Living the Language

2010-2011 Issue 1

A Roundtable on CCE’s New Language and Culture Programs

Last fall, the Intensive French and English Language and Culture programs were unveiled, replacing traditional intensive language programs. We invited four people who are active in these programs to talk to us about them (left to right): Bruce Manson (English instructor), Cheryl Conroy (English instructor), Hervé de Fontenay (Director of English and French Language Programs at CCE and a French instructor), and Marie-Claude Beauchamp (Coordinator of the French Programs and a French instructor).

Why did you decide to put so much emphasis on cultural topics in the language classroom?

HDF: There are many reasons. We got plenty of feedback from our students that the cultural dimension to language learning was extremely important to them. International students, who make up about 65% of the students in our intensive programs, come here to both learn the language and to “live the experience.” Internationally, the trend in language teaching is to expose students to more culture.

How do you define culture in a language -classroom setting?

BM: I would define culture in a general sense as a set of behaviours and a set of ideas that people acquire by being members of a given society. We’re lucky in our ESL classrooms that so many different countries and societies are represented. There’s a plethora of ideas of “how to be in the world” in terms of behaviour. CC: Bruce makes an important point about intercultural awareness. In our classroom activities, teachers encourage students to explore their own cultural identity. Increasing selfawareness of their own beliefs, values and customs can help students to bridge the cultural gap while exploring new cultural patterns here in Montreal. MCB: There are many different aspects to culture, including how it manifests itself in the form of cultural products such as literature, works of art and artifacts, social institutions and cultural events. In the language classroom, task-based activities related to cultural topics give the students an important opportunity to discover, discuss and reflect upon a variety of viewpoints in the culture of the target language, in the culture of their peers and in their own culture.

Since Montreal is often considered a French-speaking city, is it hard to entice people to Montreal to learn English and about English culture?

BM: The students we have fall into many categories. Some people move to Montreal regardless of any linguistic issues. They’re just leaving their country of origin. This is the place they’ve chosen to live and upon arrival realize that learning two languages, to varying degrees, will be in their best interests. CC: In fact, a lot of them go on to take French courses after they take our English courses, and vice versa.

Conversely, McGill has traditionally been known as an English institution . Is it difficult to bring people here to learn French and French culture?

HDF: There’s a very long tradition of teaching French at McGill, as well as innovation in language instruction. For example, McGill was the first school to open a summer French program in North America. Since McGill is renowned for the excellent quality of all its language programs, many people who want to learn French in Montreal find McGill to be a very appealing entry point. They also benefit from studying in one of the few truly bilingual cities in the world.

Conversely, McGill has traditionally been known as an English institution . Is it difficult to bring people here to learn French and French culture?

HDF: There’s a very long tradition of teaching French at McGill, as well as innovation in language instruction. For example, McGill was the first school to open a summer French program in North America. Since McGill is renowned for the excellent quality of all its language programs, many people who want to learn French in Montreal find McGill to be a very appealing entry point. They also benefit from studying in one of the few truly bilingual cities in the world.

What are some typical st udent assignments in the CDP se ction of the courses?

BM: The CDP I use is called Exploring Spiritual Traditions. In groups of three or four, my students investigate different religions and spiritual traditions. They do background research, keep journals, then go to observe ceremonies and rituals, and afterwards ask questions. During the project they learn new vocabulary, and they also learn experientially
– by exploring a new cultural reality. At the end they give a presentation on what they’ve learned. CC: The CDP in my advanced course is called The Personality of Cities: The Face of Montreal. In one of our first tasks, students blog about their hometown as if it were a person, which leads them to understand that each city has its own unique personality. At the McCord Museum, the students begin to learn more about Montreal’s culture while discussing historical images and objects. Later, students interview Montrealers to further investigate the cultural patterns of the city. This may take them to places like the Bell Centre, St. Viateur Bagel or the Jazz Festival. Their project goal is to produce a multimedia presentation about the “Face of Montreal” they’ve discovered.

When do you teach traditional language topics such as vocabulary and grammar?

CC: Vocabulary enrichment and accurate grammatical usage are addressed in both the CDP section of our courses and in other classroom activities. BM: In my course the students have to submit a project diary on a weekly basis where they maintain a new vocabulary list, skill areas where they’ve improved, and reflections on their experiences.
We have incorporated a lot of the nuts and bolts of ESL learning into the projects. CC: While working on their CDPs, students also learn about the non-verbal aspect of communication in North America such as appropriate gestures and eye contact. I encourage them to film their interviews with native speakers so they can do a self-evaluation of their non-verbal skills.

How much time do students spend on the CDPs?

HDF: The CDPs require around 15 hours of class time, so over six weeks and 150 hours that represents 10-15% of their course work. However, many students are so excited about these projects that they put in a lot of extra hours!

It sounds like they’re learning life skills too, which they wouldn’t have learned in a typical language classroom.

CC: Absolutely. They really do need to express themselves when it comes time to collaborate or resolve conflicts. As well, critical thinking is very important in these courses. HDF: These are important areas that we cannot really go into when we just teach language. These programs create many opportunities for critical thinking and for students to go deeper into new areas of learning. MCB: Pedagogically, we want to put our students into cultural situations where they have to “live the language.” BM: And it’s an approach that really works and that the students truly enjoy. While improving students’ language skills, these programs open up new horizons for them.

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