April 23, 2019
Renée Beck

It is essential to take the time to make sure your students know what culture is when teaching them about francophone culture. I am sure the students have heard the word culture and have a general idea of what it is, but, as language and culture teachers, we need to make sure they understand all of the details and definitions of the word so they will be able to analyze, compare, dissect, and really show an understanding of the target culture.

I explain to my students that culture is related to community and that, if you want to communicate with native francophone citizens, you need to know what you can and cannot (or should not) talk about. I explain to them that, depending on what you say, the direction and therefore the outcome of the conversation could change significantly. For example, if you tell a French person that you know they don’t shave or wear deodorant and that they all eat horse meat, your experience could quickly transform into a negative experience stemming only from your naivety. As teachers, our overall goal has to include helping our students become aware of the world’s similarities and differences so they can develop into active members of a much larger community.

I explain to my students that their “community” could be very small but can grow larger around them. I always help them by starting with questions about their house: Do they do everything the same way their neighbors do? What about your extended family? Are you exactly the same in what you do and how you do it? Do you all have the same opinions or beliefs? Then, I show them how to make the community grow larger by asking them to now think of their city: Does your neighboring city do everything that your city does? Then, we discuss the similarities and differences and why we think they exist. Next, depending on where you live, you can continue giving examples of growing communities. I typically ask about counties, regions, specific states, and larger regions such as the Midwest, and finally the United States. With these examples, I help the students understand that you can’t make sweeping generalizations about culture. I remind them of our communities and ask them how they would respond if someone told them that they are American so they must eat dinner in front of the TV, only eat fast food, or are loud and inconsiderate. Then, we sit back and discuss it.

The next concept the students need to understand is that everything they learn about is a form of culture, and that they should constantly be asking themselves how it compares to other cultures and what it tells us about the target community. The following descriptions will help students understand the different categories of culture.

1. Products

This is any product of the target culture that can be both tangible and intangible. Some examples are the TGV in France, museums, cars, toys, types of food and drinks, schools, schedules, the subjects offered, the rules of the school, and local or national laws, etc.

2. Practices

This is anything that the target culture does. Some examples are going to school, studying, taking tests, going on vacation, participating in a leisure activity, singing happy birthday, dancing, celebrating holidays or other important events, practicing a religion, having various beliefs and opinions, their work ethic and accepting people who are different than them.

3. Products and Practices

Often these two categories of culture blend together and become inseparable. For example, the church can be the product, and the beliefs are the practice. You could have laws but not follow them, so if the law is a product, then whether or not the people abide by that law is the practice. If school is the product, studying is the practice, etc.

4. Perspectives

This is the hardest part of a culture to analyze. How can we prove that we understand how a community and their culture thinks or believes? The only way we can do that is by studying a culture’s products and practices and continuing to analyze them as we continue to learn. We want the students to constantly be asking themselves, “Why? What does this teach us about their views on the world? How can we identify what the community believes to be important?”

It is when we successfully bring all of this together that we can help our students become well-rounded, culturally aware young adults that will develop into members of the greater community.

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