Monday, May 28, 2012

Culturally Relevant - a Challenge!

There are many textbooks, webpages, and services out there to provide vocabulary lists for students and teachers.  Most of them are thematic and by in large very bland.  It is even more rare that they give any thought to culture whatsoever.

I posted about this issue recently on my other blog (where I talk about my efforts toward weight loss and my efforts in tandem toward learning Portuguese).  The problem was that I had gotten a list of vocabulary for fruit but words like açaí, acerola, ameixa, caqui, castanha de cajú, cupuaçú, goiaba, graviola were not included in the list.  Instead the list had words for fruits which are common in the English-speaking world.  When I am in Brazil (And someday soon, I hope to be!), I probably will not have a great deal of need for words like cranberry, blueberry, plum, and pear.  It's not that those fruits never show up in Brazil; it's just that one is much more likely to run across goiaba (guava) than cranberry - since cranberry is a cold weather fruit.  

When I went to Mexico for the first time, despite my three and a half years of studies, I did not know the words nopal, chayote, guyava, posole, or jícama - just to name a few.  How is it that this never came up?  I didn't know about saint's days, quinceañeras, or that there was racial tension surrounding the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus.  Again I ask - how is it that this never came up?

In the Spanish-speaking world there is a great deal of diversity, which makes creating culturally relevant vocabulary a challenge.  My suggestion is that one culture be dealt with per unit and, theoretically over the course of two years language study, students have gained a wider appreciation for the cultures in which Spanish is spoken.  Obviously we can't cover everything but that should not prevent us from doing what we can.   Yes, the culture is vast and varied, but most of us can probably do a better job of bringing many aspects of it to light.

So my challenge to myself and my fellow Spanish teachers is to add five - eight culturally relevant vocabulary words to each list.  They should relate thematically to the rest of the vocabulary and should provide students a glimpse into the particular Spanish-speaking culture you are featuring in the unit.  Next, use the vocabulary to give examples when it comes to explaining grammar points, and in practice activities.

Can you do it?  Yes, of course you can!  You have all summer to think it over.  I will do the same and I hope to post my results here in the form of activities and Powerpoint presentations.

Hasta pronto,



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