Interculturality: Reflection is Key

By Deborah Espitia
@despitia
Instructional Strategist

As language educators, we take pride in integrating culture and language.  We understand the importance of being understood in terms of the words we use in light of the products, practices, and perspectives of the target culture. Too often, culture is seen as an aside in the classroom and not integrated into every aspect of what we teach, but our profession is changing that. 

Intercultural Can-Dos 

The NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements clarify and support the Cultures standards of the World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages. The statements support learners’ in developing Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) or “the ability to interact effectively and appropriately with people from other language and cultural backgrounds.  ICC develops as the result of intentional goal-setting and self-reflection around language and culture, and involves attitudinal changes toward one’s own and other cultures (ACTFL).” 

These learning targets focus in on two areas: 


1. Investigate by identifying cultural components – products and practices – at the Novice Level and by making comparisons at the Intermediate Level.  

 2. Interact appropriately by moving from a survival level (Novice) to a functional one (Intermediate) within familiar contexts. 

As we move from identifying products and practices to making comparisons in our own culture and in those of the Spanish-speaking world, we focus on building communication skills so learners can interact appropriately both in their language choices and their behaviors. 

Reflection is Key 

The primary focus of language education is to develop language proficiency. However, deep reflection normally occurs in one’s native language. For this reason, reflective activities should be designed with maximum use of the target language during instructional time and an option for use of English or learners’ home language for deeper reflection. The Intercultural Can-Do Statements include a framework for reflective activities that involves: 

  • an introductory, in-class component in the target language; 
  • a deeper reflection outside of class in English, in learners’ home language, or, if the learner’s proficiency level allows, in the target language
  • a follow-up, in-class target language component.  

The Framework in Practice 

To go deeper in self-reflection requires Novice and Intermediate learners to process cultural perspectives in their first language, but we can integrate the development of target language proficiency with in-class tasks and deeper, self-reflection at home in learners’ home language.  Let’s take a look at three specific examples. 

__________ 

América, ¿una o más? Novice-Low to Novice-Mid 

Learning Targets for Intercultural Communication 

Investigate 

  • In my own and other cultures I can identify some artists and musicians, their styles and contributions. 
  • In my own and other cultures, I can recognize different perspectives on the meaning of the word América
AMERICA, written by Enrique Franco. Published by TN Ediciones Musicales. Copyright Secured. Used by permission, all rights reserved. ©Dwight McCann

Interact 

  • I can select key words that portray the main idea of a text. 
  • I can describe the nationality of people from the Américas. 

Learners will focus on what it means to be an “American” through the message and tone transmitted through the lyrics of a song by the popular musical group, Los Tigres del Norte.  They will also see this concept reflected in a comparison of maps from the Spanish- and English-speaking world. 

In the reflection phase, learners will reflect on what they think the song and the map say about who Spanish-speakers from the Americas are and what they believe by having them address the following questions:  

  • Why do you think los latinoamericanos see two continents as one?  
  • What do these continents share? 
  • The shape of the map of certain states is very recognizable. Are there maps that express identity where you live? 

Have learners post their responses in a journal or digital format. [Note that in some digital formats, learners have the ability to interact with each other by posting questions and responses about what they write or post orally. 

__________ 

¿Cómo son las escuelas en otros países? Novice-High to Intermediate-Low 

Learning Targets for Intercultural Communication 

Investigate  

  • In my own and other cultures, I can compare school infrastructure. 

Interact 

  • I can exchange information about what schools are like. 
  • I can describe places in schools. 

Learners will compare the infrastructure of their school with that of a school in an Andean Spanish-speaking country.  They will identify elements they would include in the design of an ideal, bilingual school. 

In the reflection phase, learners will reflect on how their school compares with the Andean school by addressing the following questions in a journal or online in a digital format: 

  • What did you learn about the bilingual school in this Andean Spanish-speaking country? 
  • What infrastructure does this school have that surprised you?  Why? 
  • What elements of this school do you wish were in your school?  Why? 
  • How has your perspective on schools in Andean Spanish-speaking countries changed after viewing the video? 

__________ 

¿Para qué las ecohuertas caseras? Intermediate-Low to Intermediate-Mid 

Learning Targets for Intercultural Communication 

Investigate  

  • In my own and other cultures, I can make identify and compare the benefits of home gardens in conservation efforts. 

Interact 

  • I can exchange information on the benefits of gardening and sustainable practices. 
  • I can make recommendations on how to make communities more sustainable 

In this Intercultural activity, learners will explore eco-gardens in two Spanish-speaking countries and note the benefits.  Based on what they learn, they will make recommendations for how to make home or community gardens more eco-friendly and sustainable.   

Reflections (at home, in English, the home language, or the target language) 

  • Have learners reflect on how an eco-garden in their home or community can have benefits similar to those in the Spanish-speaking countries they studied.  
  • Have learners address the following questions: 
    • Base on what you read or saw, what recommendations do you have for the Spanish-speaking communities? 
    • If you have a home garden or a community garden, how is it ecological? In what ways does it promote sustainability? 
    • If you don’t garden, what rationales would you give your family or community to install one? 
  • Have learners post their responses in a journal or digital format. Note that in some digital formats, learners have the ability to interact with each other by posting questions and responses about what they write or post orally. 



Deborah Espitia has been a world language educator for more than thirty years. She is a lead author on EntreCulturas 3 and she is is an Instructional Strategist at Wayside Publishing.

We all speak a dialect

By Jennifer Carson
@jncar4
Curriculum Coordinator

In English, I sound like I am from New York. That should be no surprise as I was born and raised in New York, even though I have lived most of my life in the south of the U.S. But when I speak my L2 and L3, strangely, I do not have a New York accent or even an American accent. In French, one can hear that I studied in Paris and Avignon, two places with distinct, even competing accents, whereas in Spanish, I sound Puerto Rican. No Castilian th-th when yo hablo! I explain this to my students, so they will understand that they too have an accent. (And often they do not believe me!) The key is that we can understand one another if our accents do not affect comprehensibility. And in a communicative classroom, accuracy is a destination, but comprehensibility is king.

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5 technology tools to try in the 2020-2021 school year

By Maureen Lamb
@latintechtools

Many teachers are beginning the year with some or all of their students participating in class virtually. What are some technology tools that can help teachers create virtual tasks for students that will provide them with the best experience possible this year?

Caveat: Try out these tools to see if they work for you and your students and if they work for what you would like to accomplish. If a tool is not working for you or your students, it will not help them to acquire knowledge. If the tool does not help students to achieve their goals, then they will not have a meaningful experience. Also, if you are not comfortable trying a tool out on your class but you would like to try it, work on it on your own or with a friend over video conferencing. Youtube is a great resource for videos on how to use many of these tools, and many of the websites for these tools have great instructional materials.

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Talking to students about their path to proficiency

By Jennifer E. Newman-Cornell

As language teachers, we talk about having a proficiency-based curriculum to guide our classroom instruction, but how do we talk to our students about proficiency and do we even need to? 

The answer is that we do it with lots of examples and YES, we absolutely must!

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The unexpected benefits of distance learning

By Alexis Buschert
@SrtaBuschert

We all know the challenges that we faced (and often overcame) with distance learning last spring.  Our social media accounts are full of memes and articles about all of the problems and struggles that we had. 

But I have yet to read an article or blog celebrating some of the unexpected benefits that came along with distance learning!  There were some aspects of distance learning that I LOVED even as a public high school teacher with a huge caseload of students.  I experimented with different techniques and technologies and I learned some valuable lessons along the way that will help me be a better teacher in the future.

Here are some of the successes that I had or helpful lessons that I learned during my time as an online Spanish teacher during the spring of 2020:

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5 ways to kick off a non-traditional school year

By Elena Spathis
@ElenaSpathis

As we all anxiously await our schools’ reopening plans, much remains unknown. A series of potential scenarios could take place with short notice. While our schools may adopt hybrid schedules that combine an in-person format with a virtual one, we should be ready to transition to full-time virtual teaching at any given moment. It goes without saying that this has been an alarmingly stressful time for us as teachers, as well as for our students and their families.

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Ideas for free summer PD

By Alma Rivera
@proferiveraac

If you are like me, it takes at least a month to get into the non-teaching frame of mind at the end of the school year. We go from a hectic state of mind to a state of calm. With that comes that uneasy feeling that something remains undone. Have you ever woken up, during the summer, and freaked out that you didn’t get something graded, planned, or created for your classes?  I’m sure we have all had that uneasy feeling. Yet, we eventually get into another routine: one of summer. Less hectic, more reflective and family focused. During these down times, there is a lot of professional development available. After all, aren’t teachers continuous learners? Here are some ideas for summer professional development that are easy, free, and can be done from anywhere.

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Lessons learned from implementing a proficiency-based language program

By Elena Giudice and Holly Morse  

Developing an oral proficiency program is not easy. My former colleague, Holly Morse and I submitted a proposal on this topic for ACTFL 2019 as we felt we had a lot to share on how we led various departments in shifting to oral proficiency-based programs. Our goal was to keep it real, no sugar coating. We wanted to share the growing pains and joys we went through and help others avoid unnecessary difficulties. Here are some of the key takeaways we shared during our ACTFL presentation: 

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Decluttering your curriculum

By Jennifer Carson
Curriculum Coordinator

Last semester’s transition to virtual teaching was abrupt and left many of us feeling like we were catching up to learn new technologies instead of focusing on communicating content to students. Now, as we look forward to next year, which appears to be an amorphous hybrid of virtual and limited face-to-face instruction, our worries turn to what students missed this past semester and how we can catch them up. Part I of this series focused on decluttering the mind, which is the necessary first step. With a mind freed from constraints, you can now turn your focus to decluttering another messy place, your curriculum.

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