Communication, Culture, and Curiosity: Using Target-Culture and Student-Generated Art in the Second Language Classroom

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Studying art from the target culture and student creation of original artwork in the second language (L2) classroom have many benefits. Both provide a springboard for discussion of the culture(s) under study as well as one's own. These activities also positively change the classroom atmosphere, generating student curiosity and lowering the affective filter to language learning. Surprising as it may seem, little has been published about the visual arts and second language acquisition (SLA). This article surveys this limited research, briefly describes how brain research and language learning theories interact with art, and presents the authors' observations of student response to art and art projects in college-level Spanish and French classes. Finally, it provides practical steps for the classroom, showing how works of art from the target culture as well as student-created pieces can be used to develop the four skills at all levels.

Key words: art, communicative activities, content-based approach, culture, SLA (second language acquisition)

Languages: French, Spanish

Introduction

In recent years, instructors have been admonished to reach out to students with diverse learning styles. For the second language (L2) instructor, it has been a challenge to rethink activities and move beyond assignments catering to the development of linguistic and logical patterning skills. Additionally, L2 instruction has been criticized for including very little cultural content. Teachers know this is important, but hnd themselves providing anecdotal cultural information as time permits, while struggling to meet proficiency standards. Using art in the L2 classroom presents opportunities for students to become acquainted with the target culture and appeals to different learning strengths not tapped by traditional grammar activities. The following article details the use of both target-culture and student-created art with proficiency-oriented, studentcentered communicative activities.

Literature Survey

Art and Learning Theories

Researchers in many fields recognize the value of both creating art and evaluating others' artwork as part of the learning process. Gardner's (1985) theory of multiple intelligences recognizes that an individual may have strengths in areas other than linguistic ability. Thus, the physical act of producing artwork can help students who are bodily-kinesthetic learners. Gonzalez-Jensen and GaraWeiner (2000) cited brain research by Edwards (1979), stating that when art is being created "the whole brain is involved in making a linguistic connection. The left side of the brain which commands language, verbal, and logical processes and the right side which commands artistic and creative processes work together to learn the new language" (p. 56). Both creating and studying artwork have a strong link with emotions. Egan (1997) asserted, "We remember things best when we can locate them emotionally and associate them with some vivid image" (p. 343). The movement and feelings associated with learning about and producing art involve more than linguistic processes and therefore contribute to learning at a more profound level.

Wright (1997) asserted that the arts perform "as additional languages' for young children who may not be very competent in conventional symbol systems (e.g., oral language, writing, and reading)" (p. 363). Like small children, some adult L2 learners may find they are unable to say, read, or write what they really want, and art may provide a welcome venue for communication, both as receptor and producer.

As Omaggio Hadley (2000) pointed out, culture is claimed to be an integral part of language learning, but in reality it is often overlooked. Using artwork and studying the lives of artists allows students to examine not only values and themes of the target cultures but their own cultural biases and beliefs as well. If well developed, art activities in the foreign language classroom can meet all of the 5 Cs: communicating in a language other than English, gaining knowledge and understanding of other cultures, connecting with other disciplines and acquiring information, developing insight into the nature of language and culture, and participating in multilingual communities at home and around the world (National Standards, 1996). …