Category Archives: Cultural Exploration

Adding Culture to the Foreign Language Curriculum

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As second language teachers, we know that the culture associated with a language cannot be learned in a few lessons about celebrations, folk songs, or costumes of the area in which the language is spoken.  Culture is a much broader concept that is inherently tied to many of the linguistic concepts taught in second language classes.  Through the study of other languages, students gain a knowledge and understanding of the cultures that use that language; in fact, students cannot truly master the language until they have also mastered the cultural contexts in which the language occurs.

In THIS concise article, Peterson and Coltrane discuss how to teach culture in a way that challenges preconceptions.  They suggest teaching methods that include role play, the use of authentic documents, film, proverbs, and student resources.  This is an article that I read while in graduate school studying Applied Linguistics and the ideas have always guided me in the classroom.

Read the article HERE

Foreign Language Tongue Twisters

Foreign (World)Language Tongue Twisters. (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comIf you want students to practice their pronunciation and to have fun while doing it, try out some tongue-twisters.  This is a great way to have students focus on their pronunciation without relying on repetition.  It’s fun to make it into a game and see who can say it the fastest.  Once students get more comfortable with the pronunciation they can begin to make their own tongue-twisters in the target language.  This would be a great opportunity to see if students understand the sound-symbol relationship between letters, letter combinations, or characters.  Very often as well, the content of the tongue-twister is a window into the culture.

Here are some tongue-twisters to get you started:

Rao k’ou ling (Mandarin)

Tongue-Twisters (English)

Virelangues (French)

Zungenbrecher (German)

Scioglilingua (Italian)

Hayakuchi Kotoba (Japanese)

Trava Linguas (Portuguese)

Trabalenguas (Spanish)

Online Spanish Grammar and Culture

There is a great site available through Colby College that gives students an opportunity to practice Spanish grammar structures, everything from regular verb conjugations, to comparisons, through the subjunctive.  This site also has many audio clips, readings, and interactive cultural activities to help students master Spanish grammar concepts and structures.  There are great activities to be done together as a class or given to students individually.

You can see the site HERE.

Using Authentic Documents in the Foreign Language Classroom

Using Authentic Documents in the Foreign (World) Language Classroom (French, Spanish)

The use of authentic documents in the World Language classroom has become more and more important in recent years as teachers are becoming more aware of the importance of exposing students to culture in the classroom.  Here are some ideas concerning the use of authentic documents in the classroom, as opposed to documents created to mimic the culture.

Traditional attempts at understanding difference, particularly cultural difference, have typically focused on institutions, achievements, publications, and well-known public people.This can be most obviously displayed in various “Cultural Notes” or “Culture Capsules” in various foreign language and history textbooks. (Kramsch, Galloway, Moran)

A true understanding of another culture must move beyond what Moran refers to as a Functionalist View, which presents only institutional and assumed collective perspectives of a country or culture.This might include the presentation of cultural “facts” such as “All Quebecers speak French and want to separate from Canada.”By approaching the study of culture from what Moran refers to as a Conflict View, students can come to understand that there are various opinions and perspectives within any culture and these must be understood in order to arrive at a more appropriate, and perhaps empathetic perception of the culture.

The most effective way to provide students with opportunities to understand cultural perspectives from an insider’s point of view is through the use of authentic documents that are created by members of the foreign culture for members of the foreign culture (Galloway,).

The teacher’s guidance through the process of interpreting film clips, commercials, literature, photographs, web sites, and products of the foreign culture will help students to conceptualize it in a way that is not influenced by their native culture. (Kramsch)


Galloway, V. (1992). Toward a cultural reading of authentic texts. In Heusinkveld, P. R. (Ed.), Pathways to Culture. (pp. 255-302). Yartmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Kramsch, C. (1988). The cultural discourse of foreign language textbooks. In Singerman, A. J. (Ed.), Toward a New Integration of Language and Culture, pp. 63-88. Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

Moran, P. (2001) Teaching Culture: Perspectives in Practice. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.

Why Teach Culture?

Here is an excerpt from Romona Tang’ article, “The Place of “Culture” in the Foreign Language Classroom: A Reflection”.


“According to Pica (1994: 70), the question “how necessary to learning a language is the learner’s cultural integration?” is something which “troubles teachers, whether they work with students in classrooms far removed from the culture of the language they are learning or with students who are physically immersed in the culture but experientially and psychologically distant from it”. Numerous other researchers have tried to address issues along similar lines, including Gardner and Lambert (1972) who postulate that learners may have two basic kinds of motivation. The first is integrative motivation, which refers to the desire of language learners to acquire the language while immersing themselves into the whole culture of the language, in order to “identify themselves with and become part of that society” (Brown 1994: 154). The second is instrumental motivation, which refers to the functional need for learners to acquire the language in order to serve some utilitarian purpose, such as securing a job, or a place at a university. The argument is that such instrumentally motivated learners are neither concerned with the culture from which their target language emerged, nor interested in developing any feelings of affinity with the native speakers of that language.”

You can read the entire article HERE.


Brown, H. Douglas. 1994. Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Regents.

Gardner, Robert C., and Wallace Lambert. 1972. Attitudes and Motivation in Second Language Learning. Rowley, Massachusetts: Newbury House.

Pica, Teresa. 1994. Questions from the Language Classroom: Research Perspectives. TESOL Quarterly, 28(1): 49-79.

Geography and Culture

Teaching geography is sometimes on of the more difficult concepts to convey to students. We hate to simply have students memorize a map, label cities, rivers, and borders and call that a culture lesson, but sometimes that is all that we have the time to do. Based some readings in cultural studies, many teachers are turning to the expert approach to teaching about places in a particular region.

Screen Shot 2013-04-13 at 8.45.10 AMIn this type of activity, each student is responsible for becoming the expert on a particular place (city, town, neighborhood) and can present this information to others in the class. What usually happens is that students find cultural pieces of interest in what the other students have learned and will often inquire further. For younger students it is helpful to have students ask each other about their “expertise” and have questions to be answered.

For more advanced levels, students can be responsible (in the target language) for more historical aspects of a particular place and can even begin to do some research on social structures or issues. This information generally available on line in publications that are written in the target language countries. For example, illiteracy rates or public assistance may be appropriate for high school or college students, whereas important buildings and neighboring towns/cities would be a better option for elementary and middle school students.

Ultimately, the goal in teaching geography in a foreign language classroom should include awareness of the people that create and live the culture associated with it, rather than just a series of dots on a map.

Teaching about the Hispanic World

If you are looking for a way to introduce the rich and diverse world of the Hispanohablante, you can access a great unit online that was created by the Comm Tech Lab at Michigan State University.

In this unit, students use the Internet to explore Spanish-speaking countries around the world.  Students move beyond a superficial understanding of countries and cultures and engage in a deeper understanding of the people and ways of life.

You can access the full set of lesson plans and online resources HERE.