Language learning and culture go hand in hand. If you ever thought that including culture in language learning was difficult, this article is for you. Don’t worry, I won’t mention expensive trips abroad! This post is only about easy and attainable ways of adding a cultural component without teachers dying in the process. Let’s begin!
But, first of all, let’s focus on the theory: Why is culture a key component in language learning?
Teaching culture in language learning: Why?
Many scholars agreed that the ability of understanding culture is a key aspect of effective communication. Historically, this ‘cultural component’ existed separately from the language one. However, recent changes in society as a result of globalisation and migration have led to big changes in language teaching.
For many young learners the study of a foreign language is something exciting. The challenge to many teachers is then to provide opportunitities for students to engage with the target culture. The latter will enhance our pupils’ communicative ability and, at the same time, we’ll be promoting linguistic diversity. Also, providing a cultural component gives us the chance to embrace cultural differences.
Now, let’s discover 10 easy ways to add some culture into our lessons!
#1. Variety is the spice for life
No matter the language you teach, you must consider this factor. When teaching culture, most textbooks and study guides tend to focus on certain countries. If it’s a Spanish one, it will focus on countries such as Spain or Mexico.
You will agree with me when I say that Hispanic culture is not only about flamenco or Día de Muertos. In the same way, English is not only about Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day. By this, I am not saying we shouldn’t be teaching these amazing festivals; we just need to start demonstrating a bit more variety.
For instance, on the occasion of the Hispanic Heritage Month, I started creating some learning resources to address this gap. The objective of these materials was to show how amazing and varied the Spanish-speaking world is. Now we have something called, “The Spanish-speaking Country of the Week”, where we get to discover some interesting facts and cultural aspects of different nations. (If you’d like to have this material, you can find them on TES store and Teachers Pay Teachers!)
Other cool, cultural ideas could be having:
These will add a kick of freshness to your lessons and pupils will be looking forward to this content!
#2. Cultivate the love for authentic reading
Reading is a complex and impressive achievement. We just don’t read for learning or pleasure: we read for survival too.
Whereas reading for learning is conditioned by the academic context, reading for survival depends on our relationship with the environment. But what does that mean?
Well, reading for survival is focused on how we interact with authentic texts. Here we could include adverts, timetables, street signs, restaurant menus, etc. Have you seen a real one in a study guide? Me neither.
Using original or authentic materials is a great way of adding culture in language learning. Such materials, according to Guariento & Morley (2001) help learners participate in real-world events. How can we do that?
- News: Reading online newspapers or magazines is a habit that keeps us informed about a wide range of topics. Select an online article or bring a newspaper written in the target language to your classes. Students will be very curious about the format and the type of language used in it. Some useful sites are BBC Mundo or El País. If you are looking for more fun stuff, visit Parece del Mundo Today (pero Es Verdad), a website dedicated to unbelievable news.
- Create your own classroom library: Gather some exciting books of different levels that your students can borrow. Don’t you know where to start? You will find some suggestions here.
- Look for authentic materials: Whenever you get the chance to go abroad, keep those museum guides, transport tickets or supermarket leaflets. You could give them a second life in your classes!
#3. Take advantage of virtual tours
In this post, I talked about how we can easily achieve cultural immersion from home. Of course, we can take this to our own classroom!
Last year many cultural organisations opened their virtual doors, so the most spectacular sights and museums are at your fingertips to explore!
These are some of the thousands places that you can visit from home: Seville Cathedral, Museo del Prado, Museo Reina Sofia, Museo Picasso, Sagrada Familia, The Alhambra, Frida Kahlo Museum, Museo Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, etc.
If you don’t mind heights, I would recommend AirPlano. This website offers high-resolution aerial photographs and 360º videos.
#4. Music, maestro!
Throughout centuries, music has been considered as a universal means of communication.
If you ask me how I learnt the foreign languages I know now, I’d blame song lyrics. Probably 50% of the English I use nowadays comes from having listened to music for hours and hours. Not only my pronunciation got better, but I also improved my listening skills and broadened my vocabulary. If that strategy actually worked for me, why wouldn’t I recommend it to my students?
Let’s see some other ideas that we can put into practice:
- Song of the week: Something that your students will look forward to! Don’t know where to start? We have some cool recommendations for you!
- Teach through music: Choose some music related to the topic you are teaching and use it as the centre of your lesson. I tell you how I do it here.
- Discover new music: For instance, Radiooooo is a vintage-looking website that allows you to explore music from around the world. Just select a decade (from 1900-2010) and a country and you’ll be transported to a different world! Sometimes I use it as background music when students are completing projects.
#5. Cooking and food
What better way of learning a culture than literally tasting it?
As I mentioned at the beginning, you don’t have to go abroad with your students to experience this. You can check if there is a Mexican, Spanish or Argentinian restaurant in your area and plan a visit.
Alternatively, you can challenge your pupils to cook a meal at home. Trying new cooking techniques and different flavours will give them a different insight into the daily life of the Hispanic people. Advanced students, could follow a recipe in the target language and explain the process in a video.
Another idea could be considering important events (such as Christmas or Easter) or the national days of countries to prepare dishes inspired on their local cuisine to prepare thematic days (e.g., Day of Spanish Tapas, Day of Peruvian Food, etc.)
That’s all, teacher folks! I hope you found these strategies useful. Of course, you don’t have to put them all in place in one lesson! Remember: Variety is the spice of life.