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.

The case for interculturality

By Ed Weiss

As world language teachers, we all use various aspects of culture to enrich our curriculum and engage our students.  My love of French began in another era in classrooms where grammar ruled the day.  My true appreciation of languages truly blossomed when I spent time in France and was immersed in the language and culture.  I absorbed language as I grew as a person by learning about and appreciating the differences between my native culture and the new, exciting culture of France.  Looking back on a lifetime of teaching, a philosophy that I have come to embrace is that language teaching without culture is inaccurate and incomplete.  The idea of interculturality allows students to discover language via authentic cultural interactions just as you would in the target language country.

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