World Language: Going from Learning About to Communicating With People

A previous blog , briefly described three levels of culture.  This blog expands on the critical difference between the first two levels.

The first level, learning about another country/culture, most often involves learning the facts about the country such as its currency, location, famous landmarks, etc. According to the Iceberg concept of culture, this level contains the mostly easily recognized things in the culture. This level can be devoid of seeing people of the country; the pictures usually focus more on famous monuments, mountain ranges, etc. Also, this level contains a very low emotional response. Students do not end up feeling more positive about the country/culture after learning the facts about the country such the population, the name of the capital, etc. Furthermore, the country view usually comes from an outsider’s view of the country. Often, the teacher or a web-site of someone who visited the country provides the information. Equally important, culture is seen as isolated pieces of information such as learning about the flag, then the currency, etc.

The second level of communicating with a person or persons from the country changes many aspects. Students actually interact with a person or people from the culture. Although students can do email and tweet exchanges, the most common form of communicating is a video chat. The students see what the people of another country look like, what they wear, what they drink,  where they study, etc. The students move from media stereotypes to contact with actual people of that culture. This level helps students to feel more positive about the people of the other culture. For example, when students do a “My Class/ Your Class” video conference, the students see many similarities between the two countries. Likewise, the students hear information from people who realistically know about the culture; the people from that country have an insider’s view. Students from another country can tell their  Saturday activities. In addition, the native speakers integrate aspects of culture; for example, they combine foods with family traditions.

At what level of culture are your students?

There are many cultural activities in the eboook 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities. For cultural activities that actively involve world language students go to http://bit.ly.mlcomcult and look under culture.

World Language Teachers Still Ingrained in Grammar Translation

Burke’s “Rituals and Beliefs Ingrained in World Language Pedagogoy: Defining Deep Structure and Conventional Wisdom” explains how grammar-translation is part of the deep structure and conventional wisdom of modern day world language teachers (2011, http://ojs.academypublisher.com/index.php/jltr/article/view/02010112/2479).

Grammar-translation teachers divided language into listening, speaking, reading, and writing; they do not see language as integrated. Culture, if included, is an add-on. Furthermore, English is the predominant language of instruction. The purpose of language instruction is the learning of vocabulary and grammar.

1. Translation

– When teachers introduce a new unit, they distribute word lists or refer students to a textbook page with the words translated.

– Teachers review vocabulary through drill practices and games. The games focus on the discrete meaning of the words. The only context is that they are from the same list.

– Students are to learn a set number of words each unit, Their teachers have the students pratice with the words so that the students can cover the unit, not so the students will be able to communicate with the words.

2. Grammar Practice

– Most teacher assign activities out of textbook or make up grammar activities.

– Teachers ask questions to see if the students know the correct forms; they correct the students.

– Students study the language through translation and verb conjugations.

– Teachers emphasize a sentence-level structure with explicit attention to forms.

– The grammar activities have no personal meaning to the students.

– Attempts to produce communication are absent

3. Non-contextual explicit grammar teaching

– Teachers give explicit instruction on forms and the teacher frequently test the forms through quizzes, online and paper exercises, and tests.

– Teachers usually use English during grammar lessons and students usually ask questions in English.

– Numerous explanations of grammar rules with many exceptions and irregularities are explained in grammatical terms. Students learn many different tenses.

– Teachers have the goal of grammatical mastery for their students. One of the teachers’ primary goals is for the students to use grammar correctly

– Comparisons are made to the structure of English sentences.

Are you a grammar-translation teacher? Or a communicative teacher?

http://bit.ly/mlcomcult  contains many communication activities for beginning to advanced students; they have high structure to help students. These activities are for all world languages and specifically for Spanish.

The Search for Meaning as the Goal of the World Language Class

Viktor Frankl’s logotheraphy asserts that the striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force in humans (http://www.viktorfrankl.org/e/logotherapy.html). A Times Article reports a study in which 50% of the workers lacked meaning in their work. Of those who found meaning they were three times more likely to stay in that job, had 1.7 times more job satisfaction, and 1.4 times more engaged than others (http://www.fastcompany.com/3032126/how-to-find-meaning-during-your-pursuit-of-happiness-at-work). Likewise, Van Patten (1996) asserts that learners process input for meaning before form; they process the “what” before the “how said” (http://www.tesl-ej.org/ej35/r5.pdf). ACTFL in its 2015 World Readiness Standards for Modern Languages for Interpersonal Communication states “Learners interact and negotiate meaning in spoken, signed, or written conversations to share information, reactions, feelings, and opinions” (http://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/World-ReadinessStandardsforLearningLanguages.pdf)

How do we help our students focus on meaning in the world language classroom? Do our students share personal information? Can they tell about their relationship with others? Can they react when other students or the teacher share personal information? Can our students express their feelings and opinions about a situation? Can they supply reasons for their opinions? Can they express their future aspirations?

This search for meaning runs contrary to the students reading about some fictional Bob and Jane characters in their textbook or in an oral story. Students search for meaning in their own lives. Students want to find meaning about who they are, how they fit into their lives, and what they want to do. The more we help them talk about their their own lives, families, preferences, and situations, the more they can establish their own meaning in life.

Since logotheraphy emphasizes the drive for personal meaning, how do world language teachers provide situations to help their students find meaning?

There are many pair language activities at http://bit.ly/mlcomcult for beginning to advanced students to express their opinons and preferences. These activities are for all world languages and specifically for Spanish.