In a Professional Coaching session with a friend and veteran Spanish teacher last week, she mentioned an issue that was troubling her regarding curriculum and instruction at her school: Some colleagues are spending a lot of class time promoting politics that are tangentially related to Spanish-speaking countries and populations in the U.S. rather than curricular language and cultural topics.

My responses to issues like this are always evolving, but here’s where I’m at right now. Please share your thoughts.  

Instructional time is precious and must be protected from distractions that are outside of the curriculum.

A world language curriculum should be focused on language and L2 cultures. We are trying to woo students into loving the language and culture more than swaying their political beliefs. Besides, negative feelings like rage and gloom are fleeting. They do not tend motivate long term. To persuade students to love and engage with the language and its people, it is better to emphasize positive aspects rather than offenses. When it comes to persuasion, pull factors are stronger than push factors. Of course we want students to be aware of issues in the culture, but we mostly want them to associate satisfying feelings with the language and people instead of resentment and despair. Positive emotions will compel them to stick with their studies for years, perhaps for the rest of their lives. A world language classroom should emphasize Big C (recognized world-class historical achievements) and Little C (daily life of the common people) cultural elements and guide students into thinking how those practices compare and contrast with their own L1 language and civilization.

Here are some topics to emphasize in a well-rounded world language class:

  • Geography: The target language world: countries, capitals, climates and people.
  • Wonders: Natural features and those made by humans.
  • Literature: Noteworthy literature and authors. Popular literature. What are people reading now?
  • Celebrations: Meaningful cultural celebrations, both religious and secular—their meaning and interpretations.
  • Music: Enduring folk music. Modern music. Performers. Genres of music. Teach them some songs.
  • Dance: Folk dance. Modern dance. Performers. Types of dance. Teach them some dances.
  • Media: Noteworthy films, genres, shows, podcasts, content creators, actors and directors.
  • Spirituality: The deeply held beliefs that influence life and thinking and their cultural implications.
  • Art: Classic and modern art and architecture, from paintings and sculpture to graffiti.
  • Cultural Stories: Folk tales, legends, myths and even fairy tales from the culture can illustrate values, thinking patterns and morays. Learning a language is more than vocabulary and grammar. Authentic cultural stories can help learners to communicate more clearly. Students need to know these stories to understand the metaphor-laden speech that every native speaker uses — all the time. Speakers use cultural metaphors six times per minute, according to Kendall Haven, author of Story Proof.
  • Folk Wisdom: Cultural sayings (This is one of my favorite topics to share with students)
  • Food: What to expect and what to try: not-to-be-missed cultural foods, recipes, food preparation, where to find cultural foods in our community, plus meal-time and restaurant etiquette.
  • Daily Life: What to expect when you travel or live there. This is a broad area and can include hundreds of tips and insights that will greatly benefit students.
  • Fun Stuff: Like Tongue Twisters and Children’s Rhymes and Chants from the culture.

These products are steps in the positive cultural direction in Spanish classes: