Equality, social justice and inclusion; three essential and powerful values in any community. They are so powerful that the need for them was recently, despite a global pandemic, able to mobilize masses around the world in joint demands for equal and fair treatment. People in various countries around the world expressed, in different ways, their support to all measures and efforts that need be taken in order to ensure and reinforce these values.
To language educators, diversity, inclusion, cultural awareness and acceptance form an integral part of the teaching process. They realize that it is absolutely pointless to teach language without culture, and at many times it is simply impossible. Research in the field of language teaching and learning stresses the importance of teaching both language and culture inseparably. It also points to the fact that teaching culture is the first step to understanding diversity and inclusion (Abreu,2016, Byram & Wagner, 2018, Warner & Dupuy, 2018). The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has long listed Intercultural Communication as part of Language Proficiency Benchmarks (More information here). Every language educator has at one point in time come across Milton Bennett’s famous quote: “To study a language without learning its culture is a great way to make a fluent fool of yourself ”
In advanced levels, some language classes are specifically designed to tackle cultural issues that deal with race, diversity, equality, social justice and inclusion. Few examples of these classes that you can find here at Yale are The Afro-German Experience, Contemporary Spanish Politics, Business French; Communication and Culture, Languages in Dialogue; Arabic – Hebrew. Here, learners can dive into these issues and acquire more knowledge about the countries that speak these languages. Learners can read authentic materials, watch movies and videos in the target language, discuss the contents and express their opinions.
In elementary language classes the situation is different. In these classes, language knowledge and skill mastery does not allow for this wide range of functions to be used. How can elementary level language classes teach language effectively and still advocate for inclusion? This seems like a tough enough task, but the solution – or at least one solution- might be easier than you think. The idea is to start in a simple yet effective manner.
Elementary language classes start by teaching learners a number of basic yet important functions such as greetings, introducing oneself, talking about colleagues, friends, acquaintances and family members. In doing so, language educators rely heavily on imagery and depictions, sine they strive to use the target language 90% of the time inside the class (ACTFL recommendation). Using images helps learners understand the situation, function and context without the need to resort to translation (another ACTFL recommendation). Selecting images and representations that depict various ethnic groups may seem like a simple measure, but it is critical. In reality, this simple measure is a powerful tool that has the potential of teaching learners the ethnic fabric of the country (countries) whose language they are learning. It also helps learners internalize this diversity as a normal part of the community.
Abreu (2016) concludes his study by saying:
The call appears clear: Materials designers, program developers, and instructors of all languages must seek to carefully evaluate the resources at their disposal and determine the extent to which those resources and educational experiences visually and textually reflect the racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity among the people whose language(s) they teach (p. 188)
So next time you are sitting down to prepare for your elementary language class, consider representation in the images you are selecting. In the call for inclusion and equality, no deed is too small.
Abreu, L. (2016). Awareness of Racial Diversity in the Spanish‐Speaking World Among L2 Spanish Speakers. Foreign Language Annals, 49(1), 180-190.
Byram, M., & Wagner, M. (2018). Making a difference: Language teaching for intercultural and international dialogue. Foreign Language Annals, 51(1), 140-151.
Warner, C., & Dupuy, B. (2018). Moving toward multiliteracies in foreign language teaching: Past and present perspectives… and beyond. Foreign Language Annals, 51(1), 116-128.
Resources on images for classes:
ACTFL resources for language Education that addresses issues of race, diversity and Social Justice:
ACTFL Can-Do Statements: