An Introduction to Language and Culture Davis, Siskin, Ramos  


Welcome to Entrevistas: An Introduction to Language and Culture.

As technology offers increased opportunities for communication among people and nations, it has become even more crucial to provide students with the necessary tools for developing global communication and multicultural understanding. With these goals in mind, we are delighted to bring you Entrevistas, an exciting new introductory Spanish textbook that will help turn your classroom into a setting for engaging communicative interaction. Richly supported by print and multimedia supplements, including an integrated video and CD-ROM, Entrevistas will help you accomplish the following objectives:

  • to promote the teaching of language in a cultural context
  • to combat stereotypical perceptions of Hispanics that your students may hold
  • to develop students’ communicative language abilities while simultaneously providing them with clear and comprehensive grammatical coverage

Entrevistas: Highlighting the cultural context of language

The title we have chosen for our textbook closely reflects its goals and organization. Through interviews with native speakers from throughout the Spanish-speaking world (presented on video and in audio formats, and integrated within the text), we have sought to highlight the cultural context of language. Troubled by some students’ misunderstanding and lack of empathy for other cultures as part of language study, we critically examined the treatment of culture in first-year Spanish textbooks before setting pen to paper in Entrevistas. Although integrating language and culture was a common goal of these textbooks, culture often remained physically and symbolically separated from the remainder of the textbook. Furthermore, culture lacked an authentic voice: it was compartmentalized into high and low culture, at times diminished through show-and-tell pictures and artifacts, or simplified using pedagogically-contrived texts.

In Entrevistas, culture moves from the margins to the center. It drives the organization of each chapter and provides the context for communication . As students acquire the linguistic skills that are essential for effective interaction, they also begin to make connections between the native and target cultures. We believe that by listening to the daily rituals, the aspirations and concerns communicated by these authentic voices, students will modify stereotypes and broaden their global cultural understanding.

How does Entrevistas help you and your students attain these goals?

A number of unique sections throughout each chapter will help you and your students in their study of Spanish language and culture. Below is a description of just some of these innovative sections:

  • maps, timelines and demographic information orient students to geographical, historical and racial issues that represent cultural points of reference for native speakers
  • interviews with native speakers, presented on audio and videotape, provide a point of departure for the development of listening strategies, contextualized grammar practice, thematic readings, process-writing activities and cross-cultural comparison
  • excerpts from English-language guidebooks, travel narratives and reference works provide an "outsiders" point of view; follow-up questions invite students to analyze the content critically and compare it to the "insider" interviews
  • cultural images highlight architecture, myth, folklore, ecology, music and other artifacts that symbolize a country’s national identity.

The entrevistas: What are they?

As the name of the textbook suggests, interviews are the point of departure for students’ exploration of the Spanish-speaking world. Each chapter contains two interviews, which represent a synthesis of several dialogues with native speakers of a given country. From these exchanges, the authors distilled commonly represented information, themes, and opinions into an interview of appropriate length and level of difficulty for the beginning level student. Although the language was modified for pedagogical goals, every effort was made to retain natural sounding language and authentic cultural voices. These lively, engaging interviews invite students to share the lives, concerns and aspirations of native Spanish-speakers.

Culture as Content

Whereas culture is often relegated to the margins in many textbooks, the authors of Entrevistas have sought to restore culture to a central position in the language program. In doing so, we have related culture to broader instructional goals, making it a tool for the exploration of various discriplines, such as history, anthropology and sociology. Culture also serves as a springboard for exercises emphasing higher order thinking skills, including analysis, hypothesizing and synthesizing. In addition, we emphasize the importance of cultural [self-] awareness for the development of a knowledgeable and socially responsible citizen in the global community.

Traditionally, a distinction has been made between "high C" (Olympian) culture, the artistic achievements, historical events, political institutions of a people, and "low c" (hearthstone) culture, everyday patterns of thinking and behavior. Nevertheless, these categories can and do overlap. To illustrate this point, is the tango an example of high or low culture? From its humble origins in the barrios of Buenos Aires, it has developed into a "high" art form, the subject of theater and film. And yet, going to a local bar to watch a tango performance may not qualify as a respresentation of Olympian culture.

As a further illustration, Don Quijote may be considered an exemplar of high culture, yet a portrait of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza on a wall-hanging may not. Likewise, a performance of Man from La Mancha may not meet everyone’s criteria for artistic achievement.

The difficulty in making the high / low distinction when defining culture leads us to another observation: culture is not monolithic. That is to say, cultural processes and products differ geographically within the same national entity; between generations, sexes and races; between immigrants and native-born and so forth. Culture is dynamic, changing rapidly through global communcations, technological advances, political turmoil and so on.

Despite this variation, we recognize that there exists significant congruence in belief and practice to bind a people together and to allow us to speak of a (national, regional, professional) culture. It is this ambiguity that makes the characterization of a culture so slippery.

Representing culture "authentically" in a textbook is a challenging proposition. No one person or text can express the multifaceted nature of culture. We have therefore decided to introduce a multiplicity of voices, calling on the experiences of native speakers in the entrevistas, presenting the viewpoints of the print media in the Lecturas, identifying cultural icons in the Señas de identidad, and exposing a cultural outsider’s observations in the Se dice que… sections.

An additional challenge in the teaching of culture is the lack of critical awareness on the part of some students: they may have never reflected on their own values, behaviors and worldviews, and what distinguishes them from other members of society. Furthermore, they may hold negative associations with linguistic and cultural diversity and stubbornly cling to an ethnocentric point of view.

We have addressed the first problem by providing numerous exercises that encourage self-reflection and critical analysis. By reflecting on their own experiences and by sharing these experiences with others, they will become aware of the cultural diversity within their own classroom and by extension, within the greater society.

Helping students develop empathy for other cultures is an important goal of this textook. The interview format — an encounter between a non-native speaker and a native speaker— "opens up" the culture, explaining beliefs and behaviors. Throughout the book, we have attempted to avoid generalizations and stereotypes. Nevertheless, in order to avoid overly complex definitions/characterizations that might make it difficult to define/characterize national identity, we make references to "los norteamericanos", "los colombianos", and so forth. We trust that the readers of Entrevistas will understand these terms in the spirit of cultural diversity — and unity.

A Word about Grammar

The unique approach to culture in Entrevistas is complemented by a comprehensive and practical coverage of grammatical structures. The following features characterize the treatment of grammar in Entrevistas:

  • carefully sequenced grammar activities, moving from form-focused exercises to those that require a more creative use of language
  • presentation and practice of linguistic items in contextualized, functional frames
  • a focus on process strategies--in both the main textbook and the workbook--encourages students to view listening, reading, and writing as active tasks, requiring meaningful interaction as well as high order cognitive processing
  • continous attention to the development and reinforcement of linguistic accuracy and culturally-appropriate behaviors

Entrevistas: In step with the National Foreign Language Standards

In response to the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) received funding to develop K-12 content standards for foreign language education. Working in collaboration with professional organizations such as the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese among others, ACTFL launched the National Standards in its 1996 volume Standards for Foreign Language Learning: Preparing for the 21st Century. The Standards and their challenging vision of educational reform have been embraced by government, business and over fifty professional and state organizations.

The Standards are organized into five goal areas: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons and Communities. These "five C’s" are symbolized by five interlocking circles, representing the close interrelationship among these goals. Each includes two or three content standards that describe what students should know and be able to as a result of their language study. The Standards differ from a skill-based paradigm, where listening, speaking, reading and writing are divorced from content and communication. Rather, the Standards emphasize the four skills as instruments for acquiring cross-disciplinary knowledge, developing critical thinking skills and communicative strategies. While the goals do not prescribe curriculum, they necessarily influence pedagogical approaches and performance outcomes.

More specifically, the Standards ask us to reconceptualize our approach to culture. As Phillips notes: "In spite of much lip service over the years, culture remained at the periphery of instruction, most frequently referred to as a fifth skill, a capsule, a cultural note at the bottom of a textbook page, or a Friday "fun" activity. […] Teachers taught the culture as they knew it; students learned items randomly, not as connected threads or themes. In most courses, no systemic process was visible that enabled students to observe cultural manifestations; to analyze the patterns of behavior; to hypothesize about origins, usage, or context; and to understand the perspectives of the people in the target cultures. In sum, most cultural content learned was fact or act in isolation from how it related to the values and attitudes of a person or a people."

With its integrated, multifacted approach to culture, Entrevistas exemplifies the fresh spirit of the Standards. Culture is organized thematically by chapter. Within each chapter, however, students are exposed to a multiplicity of products, processes and perspectives. From authentic interviews with native speakers, to artifacts symbolizing national identity, to "outsiders’" reflections on behaviors and institutions, Entrevistas provides sustained opportunities for hypothesis and analysis, inviting students to make connections between beliefs, behaviors and cultural artifacts.

In addition to culture, Entrevistas reflects the four additional goal areas described in the National Standards. Through its presentation of functional language, role play activities, information gap exercises and personalized activities, Entrevistas emphasizes communication. The documents, readings and other exploratory activities help students make connections among discipline areas. Ample opportunities are provided for cross-cultural comparisons in the follow-up activities to the interviews and also in additional reading and listening exercises. Finally, Web-based and experiential activities allow students to explore communities.


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