The study of foreign languages has long been the traditional means for crossing borders between cultures, and for foreign language teachers, the Internet represents an unparalleled opportunity to energize this tradition anew. Bilingual and foreign language websites are well established in cyberspace, and well stocked with electronic publications ranging from classic works of literature to the latest sports scores. Borders virtually disappear at these websites, enabling students to live within the discourse of another language and even sample its special variations in the cultures of many lands.
EDSITEment can provide a jumping off point for making Internet excursions a regular part of your foreign language curriculum. Students learning Spanish can be directed to the LANIC website where they can browse through virtual libraries, read news and sports reports, or find an e-mail pen pal. LANIC also holds resources for students learning French, who can gain a fresh perspective on the language through links to Haiti and other French-speaking countries of the Caribbean. These students will also find useful links to Francophone culture at African Studies, which holds links to countries such as Algeria and Morocco. Even more extensive resources for French language instruction are available at the website maintained by the American Association of Teachers of French, which will be featured in a future learning guide.
Depending on your curriculum, you might have students simply browse the Internet in the language they are studying, keeping a weekly journal of the sites they visit and the learning experiences they have. You might also require students to keep up a regular correspondence with an e-mail pen-pal who is a native speaker of the language they are learning, or organize an intramural e-mail exchange through which students correspond with one another, sending clips of their discoveries on the 'Net.
For a more tightly focused learning experience, have students collect examples of humor from various countries that speak the language they are studying. They can look for political cartoons, jokes, examples of irony and sarcasm in journalism, and comical tales in literature and folktale collections. Have each student deliver one example of humor to the class for experience in controlling tone and nuance in the language. Then discuss as a class some of the similarities and differences between humor in the cultures they have sampled and American culture. Some points for comparison: Do all cultures find humor in attacks on authority? Do all cultures engage in wordplay and punning? How do other cultures signal the difference between a comical put-down and a genuine insult? What sorts of American humor -- for example, in stand-up comedy routines or in advertising -- would fall flat in other cultures? On each of these points, help students probe for some reasons why humor has specific characteristics in different cultures.
Encourage students to explore beyond the websites gathered at EDSITEment for foreign language resources on the Internet, particularly resources that tap into foreign language-speaking communities within the United States. Students for whom a foreign language is part of their heritage might also be encouraged to maintain that heritage through an e-mail exchange with family members, both in the United States and in their homeland. Finally, you might invite the guidance counselor in your school to collaborate in an Internet project to highlight the career benefits of learning a foreign language, particularly in finance, engineering and trade.
1 class periods