Though my explorations of bicultural/bilingual education may allude or state quite blatantly general perceptions about Latinos I by no means intend to offend anyone reading my blog. In addition, I consider my comments as mere attempts to better understand why we communicate or hold certain ideals about one another. My main objective is to gain a better understanding both personally and professionally about my bilingual and bicultural experiences as I mentioned in the category titlted “About my blog…”
Below you will find my comments on an excerpt from the Business English -Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course I am taking online at http://www.teflonline.org
“Culture is not simply the backdrop for international communication; rather language and culture are inextricably interrelated. The choices we make concerning vocabulary, syntactic patterns, text organization, and body language are, to a large extent, determined by the cultural setting we have been raised in, as well as by the cultural setting we are in at the moment.
As a way to understand intercultural communication patterns, Edward T. Hall developed the low- versus high-context communication framework. The so-called low-context cultures, comprised basically of native English speakers, Scandinavians, and German speakers, focus on the explicit information presented in the message and therefore expect a high level of detail in their visual, verbal, and written communication. High-context cultures (Latin, African and Eastern people), on the other hand, pay a lot of attention to the meaning implicit in non-verbal details like physical surroundings, choice of attire, individuals involved in the communication, and the way the information is organized.” (Tefl online course)
The following phrase hit the nail on the head for me as I reflect on several of my relationships both professional and socially with foreign-born latinos, “language and culture are inextricably interrelated”.
As I mentioned I consider having an identity that entails both an American component and a Latino component. As the excerpt described there is what we call “low context culture and high context culture.” I have had several conversations with peers and colleagues about how the way WE express ourselves (keep in mind that as I am writing these blogs I am also reflecting and trying to make sense of my observations while at the same time exploring future doctoral focus of interests. In other words, none of the thoughts I write are a definitive point of view on my end , their simply observations, if you will, that I hope will develop into something more substantial). WE, being American Latinos vs. Foreign born Latinos, differ not only in the way we express ourselves, but the relationships we develop and maintain amongst one another. For instance, with my American Latino girlfriends, the closer we get, the more we reveal about our life, our problems, etc etc. When I have tried to develop friendships with foreign-born latinos there was a sense of not ever disappointing one other. It’s difficult to put into words. For instance, when my husband and I were graduate students we attended a Latino Student Organization. The foreign-born latinos were the ones that were concerned about how well they were dressed whereas the American Latinos were a little more casual. In addition, when we spoke to foreign-born latinos we talked about politics, the party we were attending, what we were studying. We may have done the same with American born Latinos, but it wasn’t awkward to mention personal information. I don’t think these are good examples, but as I have said this is a topic I am exploring, hopefully I can provide better one as I continue to explore my thoughts
Part of the reason I am so intrigued about culture and how we all relate (in this case as American born and raised Latinos vs. Foregin-born and raised Latinos) is because I really think it plays a huge part when it comes to teaching overall, but in a more distinct manner when it comes to teaching bilingual education. There are so many influential factors that affect the implementation of a bilingual program and I think this is a crucial one.
I believe the language(s) an individual speaks is strongly related to the identity the individual holds about him or her self. This I have come to realize as I have developed, and continue to do so, my own identity as an ethnic minority in the U.S. Though I did not receive formal “bilingual” education, I have learned to value my knowledge of two languages. The further I delve into the field of bilingual education, as an educator, the more I learn about my identity as a bilingual Mexican-American. For instance, according to, Stephen Krashen (expert in the field of linguistics), people come to know a second language through 2 different methods, one may dominate the other, acquisition and learning. I acquired Spanish through my experiences growing up with Mexican parents, in addition to the adventures I have had in Spanish-speaking countries as a traveler, a teacher, and as a volunteer. The culmination of my work & experiences as a bilingual educator will serve as a form of reference/reflection for the research in bilingual/bicultural education during my doctoral studies.
What do I want to contribute to the current conversation about bilingual/bicultural education?
My experiences in public schools have led me to question whether bilingual education in lower class neighborhoods can be implemented well when there are other existing programs that are intended to raise standardized test scores, which begs the question, in these types of scenarios, can bilingual services be detrimental to students? Is bilingual education feasible for lower-class students in public schools that have various programs? Who actually gets to decide this?
Below are a few thoughts/observations I have made…..
1) Bilingual education programs are NOT implemented well because of the politics in public schools. For instance, due to the low standardized test scores, many times there are other programs trying to be implemented, which can conflict with the objectives/intentions of a bilingual program.
2) Teachers knowledge of Spanish is not as proficient like a native speaker from a Spanish-speaking country. Most of the bilingual teachers I have observed, including myself, grew up speaking Spanish in the US or they haven’t spent nearly enough time in a Spanish-speaking country.
Why I am in favor of bilingual education.
1) When programs are implemented well, they are successful no matter what the children’s home-life or socio-economic background.
The following is a response to a series of questions I was asked in one of my certification classes. Surface culture is essentially the cultural norms you can easily identify in a foreign country. Deep culture are the cultural norms not easily detected unless, in fact, you are born and raised in that specific culture OR you spend an extended amount of time in the foreign culture. Below you’ll find an excerpt of what I have experienced recently in Argentina & Ecuador. These are the sorts of experiences I often reference when I am teaching second language learners.
Some “surface culture” attributes of my Mexican-American background includes kissing family and close “Latino” friends on the cheek as a greeting, eating tamales during Christmas, and cracking eggs shells on family members heads during Easter. I guess the surface culture is more reflective during holiday celebrations. In “mainstream” America, we hand-shake someone if we don’t really know them and hug them if they are close friends. One of the challenging experiences I faced as a foreigner in Argentina was kissing students on the cheek, though I do it with my family and close “Latino” friends; I would never do it with the students I teach. In addition, they would always want to kiss me (all 13 of them) as they walked into the classroom, whereas I was focused on getting the props ready for my lesson and each time I had to kiss one of them I had to stop what I was doing. Eventually, I made sure I was prepared before they came and would “make time” to kiss them with a greeting.
Some “deep culture” attributes of my Mexican-American background are interesting because they include a “Latino” side and an “American” side. For instance, being part of a close-knit Mexican family we are very warm and welcoming with “anybody” that any member of the family brings to our home (whether its my home, my grandmas, or my uncles). Its not something we’re explicit about we are just that way. Another unspoken attribute of American culture is that we say what we mean and we mean what we say, along with being somewhat punctual. For instance, when I was in Ecuador visitng my husbands family (his other half) we planned a dinner-date with his cousin and wife at 8PM. They didn’t arrive until 9:45PM this is even after we called to make sure everything was ok!!!
I think the “deep culture” is harder to adjust to. We spent a month in Ecuador and I eventually learned that 8PM really meand 9:30PM approximately, BUT I could not get used to the fact that people couldn’t just say the truth, like “8PM sounds great, but I usually can’t leave the office before 9PM, so lets shoot for 9:30PM”, hence my we mean what we say and say what we mean. As the definition of “deep culture” states these are customs that we’re raised with, so they’re almost difficult to be aware of them.
Interestingly enough I experienced the “no line” factor in Ecuador. Initially, it drove me crazy! It was like that at the movie theatre and at bars. Eventually, I took on the same strategy as the locals. I just made my way through the “conglomerate line”, if you will. I did judge locals a little. I wanted to share with them the concept of how a line works and how fair that would be, but I didn’t let that thought verbalize by any means except to my husband. I think its natural to make judgments, but I also think there is a time and a place to share those judgements with the intentions of trying to understand the local culture.
The greatest benefit of teaching abroad was the experience of working in a totally different culture than what I have worked in as a teacher. I felt that students and the people at the organization we were at valued the teaching profession and what we had to offer more than the people in the U.S.A. As I mentioned before one the biggest challenges for me, yet minute in retrospect, was setting time aside to kiss each student everday before and after class.