BLC Travel Grant Report

I recently attended the 2014 Conference of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages, held in Chicago, Illinois. I presented a brief talk and a poster in the poster session Teaching Less Commonly Taught Slavic Languages. In addition, I was asked at the last minute to act as chair of the session. My presentation was entitled Language through Culture: Developing Materials for Teaching Introductory Czech. It focused on issues in developing a culture-based curriculum and demonstrated some of the materials I have been creating for a future online textbook that can be updated. The project is one for which I received a Berkeley Language Center Fellowship in fall 2012 and which I continued working on and used in the classroom in fall 2013. My poster was well received by others presenting and attending the panel, and, at his request, I gave the pages from my poster to one of the Korean Czech teachers, Inchon Kim.

The presence of two instructors from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Korea, Inchon Kim and Milan Orálek, was interesting in itself. They have a very different situation from that encountered by Czech instructors in the US. Rather than having very small classes of highly motivated students eager to study the language and culture, they have very large classes, but the majority students will have been administratively placed in the major, since their preferred major was over enrolled. Therefore, the instructors were focusing on culture as a means of engaging the interest of students with no prior connection to Czech language or culture. They presented a poster and video on their work centered on creating a česká kavárna (Czech cafe) as a forum for extracurricular cultural activities.

Malynne Sternstein from the University of Chicago presented a poster on teaching intermediate Czech using a variety of cultural materials, Kinga Kosmala from the University of Chicago presented a poster on teaching advanced Polish using cultural materials, and UC Berkeley graduate student Irina Kogel presented a poster on using authentic materials in the LCTL classroom, drawing on her experience supplementing a textbook while teaching Polish at in our department.

I received a lot of useful feedback on my project when participants in the session came to discuss the posters. Several of my formatting concepts were particularly well received: providing discreet grammatical support through use of subscripts referencing the case of a word or phrase, use of a three-column layout (notes/main content/vocabulary), and presentation of vocabulary in dual format (new words vs. words you already know).

In addition, I attended one literature panel, one linguistics panel, and two other pedagogy panels. The literature panel consisted of presentations on the works of Czech author Bohumil Hrabal, in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth. Jenya Spallino-Malinova discussed gaps and ellipses in Hrabal’s Rozenkavalier (Růžový kavalír). Daniel Pratt spoke about the impact of Hrabal in Central Europe and beyond. As a side note, he mentioned the growing interest in Hrabal in China. Esther Peters addressed the complex nature of Hrabal’s pabení as both politics and not politics; the results of his signing the Anti-Charter (the government response to Charter 77, which criticized it for violations of human rights); and the nature of signing. In the linguistics panel, I heard Yelena Belyaeva-Standen discuss her research on Culture and Gender-Specific Use of Compliments by Russians and Americans. She reported significant cultural variation, with Americans much more likely to pay compliments, even to strangers, a situation virtually precluded in Russian contexts. Her work covers a variety of situations and will be worth looking for in published form. I left this session after her talk, in order to hear William Comer discuss Beginning Teachers, Teacher Talk, and Increasing Target Language Use in the Language Classroom. He addressed the problems involved in asking new and often insecure graduate student teachers to teach Russian at the elementary level using the L2 almost exclusively, per the ACTFL guidelines, suggesting various types of exercises that could accomplish that end. His work is reported in the latest issue of Russian Language Journal and should make very interesting reading. Lastly, I attended a forum on the online textbook currently being created for beginning Russian, Mezhdu nami

I was also able to compare notes on issues of preparing an online textbook in a discussion with Bill Comer, who is one of the creators of Mezhdu nami.

With thanks to the Berkeley Language Center for the Travel Grant which made it possible for me to attend this conference, Ellen R. Langer, PhD.