If I had £1 for every time a student has said to me, "Why doesn't everyone speak English?", I would currently be in the Caribbean soaking up the tropical rays and sipping cocktails on board my private yacht, and not in cold, rainy Washington.
It's a question they often ask in exasperation or to deliberately disrupt the lesson, and so my reply has often been similarly exasperated, along the lines of "It's not something that's quick to explain so if you come back at 3.30 I'll tell you all about it for half an hour." And that usually does the trick. Some students have been genuinely curious, and I have given them my quick "Because of history, geography, politics and religion" explanation.
In retrospect, it's a question that we should take seriously and do our best to answer in depth. Because you cannot completely understand or appreciate a language without knowing something about the country or countries where it is spoken. The two are inextricably linked. For example, the Spanish phrase "hacer puente" does not always mean "to bridge" in its strictest sense. Scratch the surface and you find out about a tradition for taking days off that you'll wish you had, and then dig a little deeper and you discover how many holidays Spanish children get compared to British children.
What is Intercultural Understanding? Here are two definitions:
“Intercultural Understanding is the ability and willingness to see things from a different cultural perspective..... It is respecting different ideas and lifestyles and recognising that your culture is not superior to others.”
“Appreciating the richness and diversity of other cultures.....Recognising that there are different ways of seeing the world and developing an international outlook.”
For me, Intercultural Understanding addresses and disproves the stereotypical views that Britons so often have about people from other countries, proves that our way is not necessarily the only way or the best way, and allows students access the rich and vibrant culture of the target-language country or countries through their language studies.
The photograph at the top is one of a series that I took to make a CrazyTalk video for a training session I was giving. The little figure is one of a set of "World People" that can be purchased from the Early Learning Centre (and who you may recognise from Gorseville!) I use them often to explain about stereotyping. Is this what French people look like? What do they really look like? And interestingly, go a step further and examine why we have this stereotypical image of French people. The BBC's "Coast" programme explains very well about the Onion Johnnies, who would have been the first and only contact that many British people had with the French.
I am a big fan of the Intercultural Understanding strand of the KS2 Framework, and am pleased that it is part of the KS3 Framework as well. I've done my best to include Intercultural Understanding in my KS2 Spanish lessons over the last year, and I have to say that it has been harder than I anticipated. It seems a bit false somehow, especially when you only see the children once a week, to depart from the "thread" of your lessons and stick something intercultural in. What I have done so far, formally in any case, has been looking at the Spanish-speaking world (thanks World Cup!) and highlighting certain fiestas such as San José, San Fermín and la Fiesta Nacional de España.
After some useful tweets and research over the last couple of weeks, I have come to the conclusion that Intercultural Understanding, in my setting at least, would best be covered little and often, as a "drip-drip-drip" approach, rather than as one-off occasional lessons.
I was reading Danny Nicholson's blogpost "Powerful Images to Give Lessons Punch", where he suggests displaying a photograph on the board at the beginning of the lesson to stimulate questions. In the MFL lesson this could be a photograph of a fiesta, place, child or house from the target language country, or something a bit different like a Google Doodle. Fiona Joyce tweeted the Google Doodle link and I could see its potential for intercultural work, as Google Doodles are something with which our young people are very familiar. Here's one to start you off:
In September, one of the first things I will be teaching my second-year-of-Spanish pupils is the months of the year. I am starting to make the flashcards, and have decided to put images of fiestas on each month's card, such as Reyes for January, San Valentín for February, San José for March and so on. This will give learning what is essentially twelve words a bit more depth and purpose.
I thought I would share with you some of my favourite Intercultural Understanding links.