Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Connection of Language, Cultural Traditions and Celebrations by Ashleigh Williams

There are many things in this world that I love to do.  I love to cook, bake, read, sing in the car, spend time with friends, shop, rock climb, hike, craft and sleep.  I love to play and listen to music, talk, teach, veg out and learn.  Essentially, I just love to live.  And so many of these things go hand in hand, frankly it’s ridiculous.

As a teacher, I find myself making connections that most people would not normally see the same way I do.  I see the value in exposure even if only for a brief moment, and have internalized that some exposure is better than no exposure.  I have also learned to differentiate between good, correlated, rich exposures and flimsy, exposures that qualify more as a stretch than a teachable moment.

I use both.

I was recently asked why I, as a dual immersion educator, believe that learning about cultural traditions and celebrations is important when learning a new language.  The answer is simple.


Let’s be honest here.  It is nearly impossible to separate a language from the culture and country it comes from.  There are examples as simple as California’s use of the word “dude” to East Coast Italian-American’s use of the word “skeeves”, a derivative of the Italian “schifo” which literally means disgusting.

Knowing that language and culture are inherently related, the best option to provide language learners with a rich learning experience is to incorporate as many cultural traditions and holidays into their language acquisition as possible. 

Would it make sense to learn the language that is associated with American traditions and not the traditions themselves?  Think about it for a second.  There are some simple words and phrases, such as fireworks, hotdogs, grill, 4th of July, pilgrim and harvest (to name a few) that warrant a beautiful, cultural definition.  Sure, these words can definitely be translated from English into any other language, but learning them in conjunction with the celebrations and traditions they’re related to paint a fuller, brighter picture.

Likewise in Spanish you have picturesque words, such as cempazuchitl, calaca, posadas, Nochebuena, ofrenda, papel picado that can be translated into many languages.  However they are far better understood in the context of the traditions and holidays with which they are associated.
In this instance, brief exposure, while better than no exposure, is still not a plausible solution.  These connections take time to build.  Schemas must be created into which our context for learning must fit.  You can say the word “ofrenda” over and over again and show me a picture of an ofrenda.  But if you do not teach me that during los días de los muertos family members create ofrendas on home made altares to leave for their deceased loved ones, ofrenda will never take on that special meaning that it deserves.

These connections, between language and culture, reading and music, cooking and rock climbing are what make life rich and interesting.  They are what make our understanding deeper and meaningful. 

I challenge you to look for those connections in your every day life.  Make a list of words that you commonly use (the, a, and, an, is, was, are, etc. do not count) and put yourself in a second language learners’ shoes.  Do those words make sense without the cultural context?  If so, would a cultural context give you a more complete picture?  I urge you to make your connections rich and meaningful, not void of relevance. 

 About the writer

 Ashleigh Williams, Dual Language Program Teacher

After teaching two years in the DLP at Lincoln elementary, Ashleigh and her husband relocated to the Peninsula.  She is currently a Spanish DLP Kinder teacher at Selby Lane Elementary School in the Redwood City School District.  Ashleigh is trilingual, growing up fluent in Italian and English and later mastering Spanish.  Recently, Ashleigh was asked to present at the annual Summer Annual Two-Way Bilingual Immersion Conference, where she will speak on the new California Science Standards in the Dual Immersion thematic classroom.  She is also a blogger, you can follow her here assistingdescubrimiento.blogspot.com.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I just watched the video about Utah Dual Immersion!! I am a stand alone DL teacher in a Spanish-English classroom!! Those programs look amazing! Thanks for sharing!!!!!