The Art of Gastronomy
Cultural exploration classes: Beyond language learning
One more summer, here I am teaching at the MMLA program in Granada (Spain), my hometown incidentally. Being my research area intercultural communication, I keep finding myself reflecting on the purpose of the cultural exploration classes within the MMLA program, and how they enable unique learning opportunities that language classes alone cannot provide. Cultural exploration classes focus on cultural activities and intangible cultural products that make societies what they are. By engaging in and learning about these activities, students embed themselves into the new culture not as “foreigners” or “strangers”, and not as mere spectators of how things are done elsewhere, but exactly as any other Spaniard would. This allows them to look at the culture from an insider’s point of view and to explore their own position and opinions within any of the practices. Heart and mind go together, and for the sake of language learning, creating emotional connections with the target culture is essential for motivation. Cultural exploration classes do just that: they connect emotionally with the students and make them realize that learning a language is not all about grammar and punctuation, but also about getting the key to a new and fascinating culture that they can already join no matter what their current language levels are.
My cultural exploration class, The Art of Gastronomy, blends the gastronomy topic, always so popular among language learners, with different forms of art and literature that are within the reach of anyone. If a student’s language level is low, they will still be able to explore both the topic and the literature form without problems, and if their level is high, they will be able to challenge themselves and test their own preexisting knowledge. If the student is artsy, they will be able to create truly beautiful works of art during the process; if not, they always still manage to create fun and witty content in a more simple form. Throughout the week, my cultural exploration students composed delicate haikus, devised their own Spanish-American fusion recipe, illustrated a food-related Spanish popular proverb, racked their brains to create the perfect acrostic, and balanced poetry and visual art in the most ingenious calligrams. Some final products were very clever, others artistic and others hilarious, but they all had something special going on for them. I love teaching, and I love even more when students love learning!
Beatriz Hernández-Moreno, proud teacher!