Monthly Archives: October 2011


More than words

 

What would you think if you see me doing the gesture of pointing my finger to the temple and moving it in circles?

For me, it’s clear that I want to express someone is crazy, but if I were in the north of Europe I could be in trouble since it’s considered very offensive and even penalized by law, or in Japan, same gesture means different things if the finger is moving forward (‘thinking’) or backwards (‘craziness’).

 

 

So, do you think is important to show this non-verbal language to the students of a language? Watch this video:

 

Probably you are able to follow the conversation even though you don’t have a great understanding of Spanish only by following the gestures. Well, here come the good news, we, Spanish, gesticulate a lot to the great help of the communication, some times to support the sentence, others used instead of the sentence, like in this case, which, believe me, is not so unusual to find in real life.

Gesticulate helps a lot, but this non-verbal language is universal? Pretty much, but not completely. Every language and every culture has its own code of gestures. Some of them are shared by other cultures, and others are only shared in the same group. Think about nod. For me, when you nod, you are saying yes, but in Bulgaria you would be saying no! So, if I’m learning Bulgarian, I’d expect being taught that to understand the answer of a simple “yes/no” question.

As I pointed in earlier posts, learning a language and therefore teaching it implies teach and learn the culture, the behavioral patterns and the gestures, this non-verbal language that gives us so much information if we get it right, but that can put us in trouble if we misinterpret.

As a teacher, have you recourse to non-verbal activities to make the students interact and think about this underlying gestuality cultural code? What kind of activities you use in the classroom?

As a student, do you find interesting to learn about the culture, cultural behaviors and gestures typical in every language?


Why learn Spanish? Few reasons

I am a native Spanish speaker and I teach it as a foreign language. If I someone asked me, why learn Spanish or another language, I would have lots of reasons to cheer people up to learn a foreign language, whatever it is. But if I had to suggest a language to learn, the answer would be: first, English (for all the non English speakers) and second, Spanish (so if you are an English speaker, Spanish would be my first answer for you).

Learning a new language has a lot of benefits, as I said in a previous post, but I recently learnt that knowing and using two languages reduces the chances of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. Moreover the scientists showed that bilingualism enhances mental abilities in both children and older adults. Besides studying languages can improve your memory and slow age-related decline in mental acuity. And studying another language makes you smarter: your critical thinking skills will be improved as you learn to view things through a different lens, and learning a second language stimulates creativity. 

After that I can’t but encourage you to learn another language for language’s sake and for your own benefit. Enroll now to whatever language appeals you!!!

However I can help you to pick a language. Spanish!!!

Yeah, according to Wikipedia, Spanish is the second language most spoken in the world with almost 400 million speakers,  it’s the fourth most commonly spoken language in the world (after English, Chinese and Hindustani) and it is an official language on four continents:

Primarily oficial language in Spain and 21 Latin America countries, is second oficial language in other countries, and is most spoken than the oficial language in Gibraltar (90%), Andorra (70%) and Belice (70%).
So the wide extension of the language brings us another reason: traveling. It is possible to visit the Latin American countries and Spain without speaking a word of Spanish but you would be missing one of the best parts of visiting a foreign country, the understanding the locals, their ways, that is to say, the fun and interesting part.In my humble opinion, learning Spanish opens up lots of opportunities to have more fun: movies, books, reading the menu in the restaurant, meet interesting people, travel… And beyond that, the satisfaction of accomplishment.Whether your motivations are practical, intellectual or sentimental, learning Spanish is something that will benefit you for the rest of your life!Spanish is a relatively easy language for English speakers to master. It obviously requires an effort, but the pay off is very high.Spanish is a wonderful and easy language to learn. You will always have the chance to travel and practice your Spanish with native speakers in many countries. If you are not learning, what are you waiting for?! 

Book a class with me immediately, the first class is free for you to decide if the online learning method suits you, but I’m sure you’ll see the benefits of learning from home at your own speed.

 


Teaching cultural awareness in an intercultural class 2

 

 

This post has been inspired by the book I have just finished reading: In the name of identity: violence and the need to belong, by Amin Maalouf. Read that I strongly recommend for several reasons: it is a thought provoking book about what makes up an individual: he says there is no one fixed, unique identity, but a series of what he calls ‘allegiances”: nationality, religion, gender, class… the individual, therefore, is the sum of all their surroundings, society and acts of free will and quirks of personality. I particularly loved that thoughtful liberalism, that enthusiasm for a rights based ideology of individual freedom. But that’s not all, it can be found an interesting discussion about the dominant ideology in the media and the culture, the negative possibilities of globalization, like the loss of local identities at the hands of homogeneity, that the fundamentalists might feels.

In short, this is a book that argues for understanding, tolerance and a hard realisation that violence and fanaticism can have very real reasons, rooted in fear, misery and poverty. A must read!!!

 

But what I want to talk in this post is about the necessity of teaching cultural awareness in class. In a previous post, I already wrote about the importance of teaching culture in a language class, but I want to focus here in something that is happening in our classes. More and more often, there are different cultures present in every classroom, and it’s the teacher work to make sure that she/he is incorporating a multicultural education, based in the equality of every single culture and focused in the values of these cultural differences amongst the students.

Moreover, it’s so interesting and enriching for students, as well as the teacher, when the students discuss their native culture with their foreign-speaking classmates at the same time that they are provided with a real experiential content. Few months ago, I was lucky to be in a Spanish class, beginners, in Ireland; so the majority of the students were Irish, but there were also Polish, French and Latvians. What an amazing class! The purpose of the class was obviously to learn Spanish and Spanish culture, but we were learning as well Irish, Polish, French and Latvian culture. This multicultural diversity in class motivated the students to talk and express themselves in order to show the rest the different behavior or customs in their country. It was also interesting to see how the students left the class with a wider perspective in the perception of the reality, because they recognize openly that everyone in the world is not “just like me”.

As I said, it is the teacher’s responsability to promote this multicultural understanding. And there are so many ways to do so… The role-play, for instance, help in the process of cross-cultural dialogues while at the same time it provides opportunities for oral communication. Other techniques, like readings, films, simulation, games, culture assimilators or culture capsules can be used for language teacher to help them in the process of acculturation in the classroom.

I finally hope that teaching of cultural standards may stop pigeonhole thinking and avoid establishing further stereotypes. Because is not only about culture, but about the individual self, aware of its roots and defining himself as the spider web, with links to individuals from other cultural contexts. Because identity is not only a matter of where you are born, but a whole life time process which assimilates all kinds of life-experiences as I said in the beginning with Maalouf book.