The last few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind of culture for my Ukrainian as a second language students. In all of the fun, I really reflected as a teacher of the importance of pairing cultural awareness and elements in second language learning.
I think among many second language teachers this concept is debated.
Is it really worth the time to teach students cultural elements over language structure and components? OR is it simply the worth of second language classes to teach primarily language?
I am on the side of- yes, not only is it worth it… but it is crucial.
Based on my experience, pairing cultural elements with second language acquisition is the key to student motivation in second language learning. If students feel like they are a part of the larger picture and understand the life that people who embody that language have, they are more likely to WANT to use the language, invest in their own learning AND continue in language programs in higher grades.
Throughout the year, I use cultural holidays and religious events to embed cultural components into language curriculum, but this month I did a few extra things to make my students proud to be second language learners…pride is SO important.
- We hosted a Ukrainian Day on Ukraine’s Vyshyvanka Day (Ukrainian Shirt Day)
Here are some of the awesome things that my students organized:
-Blue and Yellow face paint (Ukraine’s flag colors) for all students.
-Name Tags of translated names for all students.
-Ukrainian Folk music over the intercom
-Perogy and Ukrainian Kubasa Sausage sale at lunch. (Where all proceeds went to support Ukrainian war effort)
-Kolomayka Dance (Circle Dance) in the gym at lunch hour
-Ukrainian Photo booth with Props
All of these things were great initiatives to get students involved in promoting culture and pride for their second language learning. Many students said that they would have liked to do it more than once this year, but the important thing was that it instilled a sense of pride and accountability for their second language learning.
- In their language classes, cultural elements are embedded. With my grade 8 class, we learned Ukrainian vocabulary in relation to food. We then were able to go into the home economics room and cook 2 recipes using the Ukrainian vocabulary we learned.
All the students love eating and cooking to it was a great success for engagement.
Within my grade 7 class, we learned about cool facts about Ukraine. They could choose what ever topic they wanted and then they made a 2 minute vlog video about their findings.
Just like Canadian culture, we looked at a series of vloggers that exist in Ukraine and listened to their take on different current topics happening in their lives. The students loved it because they all have their favorite ‘YouTubers’ that they follow.
They were so excited and invested to use language to create their own vlog- it was awesome.
- Edmonton (our city) hosted its first ever Ukrainian festival (UFest) this past weekend because of the large community that exists here. Many of my students attended with their families and were in the festivities.
I decided to volunteer for the event to prove our involvement in the community outside of our classroom. I believe it is so important to extend the knowledge that I am trying to instill in my students to the rest of the community.
The festival was a HUGE success and it was great for many of my students to see me active in the community able to support culture.
The reality is that language is culturally acquired skill. The importance of second language students understanding the culture that their language comes from and the way that people live using that language is crucial. Otherwise, there is limited engagement as the the ‘why’ it is important to continue to invest in learning.
If you’re a second language teacher, I challenge you to take on some cultural elements in your classroom! Try it out and see how it goes!