Translating Words vs. Translating Concepts

Cultural Activity Slideshow

This is PowerPoint I translated into English. I usually use it as part of a lesson on the theme of the city and urban life, but I have also used it in my FRE 210 class. The activity usually goes like this:

  • I ask students to close their eyes and visualize a series of words I tell them to see what they evoke to them personally, as they imagine being home when they were children. This is a class that highly benefits from a multicultural body of students, because it leads to group discussions comparing  what each concept evoked to everyone.
  • These are concepts that mean different things to different people depending on where they are from—such as Summer, Winter, what downtown is like or what a typical breakfast looks like.
  • The main goal that sparked this lesson is for students to realize cityscapes and concept like “suburbs” vary from country to country. In France, especially, the suburbs (“La Banlieue”) is where minorities and underrepresented segments of society live in usually poorer conditions. This sparks vivid discussions and prompts students to rethink the way they associate words with ideas. Sharing about routines as a child or a teenager is also a great way to get the discussion going among students.
  • Before telling students what I visualized and what these concepts evoke to me as a French person, I ask them to guess and to share their input if they have been to France already, or just guess. Overall, this whole class is very student-oriented and can be stretched into a full 55-min session.
  • I end the list with a piece of History or Folklore from each student’s home region or country. My example from France is that of the Gauls, using the French comic book Astérix & Obélix. It is always interesting to see how much they know when I ask them to guess which period of History it is from based on the picture on the last slide. Some of them assume they are Vikings, but few know about the Roman invasion of Gaul two thousand years ago. Bringing physical copies of the comic books (available at the SU Library) also helped a lot pique their interests.

Challenges faced and how I dealt with them:

  • This whole activity becomes essentially richer when the classroom is diverse and multicultural. However, I have taught it to a smaller and less diverse class, which reduced the potential of the discussions and comparisons.
  • Nonetheless, I did manage to adapt it focusing on contrasting different cultural and regional identities within the United States.
  • I also overcame that initial limitation by asking students to visualize a holiday destination that they had been to and then describing it. This compensated for the lack of personal childhood experiences growing up in a different culture.