Tag Archives: language

Cultural Bridge Building

Teachers: Pioneers of Cultural Bridge Building

Recently at the ACTFL conference in San Diego we listened to Rick Steves talk about the power of travel. It was a compelling conversation that got me thinking a lot about language and the pioneers of cultural bridge building that we call teachers. I am not sure we focus enough on the power of teaching languages in schools, the impact of immersing the student in a culture and giving them a set of tools so that they can communicate in that culture. How encouraging it is to see how students’ lives and career decisions can change as a result of a teachers guidance, enthusiasm, and care.

I remember my French teacher to this day and I wasn’t a great student. He taught me the power to take chances, to take risks in communicating, and he told me never to feel foolish. Mistakes are part of the fun in coming to grips with the language. I have made many mistakes – some funny and some with dire shopping consequences! But it never stopped me from going for it!

We had a reception that evening in San Diego and I said that for me it all started with a verb conjugation. It was sort of like getting your passport. It opened up the world and then I got to connect all of those things that I had memorized (and I had to memorize a lot) into real life situations – being there, practicing, making mistakes, and understanding that it was fun. Here’s the thing, language cannot be taught effectively in a vacuum. Yes you may get a 10/10 on the test, but if you have not experienced the interactions, smelled the scents of a marketplace, taken the risk of talking to a vendor, or asked directions, then what purpose is the language for. In this day and age especially.

So I say, imagine a world where we all get a 10/10 for our Spanish, French, German, and Italian, but we never actually speak to a Spanish, French, German, or Italian person. We had never connected nor ever experienced the culture. It all started and basically ended with a verb. Not good. Travel is essential to connect the dots and connect the culture.  Sometimes to go bravely where “no man” has been before a la Captain Kirk.  What fun it is to hack at a language, make a complete fool of oneself, and yet somehow, the miracle of miracles, through a combination of sign language and mimicry, we get there.  1/10 on the language test but 10/10 for the connection that you make. 


The Language Of Sports

Life seems to be about sports at the moment. I am fascinated by the Language of Sports. In soccer, the English Premier League just completed its season with incredible coverage from NBC. Americans could wake up any Saturday or Sunday and watch the full gamut of games live with incredible coverage and smart informed announcers. The Spanish League (probably the best in the world) is coming to a final crescendo, a cup final of sorts this weekend, between the great Barcelona and the upstart Atlético Madrid. Hockey is on the TV it seems nearly every night thanks again to great coverage by NBC. Basketball, in between scandals, draws down its season as baseball picks up the baton and rolls through the summer in its lazy way as the Yankees and Red Sox slug it out between themselves.

I was thinking the other day about team sports, language, and global awareness. In the Premiership’s top clubs, there are more languages spoken in the dressing rooms than you can imagine. Manchester City has 18 foreign players in their 24-man squad, Manchester United has 17 foreign players in their 26-man squad, Liverpool has 17 foreign players in their 22-man squad, Arsenal has 23 foreign players in their 27-man squad, and Chelsea has 21 foreign players in their 24-man squad. As English as a vindaloo curry!

At the post match interviews, it is always amusing to listen to the one or two English players who are on the team offer their thoughts on the game. More often than not, it is easier to understand the foreign players speaking English than it is to understand the English players speaking English.

Either way, I am always impressed by how fast the foreign players adapt to the English environment and the English language. Let’s face it, you have to be impressed when you come from a sunny country like Brazil, Spain, or Portugal, and you end up living the dream in the rain soaked grayness of a Manchester morning. Yep, we know why they are there. It’s not the language and the culture but the $20,000,000 they are offered every year in the highest paid league in the world. But still, they grasp the language and even take on the regional dialect of the places they are playing in. It is strange to hear a Spanish player speaking in a Liverpudlian scouse accent, a French player speaking in a cockneyesque accent, and a German player speaking with a Geordie accent! But that is exactly what happens. They immerse themselves in our culture.

In hockey, the Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, speaks five languages and most of his teammates, with the exception of the Americans (who are the minority) speak numerous languages too. Plus, all of the Canadians speak French as well. But the point is that all of them speak English.

This says a lot about sports. The Cuban baseball player who jumped ship, the Dominican Republic guy just recently brought up from the minors in his native country, and countless other players, all speaking English. They easily can converse with their colleagues on the pitch in both English and Spanish.

Sports have become incredibly multilingual. On the American soccer scene, the Hispanic influence is everywhere but the Uruguayan and the Columbian guys speak English. However, more often than not, the English guys speak just English and sometimes really bad English! David Beckham, handsome, rich, footballing icon, spent a year in Spain, a year in Italy, and a year in France. His language advancement never got beyond a “Si” or “Grazie, Si, I don’t understand” and “Grazie for the huge amount of money you are paying me!” Even his English seems a little stilted!

This is where every teacher and every school should focus on.

Yes, English is the language of the world, it is the computer language of the world, and it probably is the default sporting language of the world. But the speed at which people adapt to language speaks more to the openness of their minds, the willingness to take on a different culture, and not just the $25,000,000 a year that they get at the end of the day. Wake up English speakers everywhere! Learn to converse in the reverse!!

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