Culture-based language learning opens doors


Claire Kim

CULTURAL CONTEXT. While the mechanics of a language are the foundation of learning it, understanding the cultural background is also crucial to utilizing it fully.

What is the purpose of learning another language? Is it fluency? Cultural understanding? Global worldview? College admissions?

For millennia, people have learned language by immersing themselves in the culture and people in the area. Immersion forced them to develop experience in these languages and cultures and if they didn’t, they would not thrive. As the world has become ever interconnected, people have used apps like Duolingo or YouTube to broaden their language horizons, leading some to believe it’s easier to learn a language from the comfort of their home; there is no need for them to learn a language for survival purposes, or maybe even in an educational setting. But the truth is that language learning that focuses on culture leads to an expanded worldview and builds greater understanding.

In the current day in age, the process by which someone learns a language goes something like this: learn the 100 most common verbs, learn all other words slowly, and learn the conjugation of these verbs from most to least common all at the same time. This process is slow, but eventually people will understand the language — to some extent.

However, there is one major disadvantage here: the people that learn the language this way won’t understand the culture of the people who hold the language as their native tongue.

While on the surface level this may not seem very important, language culture enhances the learning experience and overall fluency in said language. According to a 2006 Department of Education study, understanding the culture of a language helps to increase fluency. In addition, the article mentioned that understanding a language makes it easier to learn certain characters and where they come from, and also how certain words in said language came to be.

This is just one example of the goals of culture-based language learning: teaching students not only how to speak a language, but how to understand it and its people. For years SPA has offered advanced level courses in the four languages available to students.

These classes don’t even consider grammar learning and only focus on a cultural aspect of said language, as students are assumed to have fluency to some extent from previous levels. Even in lower levels of language classes, SPA students learn small parts about the culture of the language while developing proficiency. The progression of learning a language at SPA also encourages students to take it for their full high school career, although it can be challenging to pursue multiple languages due to scheduling and lack of demand for lower level classes.

Students at SPA should appreciate the opportunity that they have to learn language in a culture-focused setting and challenge themselves to seek out cultural experiences. From philosophy to revolution, students can go beyond language proficiency and develop their understanding of other contexts. This allows them to stand out compared to other students who are learning languages, giving them an advantage in their non-native language’s world. For students looking to learn languages not offered at SPA, there are plenty of resources online like Duolingo and YouTube, which offer flash card and fluency exercises.