I am reading the article on teaching culture in the latest issue of The Language Educator, the popular organ of ACTFL. As I read it, I thought, how is it that these observations and recommendations align with what I’ve been doing for years.
One reason is I read shortly before I began teaching an article in a book on language teaching that culture is often taught as food, fiestas and music, or it’s a Frankenstein monster of a patchwork, or it’s culture Fridays, or it’s Wow! Isn’t that weird! The article in The Language Educator cites these approaches and declares them decontextualized. Right.
But how do you integrate culture? One way is to organize the culture your L2 bears. As an anthropology major, I have a head start on that. When they quoted our own Renate Schultz from the U of A (Professor Emerita), I thought, “Boy, that’s the range, from formal and informal usages to the effect of population pressure on the creation of the culture.”
While we cannot expect every fl teacher to be possessed of a broad sweep of geographic, historical, economic, sociological and anthropological knowledge, they should have knowledge in those disciplines as they relate to the cultures their language bears. A French teacher should know something about the Revolution, the Massif Central, major areas of agricultural production, French food culture, the major changes wrought by immigration, and so on.
The reason I started my blog category Basics was to address just such issues but in a way applicable to all cultures, countries, peoples. Everyone has families, food, shelter, art, and all that plays out within a particular culture. If you do not look for these things in the culture, you won’t know about them even if you’ve lived in the country and have picked up those cultural traits yourself; it’ll be unconscious on your part.
Maybe that lay behind the disturbing comments made on one listserv about SB 1087 here in AZ. A good many list members said they had no trouble “producing their documents” when they were in a foreign country. Maybe they had absorbed the culture of countries like Japan, which has exercised tight control over its citizens for many centuries. It bothers me that an American would think it was OK for “the authorities” to ask someone to identify themselves, and I realize many Americans think its OK, esp if the subject “looks like a foreigner”, but most educated Americans should understand the deep-seated antipathy our institutions express toward any such unwarranted intrusions.
I wonder how many English teachers around the world teach their students this aspect of American culture. I don’t know who came up with the Products, Perspectives, and Practices rubric, but I think it’s brilliant and forces anyone seriously studying a culture to confront the interplay of these elements.