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Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: Workshop

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Video Summary

In “Rooted in Culture,” Professor Alvino Fantini from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont, discusses the importance of teaching culture and being sensitive to native cultures, perspectives, and behaviors when interacting with speakers of the target language. Professor Fantini also joins a round-table discussion on ways of integrating culture into a foreign language curriculum and the challenge of helping students gain a cultural perspective. The discussion is moderated by University of Pittsburgh professor Richard Donato and includes teachers Leslie Birkland of Kirkland, Washington, and Lori Langer de Ramirez of New Hyde Park, New York. The video also features excerpts from Ms. Birkland’s and Ms. Langer de Ramirez’s classes, as well as other classes across different grade levels and languages.* The video addresses the following questions:

  • How do teachers integrate culture into instruction?
  • How do products and practices lead to perspectives?
  • How do teachers build intercultural competence?

*The classroom excerpts featured in this video are from the Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 video library. To learn more about the featured lessons, go to the Library Videos Chart.

Watch the Video

Watch the video “Rooted in Culture,” and take notes as you watch. Consider pausing at the end of each section to answer the questions before moving on to the next section. If you are working in a group, discuss your responses; if you are working alone, reflect on them in your journal.

1. How do teachers integrate culture into instruction?

In this section, Professor Fantini talks about the importance of studying culture and learning how to appropriately interact with speakers of other languages. Ms. Langer de Ramirez and Ms. Birkland then talk about what inspired them to integrate culture with foreign language study, and how their approach to teaching culture has evolved.
  • Consider your school calendar. What cultural events might you build into the regular curriculum and explore, as Ms. Birkland does with the Japanese New Year?
  • How might a teacher determine whether a current event should be treated briefly or as the focal point for a unit?
  • How can teachers enhance their own understanding about a cultural topic? What might you do if questions about a cultural topic come up that you are unable to answer?
  • What are the limitations of cultural notes or sidebars in textbooks or other resources? Are there ways of using these effectively? If so, how? If not, why not? What might you do if the information presented contradicts your own experience, such as the text Ms. Langer de Ramirez described about teens going on dates with chaperones?
  • Consider your students’ experiences. How could you tap into their cultural experiences outside of the classroom as a starting point for integrating culture into instruction?

2. How do products and practices lead to perspectives?

In this section, Professor Fantini talks about the challenge of moving discussion of products and practices to an understanding of perspectives. The teachers then share some of their approaches to helping students gain a cultural perspective.
  • Why is it easier to focus on products and practices before perspectives?
  • How might a teacher decide whether to use English when teaching about culture?
  • How can teachers address any stereotypes that students have about the target culture? How might teachers lead students to further explore new cultures with an awareness of the issue of stereotypes?
  • What is the value of exploring perspectives? What are the challenges of exploring perspectives?

3. How do teachers build intercultural competence?

In this section, Professor Fantini talks about the essential criteria by which intercultural competence can be assessed. The group then discusses how new teachers might incorporate culture into their lessons.
  • How do teachers acquire the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and awareness needed for intercultural competence? How do they develop the skills needed to foster intercultural competence in their students?
  • What resources could teachers use, beyond the textbook, to build intercultural competencies for themselves and their students?
  • When comparing cultures, what can teachers do to help avoid making the target culture seem exotic or strange?
  • In what ways is culture a lifelong learning task for teachers? For students?