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Archived Content from Conference Held in May 1996 

Culture as the Core: Transforming the Language Curriculum

May 1 - 4, 1996

This conference built on the success of a previous conference, held at the University of Minnesota in fall 1994, which focused on cultural issues. This second conference had the following objectives:

  • to define a conceptual framework for culture and culture learning in the language classroom;
  • to generate a set of principles to guide practitioners (language educators, intercultural trainers, directors of multicultural programs) in their work;
  • to review existing research and generate a national research agenda on culture and culture learning in the language classroom.

The conference consisted of two important components. The first part of the conference was a two-day round of discussion among invited participants from a variety of disciplines, who are experts on cultural issues. Most of these experts had participated in the conference held in 1994, and included representatives from cross-cultural training, second languages and cultures education, and other related disciplines. These representatives came from the University of Minnesota and other local institutions, and were joined by national leaders in the fields of cross-cultural training and second languages and cultures education. The second component of the conference was an all day session targeted at second language teachers and other practitioners in the field.

The Intercultural Studies Project team began the expert round with a review of the 1994 conference and a discussion of the goals for the 1996 conference. The 1994 conference had centered on the contributions of various disciplines to language and culture education. The conference had included both experts and participants, hence had a teaching/workshop orientation. At the conclusion of the conference, the experts agreed that they would like to discuss amongst themselves, over a longer period of time and in greater depth, the concepts, ideas, theories, instructional approaches, and assessment processes that had come up in 1994.

Accordingly, the Intercultural Studies Project team commissioned three working papers to be presented in draft form at the expert round in 1996. The papers were to serve as the basis for discussion and were written on the following three topics:

  1. a literature review of the research on culture learning in language education settings, written by Professor Helen Jorstad and Professor R. Michael Paige along with graduate students Jeanette Colby, Francine Klein, and Laura Paulson and presented by Professor Paige;
  2. a conceptual/theoretical overview of culture and culture learning, written and presented by Professor Wendy Allen, Dr. Janet Bennett, and Dr. Milton Bennett;
  3. an applied paper focusing on the implication of theory and research for culture education pedagogy, written and presented by Professor Dale Lange.

A goal of the 1996 expert round was to provide extensive discussion and feedback to the authors so that their papers could eventually be published.

The second part of the conference, held on Saturday, May 4th, was intended to bring the fruits of the discussions to the practitioner community. Through presentations designed to highlight the most important issues of teaching culture in the second language classroom, over 120 teachers and practitioners learned about and discussed critical aspects of curriculum design, assessment of culture, and strategies for teaching culture.They were also engaged in the search for an answer to how to put culture at the core of language education. The conference featured some of the best known language and culture educational researchers in the country, along with public school teachers from the Twin Cities who have a recognized expertise in integrating culture into their second language curriculum.

The fundamental theme of the conference was the proposal that studying a language must include significant learning about another culture, both implicitly and explicitly; the two are inseparable. The Standards for Foreign Language Learning developed by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages state that students "cannot truly master...language until they have also mastered the cultural context in which the language occurs." Cultural learning enables students to discover that there are multiple ways of viewing the world, which can ultimately help them participate in an increasingly global community.

Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) • 140 University International Center • 331 - 17th Ave SE • Minneapolis, MN 55414