salvēte iterum, amīcī. As promised, today we’ll begin a series of posts about “culture and Culture.” We’ll
- define the differences;
- look at how “both things” have traditionally been taught, both in Latin courses and in the wider spectrum of foreign-language education
- look at a sample Tres Columnae story through “cultural eyes”;
- discuss ways that the Paideia and Trivium models enrich the teaching of “both things”; and
- develop some exercises that both build and assess cultural knowledge, cultural skill, and cultural understanding.
First, though, let’s address this important question: Are “culture” and “Culture” really two different things? What difference does the capitalization make? But we won’t address the question of how a Roman would react to this distinction; they’d need two different words, since Latin orthography did not distinguish “capital” and “lowercase” letters until well after the Roman period.
Over at http://language-and-culture.neddanison.com/culture.html ,the author defines the difference this way:
Writers in cross-cultural studies often distinguish between two uses of the word culture as: 1) the total way of life of a group of people, and 2) a refinement or sophistication within a society. The first use has been called “little c culture,” and the second, “big C culture.”
Little c culture includes the routine aspects of life, such as how common people greet one another, what they wear, what they eat, and their myriad daily habits. This is what I mean by “culture.” Little c culture encompasses everything as a total way of life, so big C culture is necessarily part of little c culture. Big C culture is very often the refinement of little c activities. For instance, little c food becomes big C cuisine; little c meals become big C formal banquets and all of the etiquette and ritual that goes with them. Little c clothing becomes big C fashion. A cultured (big C) person knows the finer points of manners and customs, and can distinguish between the common and the refined.
In the U.S., the National Standards for Classical Language Learning and their model, the ACTFL National Standards for Foreign Language Learning, both emphasize culture (with and without the capitalization) as one of five major curricular strands. (The others, if you don’t know, are Communication, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.) Both sets of Standards distinguish three aspects of culture and Culture:
- products – physical items from literary texts and artwork to food, utensils, and other aspects of what archaeologists sometimes call “material culture”;
- practices – the ways people act in a wide range of situations; and
- perspectives – the underlying attitudes, ideas, and values that both influence and are influenced by the products and practices of a culture.
At Tres Columnae, we plan to incorporate the full spectrum of both big-C and little-c Roman culture (and, as we develop the program, post-Roman, Latin-speaking cultures) seamlessly into the stories, illustrations, audio, and video clips of the project, and we also plan to explore both big-C and little-c issues separately. How exactly will we do this? That’s the topic of this week’s posts.
First, though, we need to be clear about the ways that Classicists have approached both culture and Culture over the last several decades, and about how these approaches relate to the treatment of culture and Culture by language educators in general. First, let’s look at the wider world. The authors of this site (who identify themselves as a group of professors, instructors, and graduate students in the field of language education at several well-known institutions) say:
- Grammar translation method (GTM) : The main goal of GTM is to learn how to understand foreign language literature. The focus is not on oral production but rather on perfect written translation and reading comprehension. It was the oldest and most common learning method used until the 1960s. The exposure students had to culture was very limited being that their main tool for learning it was through reading books.
- Audiolingual method (ALM) : This method, which was very popular in 1960s, focuses on gramatically correct speech. The teacher is the main stimulus/facilitator of language production. ALM was a breakthrough from the traditional Grammar Translation Method: speaking finally became more important than only reading and translating. The main exposure students had to the culture of the target language was through controlled interaction with native speakers in the classroom.
- Communicative approach : Language & culture are more naturally integrated in this approach. Culture instruction is connected to grammar instruction. Its main goal is to teach students how to use the target language when communicating in a cultural context.
- The Frankenstein Approach: A taco from here, a flamenco dancer from there, a gaucho from here, a bullfight from there.
- The 4-F Approach: Folk dances, festivals, fairs and food.
- The Tour Guide Approach: The identification of monuments, rivers and cities.
- The “By-the-Way” Approach: Sporadic lectures or bits of behavior selected indiscriminately to emphasize sharp differences.
Of course, if you know anything about the history of language education before the nineteenth century, you know that grammar-translation is not really “the oldest … learning method.” But it was the “most common learning method used until the 1960s,” and it is still a common method for teaching Latin, Greek, and other ancient languages. And it’s certainly the case, as these authors say, that “[t]he exposure students had to culture was very limited” with most grammar-translation textbooks.
In recent years and editions, the “old warhorses” of grammar-translation textbooks, quōs nōmināre nōlō, have certainly gained “culture lessons” or “culture essays” – complete with color photographs, illustrations, maps, and diagrams. But these “culture lessons” and “culture essays” are often completely unrelated to the content of the readings. For example, one of the “old warhorses” includes a lovely description of Roman housing in Chapter 1, where the reading selection (or “translation passage”) is about … the Trojan War. How many Roman houses were involved in the Trojan War? 🙂
[Side question: what does it say about my beloved profession that so many high-school teachers refer to Latin reading passages in their textbooks – or for that matter, Latin reading passages in general – as “translations“? That’s a topic for another day, I think. But, seriously, what messages are implied in that seemingly-innocuous little term?]
No wonder so many language teachers over the years have resorted to “Culture Day” on Fridays! And no, I don’t mean the Japanese national holiday on November 3! 🙂 I’m sure these have run the spectrum from a thoughtful, carefully planned, continuing exposition to … “Frankenstein” or “By-the-Way” as described above.
By contrast, the Big Three reading-method textbooks do a much better job of connecting the “culture lesson” or “background essay” with the cultural elements implicit in the reading selections. For example, if the “background essay” is about travel, at least one character usually does some traveling; if the topic is chariot racing, characters go to a chariot race. It seems so logical – but when the Big Three were new, this was a revolutionary development!
In the mature versions of Tres Columnae, we plan to build on the success of existing integrated models like communicative teaching (in the wider profession of language teaching) and reading-method textbooks (in our own world of classical languages). But even in those cases, it’s possible for cultural learning to be shallow and superficial – to fall victim to David Perkins’ elementitis or aboutitis as I’ve described them in previous posts. So we aim to go deeper, to build not only knowledge of culture, but also skills of cultural interpretation and deeper inter-cultural understanding. How will we do this? You’ll have to tune in next time for some of the details … and to help with some critical decisions.
quid putātis, amīcī et sodālēs? What’s the proper role (or what are some proper roles) for cultural instruction in the Tres Columnae approach? How can we avoid the poor models of cultural instruction that have characterized our wider profession over the years, while still keeping the central focus on learning the language? Or is it really even possible to separate language from culture? And is there a via media or Third Alternative possible here?
Tune in next time, and for the rest of the week, for some preliminary answers.