Culture is a wide term, which embraces different aspects including social behaviour, institutions, and norms found in a group of dynamic people. In addition to the language, it comprises knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in that society.
Students learn a new language to form relationships and to be able to understand other points of view and experiences to enrich their own lives. Language users do not learn languages just to learn vocabulary to form sentences; learning the structure of the language is just the starting point of being an effective communicator and relationship-builder in the foreign language that you are learning.
As culture is not limited to language, it is vital that students learn how to understand and interpret others in their own social frameworks.
Develop the habit of exploring culture in your everyday lessons
To ensure we are teaching both the language and the culture, when planning our lessons, we can think about different ways to establish links between both aspects: language and culture. These are some suggestions:
1) Include in your resources images related to the Hispanic world. For instance when teaching the family you could include pictures of the Royal family; when teaching places in town you could include images of famous museums, shops, squares, etc.
2) Broaden students’ horizons by introducing the culture of any of the 20 countries where Spanish is their official and unique language. You could discuss the weather, food, habits, sports, etc. Avoid stereotyping people.
3) Find similarities and differences between the UK or the country you are teaching and one of the Spanish-speaking countries. To avoid overloading students with many examples, choose between 3 and 5 similarities or differences, depending on ability. Remember that in most of the Spanish-speaking countries, religious events are still relevant.
4) Promote critical thinking by asking students to find explanations regarding why there are those differences as well as those similarities.
5) Identify a list of key vocabulary and expressions that you can also use when teaching other topics. This is a great opportunity to do retrieval practice, which helps with motivation as well as increasing students’ fluency.
En España al igual que en Inglaterra durante los festivales hay fuegos artificiales.
En Argentina como en Inglaterra existe las cuatro estaciones.
Organising a yearly calendar to promote cultural capital across the school
To develop cultural capital across the school you can identify an activity that can be carried out with your students either every month, every half-term or every term, depending on your time, resources and curriculum. Here are some examples of what we do at my school.
SEPTEMBER – A welcome and greetings wall
At the start of the academic year, students should be positive and full of energy. You can select a wall and ask students to write short messages in Spanish, greeting and welcoming each other. They can also write positive messages about what they like at the start of the academy year, a comment about their holidays and their wishes for the new academic year.
If you teach in Europe, you can use this wall to ask students to write messages in different languages to celebrate the European Day of Languages.
OCTOBER – 12 October: The meeting of two cultures
To celebrate the discovery of America you can organise a poster competition. Ask students to research a Spanish-speaking country and use the information to produce a cultural poster. Students can write the main content in English and include some key words in Spanish.
You could speak to the canteen at your school so they can offer some typical food and drink from Spain or from Latin America.
NOVEMBER - The Day of the Dead
Organise a facemask competition. Students can produce their own mask using a variety of materials.
Speak to the canteen so they can offer some typical Mexican food. Discuss food options in lessons and ask students to provide justified opinions.
To show your enthusiasm, you could come to school with your face painted. I have done this at my school for the last two years and students loved and appreciate this commitment!