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Thursday, April 10, 2014 (read 1546 times)

Difficult Topics in Language Classes

by Lauris

With the arrival of Semana Santa (Easter Week) cultural issues come up in the Spanish as a foreign language class that usually derive from a lack of information that students have about Spanish religious traditions. I am Spanish, but I imagine that something similar happens in Mexico with the “Día de Muertos” (Day of the Dead) and likewise in every other Hispanic country.

The first question that students ask, especially in cities where the processions are accompanied by penitents wearing striking-pointy nosed helmets, is the following: Why are so many Spanish people in the Ku-klux-klan? I admit that when I was first asked this question, I nearly choked and I had to contain a nervous laugh.

It is not unusual that, what we see every day and consider “normal”, does not seem strange to us. However, these things can surprise and shock people from a different cultural background when they come across them for the first time. From my point of view, one of the most important jobs as a teacher of Spanish as a Foreign Language is cultural mediation: to be able to inform the students about different issues in the most objective way possible. 

Students taking immersion courses in Spain often find that most Spaniards don’t understand why everyday cultural elements in Spain may seem strange to someone visiting the country. And this can be frustrating for the foreign student in Spain because when they ask questions with the best intentions in the world, the first response is often just a laugh.

Hence the Spanish teacher has to bear in mind that the cultural classes are not only an excuse to talk about a topic in a casual, relaxed manner after a series of lessons in grammar and vocabulary that have exhausted the student. The culture and civilization classes should be prepared as meticulously as the language classes.

One good thing to do is to make the class group prepare a survey about a foreign person’s FAQs, and then taking advantage of the playful side of the matter, invite our students to take to the streets and look for answers, warning them of the possible reaction of disbelief from passers by because, as stated above, for them the questions are perfectly normal. Then come up with a general consensus and visit the computer lab together in a group, and look for objective information about the issues that have been raised in the classroom.

It is recommended that the teacher keeps a low profile in this sort of task, and their effort should be focused in assisting the selection of questions, which should be as relevant as possible, and within their range of control to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

You will also discover that such unrestricted surveys can teach you, the teacher, to see things with a new perspective.

And that always enriches both the student and the teacher, resulting in an increased level of quality and meaningful information that we can use in class.

Keywords: language classes,spanish teacher,religion in spain,spanish traditions,semana santa spain,cultural mediation


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