Connect to the target culture

Hotel Phone Call

As even the most advanced language student knows, making a phone call can be a daunting experience given the lack of visual input and the possibility of a dropped call. To overcome this fear and build confidence, students will complete a series of carefully paced activities and then use Skype to contact several hotels in the target culture. During the call, they will obtain information on amenities, cost, availability, and location. For beginning students, multiple scaffolded activities build up to placing the phone calls while fewer supporting activities may be needed for more advanced learners. The scaffolded activities support vocabulary development, listening skills, question formation, and information gathering, as well as strategies for researching prospective hotels in the target culture. After successfully calling several hotels, the project culminates with students presenting their findings and explaining what hotel they ultimately chose and how.

I say—you say

Based on the CULTURA project (Furstenberg, Levet, English, & Maillet, 2001), students compare cultural associations based on key words. Based on the learning targets of the lesson, the teacher creates a word list such as School, Friends, Education, Teachers. Then, members of the TC are contacted and asked the first words that come to mind when they hear these words in their culture. Once this information is collected, the teacher asks her own class which words they associate from their own culture. After the words have been generated, the two lists are compared for similarities and differences. This activity works well synchronously (e.g. via Skype) or asynchronously. To summarize the data and focus on explicit strategies, a semantic map could be generated to visually examine the word associations (

Activity Menu (during study abroad)

Provide a menu of different communicative tasks that fosters respectful, authentic exchanges between students and locals. If the students’ communicative choices are culturally insensitive they are unlikely to get the service or help they need. Examples of tasks include: order food, buy a souvenir, and ask directions. Decide how many of the tasks students should do. Write a reflection at the end.

Variation: the instructor plans ahead and meets with small business owners, tour guides, etc that students will come in contact with (sort of like The Amazing Race TV show where people travel around the world doing different challenges). Arrange with the locals to have students get a certain product, piece of info, etc and report back to the group at the end of the day. Reflection: what word choices, gestures, non-verbal things did they do to get their ideas across.

Treasure Hunt

Reaping the benefits of authentic materials produced not for language learners but those of the TL culture. At the end of a unit on a substantive aspect of culture such as marriage, employment or diversity offer students a menu of artifacts to examine and note cultural features that indicate their origins: Blog post, newspaper article, film review, restaurant review, song, film, TV show, commercial, advertisements, instructions accompanying an electronic device, a brochure for medication or health opportunity. Questions they should consider: are the images different than you would see in similar artifacts in your own culture? What might explain the differences? Are the word choices, tone, rhetoric, etc different than what you’ve observed for similar artifacts in your culture? Again, what might be the reason. Ex: the French are generally less prudish about the human body so an advertisement for women’s health might show a naked woman’s torso. This is not the norm in the U.S.

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