Books – September 2014

Thinking critically in the class of languages

Interview with Engracia Angrill Schuster

Engracia Angrill Schuster, born in MadridSpain from Catalan parents, was raised in Barcelona speaking Spanish and Catalan and through her childhood she learned French in school as a second language. She attended the University of Barcelona and received her BA in Public Relations. Later she planned a trip for a year to the United States for the purpose of learning English, but here she met who later became her husband and decided to settle in this country. They had two children and then she returned to college to become teacher. Engracia received two degrees; in Spanish Language and Cultures and Foreign Language Education. She and her husband have traveled extensively in Latin America and Spain. Nearly twenty years teaching in OnondagaCommunity College (State University of New York). During a sabbatical, professor Schuster decided to start investigating the synergy between the study of languages and cultures. This decision was based on her own frustration with the limitations which require the curriculum and the lack of time to cover everything language teachers have to teach. During this time she investigated methods to teach languages more efficiently and effectively, particularly as regards to the inclusion of culture in the language classroom.

 

Her findings have led to more effectively integrate culture in the language classes without hurting the language learning method. Experiencing these concepts in her own class allowed her to see very positive results and she decided to share her findings with colleagues through a book that would help teachers integrate culture and language through small research projects and critical thinking.

Critical Thinking in Language Learning, is a guide to help teachers plan their lessons through the development of materials that promote and explore cultural issues in order to retain the interest of the students and teach them in a more effective way to communicate and learn a second language. Engracia tells us that while teaching cultural issues is not easy, she firmly believes it has found a more effective way to assist with foreign language learning with cultural learning approach. The key question is, how instructors could save time and streamline learning the language and culture simultaneously? Engracia discovered that the answer to this question is to teach students how to think critically and ask questions for them to investigate. For example, if a student does not know the language you can still assign a simple task like researching a famous person within that culture and then present to the class. The purpose of this exercise is to develop communication and interest among students. Teaching directly from a textbook, does not always create the opportunity for a new and interesting dialogue between students.

Engracia tells us: “We have to think about scheduling all the years of study and not only on a particular academic year, to ensure that students are progressing their ability to speak another language and at the same time, learn more about another culture”. The book is concise and direct with instructions on step-by-step to integrate language and culture in the classroom. The purpose of this book is not to promote a specific teaching method, it is a guide to incorporate culture into language courses efficiently. The book is for sale on Amazon.com.

On November 1, professor Engracia Schuster has been invited to share their ideas on this subject in the secondary school ESM (ESMHigh School), in regional meeting LECNY/NYSAFLT (New York State Association for Foreign Language Teachers). Photos provided by Engracia Schuster

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