What do a Parisian rapper, homemade paella, and letters from Taiwan have in common? These are just a few ways that Upper School students explored language through the lens of culture in their language classes this year. When students choose to study French, Spanish, Latin, or Mandarin Chinese at Fay, they acquire more than grammar and vocabulary. “When you learn a language,” says world languages teacher Sarah Calle, “your world becomes amplified, and the way you see things changes.” “Language is about life itself,” adds world languages teacher Alina Argueta. “It’s about sharing an appreciation of culture everywhere.”
Conveying the scope of each language’s culture and the complex identity of its speakers around the world is an intentional aspect of Fay’s world language curriculum. For example, when Alina asked her French 1B students to create a restaurant menu from a French-speaking culture, students weren’t just researching Canada’s famous poutine or the delicacy of French escargots. Students created menus for fictional restaurants in Madagascar, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Caribbean. Students found that each country had its unique culinary traditions but with a discernible French influence. Similarly, Latin I students learned that the Roman empire was a melting pot of cultures with a knack for cultural assimilation. “Most Roman citizens didn’t even speak Latin,” notes history and Latin teacher Dan Blanchard. To explore the depth of ancient Rome’s social strata, Dan asked his Latin II students to retell mythological stories from the perspective of underrepresented voices in Roman society such as women, immigrants, and refugees.
While basketball fans were getting ready for the NCAA’s March Madness tournament, students in Erin Overstreet’s French 2A and 2B classes participated in Manie Musicale. In this competition, students voted on their favorite French songs from a bracket of 16. All the artists were from French-speaking countries, and students listened to their music, shared (and debated) opinions in French, and selected their favorites. Contestants came from France and Canada, but also Martinique, Togo, and Senegal. “The project prompted good conversations about the role of colonialism in the spread of language,” says Erin.
One of the best ways to learn about a culture is through food, and students in every language class studied its gastronomical delights. David Olano challenged his Spanish 2A students to research and prepare a dish from one of 30 different Spanish-speaking countries. Each student explored the history and cultural significance of a dish and then made a cooking video explaining the step-by-step process using the command form of Spanish they had learned in class. Students made Spanish paella, Mexican buñuelos de viento, and Brazilian vaca atolada. In the winter term, Dan’s Latin I class also created cooking videos of ancient Roman dishes based on the translation of Apicus’ Cookbook. Students designed a three-course menu based on the perspective of one of the four socio-economic classes. Students learned how Indian and Chinese spices came to Rome through trade, researched how ancient Romans would have cooked each dish, and then adapted the recipes to a modern kitchen.
Students in Qianqian Huyan’s Mandarin Chinese classes gained insight into how middle schoolers live in Taiwan when they exchanged letters with sixth graders at Ruei-Suei Elementary School. Fay students wrote letters in Mandarin sharing information about their family, hobbies, and favorite foods and drinks. The Taiwanese students responded quickly with a video and handwritten responses that highlighted many similarities between the penpals, such as an affinity for bubble tea, Coca-Cola, and video games. In Alina’s Spanish 2B class, students explored the architecture of homes in Spanish-speaking countries like Nicaragua, the Canary Islands, and Puerto Rico. They found interior photos of homes online and created a video tour narrated in Spanish that highlighted features like interior courtyards, arches, and painted tiles.
Students also gained insight into different cultures by learning about their celebrations. In Sarah Calle’s Spanish 1B class, students studied the burning of a family’s “año viejo” or monigote in Ecuador. The monigotes, old clothes filled with sawdust and topped with colorful masks, represent the old year, and they are burned in a bonfire at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Another tradition is to throw a letter into the fire that contains a list of all the things you hope to leave behind in the “old year.” After making a personal monigote, students wrote a letter in Spanish outlining what they want to leave behind, like worries, a bad grade, or a ski accident, and their goals for the New Year before taking their monigotes out into the snow for a ceremonial burning of their año viejo!Read more about the Upper School curriculum.