Culture or Language: What is it we’re trying to accomplish in elementary classes?

Are our goals a) to facilitate the students’ learning to understand, speak, read and write the language and also read and discuss interesting facts about the culture, or b) to present the culture and then teach some stock phrases, some basic vocab and some grammar as a secondary goal? And is there possibly a goal c)? Up until a few years ago the answer was definitely a). I don’t find b) desirable or even in the realm of possibility. It would be frustrating (to put it mildly) to most students to have a language course taught with so little emphasis on the language itself. Such a course should be labeled Whateverlanguage Culture 101. And many students say they find culture to be of only passing interest. Can anyone explain who came up with this (to my mind) bizarre idea, how it works, and why the publishing houses jumped on the band wagon? If someone can convince me that b) is preferable to a), I will gladly reorient my teaching strategies. I suspect some were saying something like “Look, despite our best efforts most students walk away from a year of college Spanish with only a few phrases they learned at the beginning of the course like ¡Hola! ¿Qué tal? ¿Cómo estás? Maybe we should just give up on the language thing and teach them culture and a little Spanish so they can say the course was worth the time, effort and money.” Am I wrong? At UCLA back in the day elementary courses were grammar driven, moderately vocabulary-rich, and contained cultural readings. There were also two independent culture-only courses you could take in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese: Sp/Ptg 42 Peninsular Culture, and Sp/Ptg 44 Latin American Culture. They were required for majors but given in English so the entire university community could benefit from them. We have similar courses at our LACCD campuses. However, if we want or have to teach a lot of culture in our elementary language classes these days, what should the ratio of culture to language be? And what does the rather vague term “culture” include? Should the culture presentations/readings be in English or in the language? Also, I hear some instructors have been successful at teaching grammar and vocabulary via culture. If you are one of them, please tell us what your experience has been. Everybody, what’s your take on all (or some) of the above?

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