WRITTEN BY
Marc Biefnot
17 February, 2022

Language Acquisition Language and Literature: Windows onto culture

One of the key goals of the IB programmes is to promote intercultural understanding but what does this really mean and how can it be achieved in our language classes at NISC?
In Language and Literature, students explore the language more deeply, examining the ways in which it can be used to create meaning and convey messages in the media, politics and advertising, for example. This helps highlight how language is a key vector for expressing the culture
Marc Biefnot
MYP-DP FRENCH - DP TOK TEACHER

The first thing that comes to mind might be awareness and celebration of our differences – food, festivals, beliefs and so on. Another aspect might be recognition of our commonalities – what is it that connects us as humans, no matter where we come from? However, genuine intercultural understanding means moving beyond this – taking ourselves out of the centre from “they are like me” to “I am like them”. To truly understand other cultures, we also need to develop a deeper appreciation of our own. Language Acquisition and Language and Literature classes at Northbridge support students in developing this intercultural understanding in a variety of ways.

In language acquisition, younger students do learn about the important festivals and cultural symbols of the country's language. Whilst this may be only the surface of the culture, it gives them an important point of reference in their interactions. For example, in Grade 8, Chinese students compare the Chinese New Year celebrations with those in their own culture’s new year and English students learn about different traditions and how people practice them across the Anglophone world. However, they also delve deeper. For example, in Grade 11 French, students examine how foreigners view France and French culture by watching the film ‘Bienvenue à Marly-Gomont’, depicting the integration of an African family into a rural French village. This then leads into discussion on French stereotypes and national symbols.

In Language and Literature, students explore the language more deeply, examining the ways in which it can be used to create meaning and convey messages in the media, politics and advertising, for example. This helps highlight how language is a key vector for expressing the culture. It is literature though, that really opens the window to intercultural understanding. Some examples from Northbridge classes include:

In English Grade 9, students read the novel ‘Persepolis’, a memoir of a young Iranian girl during the Iranian revolution. They learn about the context of the societal changes taking place and reflect on how they might react in these circumstances. The unit allows them to explore personal and cultural expression. In Khmer Grade 9, students study both Khmer and foreign folk tales to compare and contrast the styles that authors use to create stories.

Grade 10 English students read ‘The Crucible’, set in 17th Century America, and are encouraged to make connections with traditional Khmer culture, looking at how spirituality, superstitions and cultural practices permeated life for their ancestors. In Grade 11, they read ‘The Joy Luck Club’ which highlights the plight of the Chinese-American Immigrants.

Novels, plays and poetry can, arguably more than physical and human sciences, highlight what it really means to be human. They help students explore human commonality, diversity and multiple perspectives, ultimately developing a stronger appreciation of their own cultural identity and that of others.