Language and Cultural Awareness Through a Different Kind of Foreign Language Instruction

Speaker: Paul Magnuson
Institution: Leysin American School, Switzerland

Foreign language is an effective tool to raise cultural awareness in students. After tutoring in an urban park system in the United States, the author has developed a number of language awareness exercises which aim to uncover the bigger issues of prejudice, tolerance, and acceptance by considering the more accessible issues in the study of language. Furthermore, and rather unexpectedly, Duolingo, the online language learning platform, opened up another avenue of teaching a foreign language class using multiple languages with the goal of developing student interest in the remarkable things language does for us –or perhaps to us, if you believe that language shapes thought.

During the 2014-2015 school year, the author used Duolingo to teach an experimental class in an international school to seventeen 15 to 19 year olds representing ten native languages. Students pursued language learning, principally online, and created a text with several language awareness activities. During the class, they developed, tested, and published these activities for other teachers to use in their language classrooms. Unique to the class was (1) students self-directing their language learning in several different languages and (2) the creation of a book of language awareness activities, eventually published through iBooks.

The author and lead action researcher on this project has written has written quite a bit on Duolingo (see under Research Briefs and Reports). In this session, the author discusses the experience of the year-long action research from these separate, but related, angles:

  • An alternative approach to the traditional world language classroom.
  • Introducing language awareness activities through engaging in several activities with session participants.
  • Using Duolingo to support foreign language learning (including the year-old classroom feature).
  • Supporting student self-directed learning.
  • Using the idiosyncrasies and regularities of language to develop cultural awareness. 

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