Using Extempore as a Window into Culture

Hopefully, if you've explored our site or if you've read our previous blog posts, you can see pretty clearly how Extempore helps your students hone their skills in and out of the world language classroom. But learning a new language isn't just about memorizing conjugations and new vocabulary--it's also about developing target language cultural competency. That's part of what makes teaching and learning a new language so much fun--we get to explore and engage with different people, practices, and perspectives!

Unfortunately, I think many of us have also encountered the problem of pinpointing exactly how we can bring culture into the classroom. Certainly, YouTube videos and other examples of new media have helped, but bringing culture into the classroom, and then assessing cultural competency, can still be a tricky bit of business. And this can really be disappointing for everyone involved, because many students crave access to culture. In fact, every time I ask my students what they're interested in learning about, they inevitably bring up cultural topics (food is always first, right?) So what can we do?

Well, we think Extempore can help facilitate cultural learning and provide a platform for discussing cultural products related to your classroom learning. Here are some ways that Extempore will open a window to culture:

  • Images

    With Extempore you can create an image prompt to generate speaking practice. Instead of doing so to focus on new vocabulary, try putting up a free-use image displaying an aspect of target language culture. For instance, if your French class is studying North African culture, consider showing students an example of a Moroccan tagine. Then ask them to comment either on their first impressions (as an introduction to the topic) or what they have learned about this already (as a formal assessment of learning) or to compare and contrast with other related phenomena for a more difficult task. Maybe you can bring to life a street scene from a faraway locale, such as Mexico City's El Zócalo. The point is, the opportunities are endless, so have fun!
  • Artwork

    Almost any intermediate or advanced language textbook includes a unit on art (painting, sculpture, theater, etc.). Why not ask your students to play the role of art critic by examining images of famous works by artists who speak the target language? In my Spanish classes, I've brought in digital reproductions of paintings by Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, and Fernando Botero. My students have always loved exploring these images and then talking about them. Create an image prompt on Extempore and let your students do the rest! 
  • Videos

    Video is another great way to bring a cultural topic to life for our students. Create a video prompt on Extempore using a free-use video. If you can find a video with level-appropriate dialogue, try using it to practice listening comprehension. Or you can post one with or without dialogue as a way to generate new vocabulary usage or to just get students talking about what they see. For instance, the video below is a simple homemade "tour" of some of the sights and sounds of Madrid's famous weekend flea market "El Rastro". Even if students don't produce a ton of language with these sorts of activities, they'll be much less likely to forget what "El Rastro" is and why people go there if they see a video of it! [embed]
  • Assessment

    One of the trickiest things about teaching culture is, well, how to assess cultural learning. Reducing a complex, rich tradition or practice down to a multiple choice or true-false quiz can feel unsatisfactory and may not accurately reflect how our students engaged with the culture they were exposed to. Extempore provides a great way to tap into what students connect with and allows them to show us teachers what they've learned! For instance, my high school Spanish students completed a cultural unit on Argentina. After they saw a panorama of cultural topics (music, food, sport, dance, etc.) in class which served as a symbolic "trip" to Argentina, they reported back to me on Extempore in the form of a voicemail message in Spanish telling me everything they saw when they "went" to Argentina. I found it particularly revealing because my students selected those aspects of culture which resonated most with them personally and they were in charge of relaying back to me why it intrigued them. It seemed to me to be an authentic reflection of cultural learning, and it was done from the comfort of their own home.

There's seemingly no limit to what you could do on Extempore to help introduce, as well as assess, cultural learning in your classroom. Give it a shot, and we think you'll add a new dimension to your world language classroom!