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Você está aqui: Página Inicial Vol. 9, Edição No. 1 Bringing multicultural perspectives on English into the classroom

Bringing multicultural perspectives on English into the classroom

Contextualizing

What are the images we usually relate to English? Which countries and cultures are usually represented in English learning materials? Do they speak for the variety of official English speaking countries and their cultures around the world? This report describes the attempt to include multiple perspectives of English speaking cultures in the classroom. The classes were conducted in an Intercultural Communication course from the Idiomas sem Fronteiras program (which focuses on internationalizing the academic community) at UFRGS, in 2017. Although this is a description of classes held in a short course for intermediate level adults in a specific learning context, these tasks can be transformed into a small project and even adapted to lower level learners (and the descriptions will include tips on how to do so).

This course was 16-hour long (composed by four weekly classes of four hours each) and the students who took it were undergraduate and graduate students from the university and staff members. The group was classified as B1 level of proficiency, and, overall, they had an upper-intermediate performance in understanding the language but still a lower-intermediate one when communicating by themselves. The target ability of this course was oral communication, therefore there was no specific syllabus to be followed in terms of grammar or vocabulary: the goal of the following sequence is “simply” to provide students with a brief but significant immersion on discussions in English, as well as resources that helped their communication from simple to more complex situations.

 

The classes

As usual in this type of course, first classes start with getting-to-know-each-other dynamics and a needs analysis form so that the teacher knows the grounds and expectations of the group. After these protocol activities, the first task related to the course objectives was a progressive oral communication dynamic: First, in groups of 3 to 5, the students received an envelope with simple nouns in pieces of paper. Their task was to describe it to the others until they guessed it:

17a

This helped them to start speaking through simple descriptions. In case students are beginners, examples can be provided, as well as a list of adjectives or sentence constructions on the board. Then, after a few rounds, they received a second envelope, this time with more complex or abstract nouns (here, using examples first is even more helpful):

17b

Then, for the last round, they received an envelope with questions on it, which should be answered by all of them. To set the room for the following tasks, the questions were related to places in the world, such as “Where would you travel to if you could go anywhere?”, “Have you ever been abroad? Where?”, or “Where would you never travel to?”. The teacher goes around to check on the students’ performances and, after a few rounds of questions, students share some questions with the whole group. Meanwhile, the teacher projects a world map on the board (in case there is no projector, they can be handed in to small groups again). The students can check if they know the location of the places they mentioned on the map.

Then, the groups are asked to go to the board (or, on their papers) and paint on the map all the English-speaking countries that they know of:

17c

Figure 1: Political world map (available at https://martinhumanities.com/2014/04/09/something-fun-countries-of-the-world-challenge/ )

 

When they are done, the answer-map can be projected on top of it or shown to them:

17d

Figure 2: English speaking countries on the world map, by My English Pages (available at https://www.myenglishpages.com/site_php_files/reading-english-speaking-countries.php )

 

Along with the map, the students then explored a list of official English-speaking countries around the world where English is the language of instruction (available at https://projects.ncsu.edu/grad/handbook/docs/official_language_english.htm ). Besides this one, Wikipedia offers more complete lists including countries where English is an official language but used as a lingua franca (this concept can be elicited here). Up from that, the group spontaneously discussed their surprise in getting to know Caribbean and African English-speaking countries.

Since this surprise was expected, the following activity was a reading task on nationality stereotypes. They were asked to look at the items listed in a CNN article named 10 things to know before visiting Brazil (https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/brazil-10-things/index.html ) and in a Medium article called 15 Things You Need To Know Before You Visit Nigeria (https://medium.com/@funmi.oyatogun/15-things-you-need-to-know-before-you-visit-nigeria-a49043778021 ). The article about Brazil was critically read by the students because it is clearly grounded on stereotypes, therefore it can be read first, so that the one about Nigeria can be read critically as well. Then, they were asked to orally and collectively summarize their impressions on both lists. This final conversation can be guided through questions on the board for the students to answer in groups and then share it. In order to adapt it to a basic level, they can be asked to make lists of adjectives or simple words that summarize the stereotypes of each place.

Then, the second class focused on oral comprehension with examples of English from these “non-standard” countries, while providing the group with information to discuss issues related to culture, power and belonging. It started with a speaking activity that was similar from the one used in the first class, only this time they were asked to describe names of countries in the world in groups. Then, again, they took round of answering questions, such as: “What is a country?”, “What is a culture?”, “What does ancestry mean?”, and “Are there cultures being more valued than others?Why?”. Basic level students, in this case, could be asked to look up English definitions for these concepts and discuss them.

This conversation was supposed to set the mood for the oral comprehension task of watching the TED Talk The Danger of The Single Story, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (available at https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story) which addresses stereotypes, cultural voices, and power. The students watched the 18-minute talk with English subtitles and were asked to write down key concepts of the talk (which can be a good strategy whenever a longer material is presented). I believe this particular video is worth using even with beginner students and with portuguese subtitles, if needed. In this case, the teacher could, at the end of the video, ask the group to explain some concepts in English, such as single story, Western, power.

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Figure 3: The Danger of the Single Story TED talk.

 

After watching it and taking notes on it, the students wrote some of their keywords on the board and explained their choices, building an oral summary of the ideas on the video. The group can also relate this content to reflections from the past class, since then they explored an article about perspectives and stereotypes about Nigeria (which is the home of the speaker, who elicits details about the country). This discussion can be also guided by questions, such as “What is a single story?” or “What is the relation between stereotypes and power?”.

Then, students received a new set of questions for them to discuss in groups, but, thus time, write down as well. The questions were supposed to elaborate each one’s experiences regarding the concepts discussed earlier: “Where are you from?”, “Where is your home?”, “Where does your family live?”, “What is your favorite place in the world?”, “How would you define your ancestry?”, “Which would be the perfect place for you to live?”, “Is migration part of your ancestry or even your own life?”. Since this list has the aim of making students reflect on their ancestries and the complexity of it, basic students could answer simpler versions of it: “Where are you from?”, “Where are your parents from? “Where are your grandparents and great-grandparents from?”, “Did any of them move from their original country?”.

After answering and sharing some of their perspectives (they will probably notice that migration is part of everyone or almost everyone’s ancestries, as was our case), the group watches the TED Talk Where is home?, by Pico Iyer ( https://www.ted.com/talks/pico_iyer_where_is_home ), addressing the concept of home and nationality in the globalised world. Again, the idea is to summarize it with basic concepts. More basic students could try to explore the first four minutes of it (with English subtitles or even with portuguese subtitles first and then English), which offer an overall idea.

17f

Figure 4: Where is home? TED talk.

 

After sharing their keywords and discussing them, the students were invited to revisit their question form related to origin and ancestry to check if they would want to rewrite some of their answers, since the talk offers a different perspective on these concepts showing that they are usually not simple. In this part, students questioned the way we define and judge people by their homeplace, recognizing how complex belonging can be. Lastly, a homework was assigned: students had to search for news (preferably good ones) about English-speaking countries that we know very little about. The idea was for them to search for something surprising, to help breaking a mistaken stereotype.

Consequently, students presented their findings on the third class. But, before that, they got together to talk about what they all had in common: the city of Porto Alegre. This activity was meant for them to see different perspectives on the city that would help them revisit the idea of stereotypes. They were asked to build a list of pros and cons of our city, in groups. Then, they shared it by building a collective pros and cons list on the board. Their items included, for example, violence and transportation on the cons and culture and diversity on the pros side. After that, they were asked to read the pros and cons on living in other places through Quora forums on Nigeria and New York City (https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-pros-and-cons-of-living-in-Nigeria and https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-pros-and-cons-of-living-in-New-York-City ). This helped them to put their lists on perspective and also to revisit and question their stereotypes on these places. They were asked to discuss the differences between the lists and surprisingly identified with both places in some level. For more basic students, these texts can be summarized to their basic items to be explored in a simple list.

Then, students presented the news they found. Most of them were related to African countries and some to Caribbean ones, and through the perceptions related by the students I realized there was a considerable effort from them to rediscover these places of misconceptions. They brought news about social projects, technology and environmental protection initiatives being held by the countries usually seen as catastrophic. The group left this class with a good sense of accomplishing important realisations and they were told that, in the following (and last) class, they would receive two Namibian exchange students who would spend the class with them to exercise conversation skills. This contact and exchange was the final aim of the course and students were very excited about it.

Finally, the last class was focused on a practical moment of English conversation and discovery of a new English-speaking culture. The contact with the Namibian students was done through email communication with Programa Português para Estrangeiros (PPE-UFRGS) and they were happy to participate. The entire class consisted in conversation with them. At first, everyone presented themselves and then students were divided in two different rotating groups to develop separate conversations (they had lists of random questions to use, if they wanted to, but they practically did not do it because conversation flowed). Then, at the end, the entire group engaged in conversation about their impressions on Brazil and Namibia.

Students were evaluated by their accomplishment of each task, therefore building a progressive notion of assessment. Also, by the end of the course, they were asked to elaborate some questions to interview a foreign student in English (we had an email list with PPE students willing to participate online) and briefly report the interview and their impressions on it in an audio track, so that they could fulfill the aim of intercultural communication and oral practice in different platforms.

 

Final Considerations

Generally speaking, the course was able to fulfill its short-term expectations of expanding students’ horizons regarding English speaking cultures. Besides, it worked towards the aim of building a progressive task sequence (notice that, after the introductory class, the second class focused on oral comprehension skills, then the third focused on building arguments and orally presenting facts, while the last class was the ultimate practical moment of it. Likewise, many speaking activities were planned to have a progressive pace). Moreover, getting the group to talk to foreign students allows precious cultural connections. Therefore, the course may serve as good reproducible (or improvable) example of how to amplify cultural perspectives in English learning environments.

 

References

Canagarajah S. 1999. Resisting linguistic imperialism in English teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

 

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