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.

Over the years, parents have asked me what I believed was the most effective way to teach a second language.  My answer was always the same – even though I kept up with the best practices of the day, there is no way to duplicate the experience of having their daughter or son live in the target language country.  I would then explain how a typical day would start along with many linguistic and cultural interactions.  Imagine waking up to a clock radio playing either French music or news followed by breakfast where the family would discuss the events of the day and plans for that evening or weekend.  A French newspaper would be sitting on the table and perhaps the TV would be playing in the background.  It would then be time to join their host student to attend school.  On the way there might be a stop at the local boulangerie-pâtisserie for a croissant and the chance to have a brief social interaction and exchange of currency.  Walking down the street, billboards advertise the latest products as well as the posters at the bus stop containing information about local events.  A bus schedule would need to be consulted to catch the right bus for school which would require dealing with times and prices. 

Teaching with an intercultural approach mirrors the experiential method of everyday life…

All of these authentic interactions happened in the early morning with another ten hours of experiences in store that day.  Imagine several months of discovering language and culture in that manner. 

Teaching with an intercultural approach mirrors the experiential method of everyday life and has the essential benefit of engaging students in language by providing real life experiences that is supported by the latest research. 

It is critical to emphasize that cultural immersion is not a separate aspect of instruction but instead must be woven into the fabric of everyday teaching. The method of presentation will be via multimedia that will feature a variety of cultural products from around the world. Participants will be exposed to a number of unique cultural products. There will be a demonstration of how to best engage students in activities based on these products that will lead to a better understanding of the similarities and differences in cultures. Participants will learn how to seamlessly integrate cultural awareness into their curriculum in an engaging manner. Participants need only their base of cultural knowledge to benefit from this presentation.

Be sure to check out Ed’s presentation at this year’s AATF conference in Philadelphia on July 14, at 1 p.m., in the Shippen Hall: W106:  Interculturality: Building Bridges with Language and Culture

Ed’s session will help teachers blend cultural awareness into your existing curriculum with engaging demonstrations and activities. He will demonstrate how you can make culture come alive in your classroom with dynamic resources and activities. He will feature several cultural products from around the world and he will demonstrate how to enrich student vocabulary, language skills and cultural awareness. He will show you how to make the connection from cultural products to perspective, opening students’ eyes to the differences and similarities in the world today. His examples will be in French and Spanish and he will share numerous links to helpful resources that will facilitate planning.

Edward Weiss is the curriculum specialist for world languages at Delaware County Intermediate Unit in suburban Philadelphia.  He served as teacher and department chair at Haverford Township School District for 35 years where he was named teacher of the year. He is a recipient of the Rockefeller Foundation Grant and a three-time recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Ed has presented at the ACTFL national conference, at the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, at AATF local and national conferences, at the Advanced Placement National Conference.  He is the co-author EntreCultures.

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