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Thursday, May 8, 2014 (read 928 times)

The Spanish Teacher as a Guide

by Lauris

A Guide on the Road to Intercultural Competence

During the last few weeks we’ve seen how some Europeans are shocked when they discover the daily schedule of the “average” Spaniard. They frown when they hear that we go to bed too late, that we don’t sleep enough or, because of these previous customs, we aren’t as productive as our northern neighbors. Oh well… With all of this chatter going on, ideas centered on this topic start to increase and soon enough we have enough material to present (again!) a class focused on intercultural relations.

Intuition is an excellent ally of the Spanish teacher and this subject is one that is especially interesting; so much so that many thinkers and teachers have worked or are working on developing these ideas into lessons. Unfortunately, most times these great ideas, regardless of our good faith, just remain that: Ideas with the best of intentions but ideas nonetheless.

The other day I found an article (actually I received the article via e-mail from FORMESPA, a forum for Spanish teachers with the objective of pooling the collective resources of Spanish teachers from around the world to make our job easier and more diverse.) from Isabel Iglesias, from the University of Oviedo, discussing intercultural competence. I will summarize her article so we can use it as a starting point for what we can do in our classroom on this subject:

If we assume that contact with other cultures inevitably produces comparisons between those things that we find familiar and those things we find different regarding a student’s culture, we can be lead to interpret, without exactitude, actions out of their cultural context. These interpretations will then lead us to understand incorrectly these actions due to our lack of information. Thus, “culture shock” is virtually inevitable.

What follows can be the first step in what the teacher/guide can do to manage these “conflicts” in the classroom and redirect students (and teacher) towards a better cultural understanding. This learning experience can be defined as a “combination of situations which produces individual awareness and awareness of others and, by doing so, reaching a new level of consciousness and understanding.” This is our goal.

We should work on fomenting a series of qualities that can assist in making cultural learning successful. Among these qualities we can work on the ability to substitute the cultural habits of the student for those that are found in the culture that the student may find himself immersed in temporarily (for study abroad students, for example). It is important to remember that along with this flexibility we must obviously consider the desire and capacity of the student to want to establish new intercultural relationships and use the language that is being taught. While this may seem evident, I’m sure we’ve all had cases (not few I’m sure) where a student insists on learning only the grammar, leaving aside intentionally anything that doesn’t have anything to do with the strictly academic aspect of the language. We should also encourage tolerance of our differences and avoid value judgments—which are always dangerous—regarding attitudes and actions that we may find (the teacher and/or the student) peculiar and thus, strange.

Finally, it is essential that we promote (and here we should lead by example) a greater sense of humor so that we can laugh at our errors, mistakes and blunders. If we learn to laugh more we will avoid dramatics in the classroom that, in the end, don’t do anyone any good. By establishing this framework, we will be prepared to begin to work on what we have set out to do: the construction of intercultural competence with our students.

Next week we will continue with this exciting challenge.

Keywords: spanish teacher,intercultural competence,teaching spanish,spanish teaching,spanish teachers,culture shock,cultural learning


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