I recently attended the Rocky Mountain Language Association’s 70th annual convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. I have been participating in the conference for many years now and, without exception, always come away reinvigorated and full of new ideas.
As a Senior Lecturer with limited university funding options, I can only attend one conference a year. Therefore, I carefully choose conferences where I learn and benefit the most from presenting papers, attending sessions, and engaging in productive conversations about teaching and literature with colleagues from across the nation. RMMLA is one such conference.
Thanks to the special spirit of sharing among the participants, it provides the opportunity for brain storming and exchanging of best practices. As it has a wide scope that includes sessions on American, British, Canadian, and foreign languages and literatures, it provides an opportunity to speak to and learn from colleagues outside of one’s field.
This year, I presented a paper titled “How to Resolve the Culture Issue: A Practical Guide to Teaching Culture in Language Classes” in the “Teaching Foreign Languages” session. From ACTFL’s 5C’s to the 2007 MLA report on the teaching of foreign languages, there have been many attempts in making culture an integral part of our daily teaching; yet still to this day, even the best elementary language textbooks treat culture as informational input, separate from teaching vocabulary and grammar. Whereas in L1, one is immersed in the culture in a natural way, in L2, short of participating in an education abroad program, culture must be learned in a formal classroom environment. The question posed in the presentation was twofold: 1) How can we make it as natural as possible within the confines of an artificially created space and make students see that it is an integral part of language learning? 2) How can we make it a tool for critical thinking and self-reflection that in traditional departmental divide is reserved for upper-division literature courses?
In the presentation I shared how some traditional assignments such as oral presentations, idiomatic expressions, and poetry, can be given a new twist by treating them as tools to teach grammar, vocabulary, and culture at the same time.
Regarding the other sessions I attended, due to the richness of the variety and the excellent quality of the presentations, it is difficult to single out a specific one. I attended several pedagogy sessions on the use of film, music, fairy tales, history, war, and collective memory in language classes. I particularly enjoyed and learned from a Women In French session on teaching women writers from various French and Francophone regions around the world.
The non-French session that stands out the most was a performance by the renowned author, artistic director, and theater actor, Timothy Mooney. It was part of the events organized to celebrate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. It was a one-man show called “Breakneck Hamlet” where he reduced Hamlet’s 32,000+ words into 9,000 and gave a stellar, spirited performance full of intellectual capacity and a great sense of humor. He performed different scenes from Hamlet continuously for over an hour. He has done the same type of one-person show for Molière’s plays. It was absolutely stunning. One came away from the performance not only with a renewed understanding of the play and an immense appreciation of Timothy Mooney’s genius but also a reminder of the power of words and the treasure of literature. I am looking forward to reading his Molière Than Thou.
I remain forever grateful to Berkeley Language Center for supporting lecturers with the travel grants and making it possible for us to attend conferences and continue our professional development.