Language Study: A Window Into Culture

March 14, 2017
In a Gann Spanish class, you won’t find students simply memorizing “mama,” “papa,” “hijo” and “hija” for a unit on the family. Sure, they’ll learn the family tree, but they’ll also discuss how familial structures differ in Spanish-speaking countries, how divorce rates in Latin America diverge from the U.S.A.’s, and how same-sex relationships are viewed. In one Chinese course, the Beijing Olympics have proved a fascinating glimpse into many aspects of China. Meanwhile, sophomores studying Arabic are brushing up on vocabulary they plan to use when they visit a souk in Israel this spring.

"Across all of our language classes, there’s a deep level of engagement with the culture because we believe that the best way to learn language is through culture,” explains World Languages Department Chair Carolyn Siegel. “We want to create globally competent citizens who are comfortable wherever they find themselves in the world.”

In addition to Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Hebrew (which every student studies), next year Gann will begin offering French. Like French, Arabic is a relative newcomer to the Gann curriculum. There are multiple reasons it was introduced two years ago, according to Assistant Head of School Frank Tipton. “It’s a major world language and also an entry point into a culture and history that has played an enormous role in shaping the Jewish experience,” he explains.

Junior Avi Gold says that learning language through culture has “really made me want to visit the countries we’ve studied.” Last summer, Gold participated in a service trip to the Dominican Republic to build homes and loved that he was able to communicate with the people he encountered. “In college, I’d like to do a language study abroad,” he adds. Click here for a multilingual greeting from Gann students.
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