The 3 Ps

Culture is everywhere, and our students–even our novices–are itching to talk about it.

“How am I supposed to teach culture in novice-level classes?”

If there is one complaint that organically arises from a shift away from “culture Fridays” and towards authentic language use (90% plus, thankyouverymuch), it is this one.  I can’t possibly teach culture to my novices if I can’t do it in English, right?

As you may have guessed from the fact that I cared enough to write a blog post about it, my answer is an unequivocal NO.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not some magic fairy who can make my students understand culture without using any English.  I tie myself in knots trying to figure out how to make difficult concepts accessible to them and their level of language.   I pick resources that fit with whatever we’re studying so I know they have at least some words and phrases they’ll need. At the end of a class where we’ve dug through an authentic resource looking for culturally relevant info, I look like I’ve run a marathon.  These classes leave behind a trail of (often failed) communication attempts–drawings on the board, random props, maps and statues made of my students as I moved them around to illustrate a point.

It’s a great feeling when they get it, though, and those lessons tend to be the ones that my previous students remember the best.

One of the best tools I have for discussing culture in my classes–novice to advanced–is the 3 Ps: Products, practices, and perspectives.  Find the link to the PDF here: 3 Ps

Build on what they already know

I usually start my French 1 year (and the year of any other class who hasn’t had me yet) with a YouTube video about French stereotypes.  (I’ve chopped it up to avoid some of the less-appropriate parts, obviously.)  Then I have them make a list of things that are integral to their culture.  We use this as our jumping-off point for discussing the 3 Ps.

Make it inflammatory

My students love the stereotype activity because they realize how much they already know, and it’s easy to make it ridiculous.  We can talk about stereotypes because they know the berets and the perfumes and the baguettes that “every French person” has with them at all times.  They also relish the American stereotypes, while at the same time being able to acknowledge their limits within reality.

Use a medium they’re already familiar with

They speak video.  They can get a lot more out of an audio that is accompanied by a video.  Once we have discussed (practically ad nauseam) the various stereotypes of French and Americans, their roots in reality, and their potential interpretations, we move into the 3 Ps.  I show them examples of products, and they create a working definition.  (For novices, it’s usually something like “it’s a noun”.)  Practices are verbs, and perspectives are ideas.  Then they take their list of stereotypes and locate the products, practices and perspectives.  For more advanced classes and/or upper levels who have never had me before but need this language throughout the year, we tie products to their corresponding practices and perspectives.

For example:

“Baguette” (product) –> “Buying fresh baguettes every day to eat that day” (practice) –> “Food should be bought the day it is eaten”.

Use sound bytes to refer to complex concepts

Once we’ve had this conversation, for the rest of the year, I can engage my students’ cultural observer brains by simply asking “c’est un produit, un pratique, ou une perspective?”  We’ve already done all of the heard work and we all know what those concepts mean, so we can use that as a jumping-off point for sophisticated concepts that I want us to notice.

Encourage them to reflect (in their first language)

Sometimes, we use English when our French just isn’t enough, and I want to give their high school brains a chance to chew on a complex idea.  I use most of my “10%” of English during cultural conversations, either planned or spontaneous–and I’m just fine with that.  That’s a trade-off that I’m comfortable with.  Not everyone has that luxury, and I understand that, but it works for my students and for me.

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