“Culture provides a foundation of belonging and confidence that is essential for meaningful development”, said the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, in her article “Africa´s renaissance starts on school benches” (2016, August12. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/irina-bokova/africas-renaissance-start_b_11467824.html), upholding the fundamental role of education and culture as the keystone for personal growth, speaking at the micro level, on one side, and national progress, considering the macro level, on the other side.
Bringing culture into the classroom tends to be one of the most delightful experiences for both teachers and students. Particularly, in second language teaching the possibilities to play with and implement a wide variety of artistic expressions and representations are infinite. We recently had at Chac-Mool a family of four students- a mother with 3 children- who participated in a very interesting and fulfilling interactive lesson dynamics; Mara- 46, Nadia- 14, Martin- 12, and Peter- 9, each one of them speaks Portuguese, German, English and Spanish. Their final course assignment was to perform the Mayan legend of “Ixtab, Xtabay and Xtabentun” (Tuyub Collí, Leovigildo Bernardo, 1993, Edit. Trillas), a picturesque story depicting the customs and beliefs of the peoples in the Mayan region.
We explained the students that the main learning objective of the task was to make them familiar with some native indigenous traditions and thoughts, which would allow them to better under-stand and penetrate into the cultural pronunciations and behaviors of Mexicans. Then, we presented the whole context of the story, introduced unusual vocabulary, asked the students to paraphrase the legend for the day of the performance and rewrite it with their own ideas, then we let each one of them choose their character.
The next step was to read the legend aloud to challenge and test the students´ concentration and listening comprehension. We kept helping them with the unknown words, clarifying their doubts about some of the peculiar events mentioned in the legend and also assisted them with the decorations and the whole preparations needed for their performance.
Finally, the big day arrived and we all enjoyed the students´ marvelous acting and great teamwork. The performance was videotaped and at the end the students were asked three questions, given in the chart below along with their answers.
Questions Peter Martin Nadia Damaris
What did you learn? “About the Ma-yan plant and drink Xtabentun.
You can fall down if you get drunk.
Differences in physical appear-ance and social status do not matter, we are all equal. ” “There are many cultures around the world.
Useful informa-tion about the Mayans. ” “New vocabulary like –apestar- stink.
New cultural in-formation about Mexico and the Mayans.
There is a big difference bet-ween funerals in many parts of Mexico and the US. ” “About native culture and the riches of Me-xican nature.
I loved the story and the experience.
The concepts of good and evil are all over the world.”
How will this learning expe-rience be useful for you? “Don’t dring too much.” “Treat everybody fairly and equally.” “I know more about Mexico now.” “There is always justice.
You get what you deserve.
I reaffirmed my idea that people should not seek revenge.”
How do you feel when you learn about new cultu-res? Do you like it? “I feel happy and amazed. I love learning about new cultures and people.” “I feel nervous and also enter-tained about new cultures, places and people.
I love it.” “I just love it.
I get energized and highly moti-vated when learning about new cultures.” “It fascinates me. I love observing to know and un-derstand cultu-res, people and places.”
The institutional research objective of this activity was to assess the level of competence in which the students learn about another culture and how they manage the challenges of being in a different cultural environment. The results we obtained were not surprising at all. For people who travel a lot, speak foreign languages and are used to interact in a great variety of cultures it is easier to show openness, avoid cultural biases and get immersed in a new intercultural interaction.
That was also the case of our students due to their strong international background: being poly-glots and having traveled and lived in different countries explains the flexibility of their intercul-tural behavior and adaptability. They were not afraid of making mistakes, displayed a complete comprehension of the legend’s moral and applied the Spanish language independently showing, at the same time, a very high degree of awareness about their own learning.
The importance and impact of intercultural abilities for building a global mindset were beautifully reflected in this total immersion experience grounded on Dr. Georgi Lozanov’s Suggestopedia method. Undoubtedly, arts and culture are extremely suggestive and influence feelings nurturing curiosity, attentiveness and active meaningful learning. The combination of desuggestion and suggestion in an enriched learning environment leads to eliminate the fear of making mistakes, lower mental block, motivate learning and stimulate students’ self-confidence. Having a look at the Intercultural Effectiveness Scale (http://kozaigroup.com/ies.html) helps explain the relevance that the dimensions of intercultural effectiveness hold for a curriculum that is based on and fosters continuous learning for developing and facilitating people’s approach to cultural differences, intercultural engagement meant to stimulate one’s interest in learning about people from different cultures, and hardiness aimed to eliminate stereotyping in any form.
Therefore, What do a Mayan legend, Suggestopedia and a Spanish Total Immersion Program have in common? The reply is: the power of “soft power”, because the outcomes of the process to effectively build international and intercultural competencies are stimulated by the interdis-ciplinary approach to provide a context of understanding and include culture, arts, traditions, beliefs and ideas into second language teaching and learning. Remembering Mark Twain’s wisdom seems to perfectly enrich this topic: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”