Connecting Culture Through Communication

Culture permeates every aspect of our lives and we can’t understand others without having an understanding of their culture.  As a language teacher you are already aware of this.  But our students may not understand that language is an expression of culture. We must bring culture to the classroom in order to develop and deepen student’s understanding of Deaf people and enhance their communication skills.

What we don’t see is just as import to communication as vocabulary

Because culture is often compared to an iceberg where only 10% is actually visible while the other 90% is hidden below the surface, language teachers must be diligent in teaching culture and understanding to students.

Frantz Fanon, a writer and philosopher, once said “To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture.” Besides words and grammar structures there is a beautiful group of people that can show our students new experiences and a new lens in which they can view the world.  Culture is a powerful being that can make language come to life.

We all know it is difficult to get students interacting in the Deaf community for many reasons: Location, time, supervision and numerous other reasons that prevent students from getting out there to see culture and language coming together in a real experience. So with this problem looming over all of us, here are some awesome ways to get students excited about culture and providing them the skills they need to talk about what they learn.   

Video allows students to actually view language in action.  YouTube has opened an entire world for our students.  You can type in deaf or sign language and all kinds of videos pop up.  Help your students learn about culture properly by sifting through these videos to show them authentic and accurate content. Connect the culture with speaking activities to enhance communication.

Use the Deaf Code to show common misconceptions about Deaf people as told by Deaf people. After showing this, have upper level students discuss, in the target language, what they have learned.  Have lower level students create a pre and post misconceptions graph they had about Deaf people. Then have student groups create a video showing what they have learned from the viewing about common misconceptions and the truths about Deaf people.

Use this video from ASLized about residential schools to show the impact they have on deaf people and the community. Depending on your students’ skill level, have them debate the best education setting for their future deaf child or place students in groups where they must support residential schools and convince others to change their mind about this type of educational setting.

Let Terrylene talk about literature and stories in the Deaf community and how they had an impact on who she is today. After the video have students talk about what they noticed about the story. Ask students to discuss “What are the rules?” and “What influence did expressions and body language have on the story?”   

Authentic materials are our best resource into giving students a look into how people use the language day in and day out. They show how people interact in a native setting.  These types of materials show students that there is a group of people that use the language and there is a reason for them to learn it.  Use technology to show how the Deaf community’s communication patterns have evolved over time.  Show students a TTY, videophone, relay call, and a Smartphone call.  When students can actually touch, feel and see how this took place in puts them in the community and gives them a higher understanding of Deaf life. Have students present on how they communicate with others compared to how Deaf people communicate with others.  

Traditions are a great way to see how cultures interact and what they hold important.  Discuss cheers and chants at sporting events at Gallaudet and residential schools compared to traditional American schools.  Poetry and literature are passed down from generation to generation through visual means.  Instead of having students create an ABC story have them discuss the relevance of one to the community or have them analyze a poem together in the target language.  

Experiences can provide a true glimpse into the life of Deaf people that a video or book can’t do justice. Connect with a residential school for a shadow day.  Go to a restaurant with a group of deaf friends or family members who are willing to spend time with your students.  You say you can’t afford it. The school has no money.  Use fundraising opportunities through your ASL club or use Donorschoose.org.    

Online resources can provide your classroom with some great opportunities to learn about culture.  Google is a true life saver.  I often ponder how I ever made it through college, or life for that matter, without Google.  You have a question, go to the finest online resource available (can you tell I am a fan?).  Through Deaf Eyes and Gallaudet University both provide top notch information about the Deaf experience that can easily be turned into communication activities. Put students in the position of being on the Gallaudet Campus the week of the protest.  Ask them to discuss what they would have done or how much involvement would they have had in the events.  Would they be bold enough to participate in the illegal activities or would they have went home for spring break?  

There are always interesting discussions awaiting if we give our students the opportunities. Teach students about diversity and it will open their mind and maybe improve their language skills.

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