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Commandment 10 – Connecting Language and Cultures

ALTs are a diverse lot, not all coming from majority English-speaking countries and many cultures. When it comes to teaching about culture, you can draw on knowledge of your own, cultures you’ve encountered through travel, or stretch your own understanding of the English-speaking world.

Engaging and Informing

A simple and time-efficient activity to introduce your country is a Q&A. With a junior high school JTE, I asked a class to write questions about Canada’s history, culture, and natural environment. In about 20 minutes, the students in pairs and teams produced a dozen questions. I collected them and told the students I would create a poster and presentation with answers. In the next lesson, the JTE and I used the Q&A as a 10-minute listening gap-fill and displayed a poster on the classroom bulletin board.

Authentic Sights and Sounds

One of the coolest projects I was involved in as an ALT in public schools was a production of the perennial favorite musical, “The Sound of Music”. A musical theater director collaborated with an entire elementary school where each class took part in a performance by presenting one song. While we the project used the Japanese score, I and my fellow JTE were assigned to teach “Edelweiss” in English to grade four students. I drew on the choral practice techniques my music teacher taught me to help students project their voices while learning the melody and lyrics.

Exposure to Native Speakers and others

As the ALT, you are expected to provide exposure to a native speaker’s pronunciation and expression. But also consider cooperating with the community of ALTs around you to provide rich input.

For example, my colleagues and I produced a “jikoshokai” presentation to drive a writing unit. We each recorded audio of our own introductions and embedded it in a Google Slides presentation to model the language our students will use in their writing. Each of us speaks a different variety of English so the students hear our accents and at the same time get a little glimpse into where we come from.

Beyond the Classroom
The lowest-ranked micro strategy in Dörnyei and Csizér’s list of ten commandments is penfriends. This strategy is challenging to implement in any context, and ALTs and JTEs may not have the resources, time, or permissions to organize international penfriends.

Drawing on The Community of ALTs Around You
With the ALTs at a municipal school board, I worked on a project to connect schools and introduce the ALTs and their cultures. Selected classes in junior high schools received a brief profile of an ALT and then wrote a handful of questions that the ALT responded to in a newsletter format. ALTs contributed texts about their national dishes and their school life in their home countries covering topics such as lunches, uniforms, and language learning experiences.

Cracking Open a Window onto the WorldSome of your learners already may be hooked on internationally popular games, movies, music, or other cultural phenomena. A fun and challenging aspect of working as an ALT in Japan is discovering and experimenting with interests that provide context for language learning. Your lesson might revolve around a K-pop artist, but the media can include English lyrics and interviews. The content can spur lessons that help learners express preferences, read biographical information, or even perform a skit.

How have you shared your culture(s) with your students and JTEs? What activities with cultural content have you found that appeal to learners?