while, WL folks!)
UNC School of Education "Teaching World Cultures" Regina Higgens
"Practical Techniques for Teaching Culture in the EFL Classroom" Cullen, 2000.

P.S.: Couldn't you just image an entire activity with the photo at the top about energy use? Reading, grammar, vocabulary, AND culture (Germany's value on global issues, German power outlets) all in one photo!

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