Building Cultural Competence Through Language Learning

In Whitfield’s World Language department, the primary emphasis of the French, Spanish, and Mandarin programs is oral proficiency. However, the language faculty also have the ongoing opportunity to develop Cultural Competence, one of Whitfield’s six Habits of Mind and Heart, in our students.

To practice their language skills while learning about other cultures, one of the year’s first units in AP Spanish Language and Culture, focused on travel. Students considered myriad aspects of travel including the popularity of ecotourism, how travel has changed through history, and the benefits experiencing countries and cultures different from our own.

During class discussions, students shared personal travel experiences, read about the Seven Wonders of the World, and researched the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites. Each student was asked to create a presentation about one of the 33 UNESCO World Heritage sites located in Latin America they would like to visit.

“Building cultural competency is fundamentally what this course is all about,” said World Languages Department Chair Cipriano Casado. “We use the topic of travel to discuss important questions like how we benefit when we see how other people live and how we show respect for other countries when we visit. The students are constantly comparing and contrasting their cultures with those of Spanish-speaking countries. I hope they come to understand that travel isn’t just about relaxing and entertainment—it’s also an amazing learning experience.”

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