What first influenced you to take an interest in other cultures? I recently asked this question at a Niigata JALT meeting. Our fascination with other parts of the world stemmed mostly from stimulating stories and illustrations, such as those from National Geographic magazines we read as children, or from TV programs about other continents and times, like Roots, which tells the story of a boy taken from Africa to be a slave and his descendants. I can still remember Kunta Kinte’s father in a savannah in Africa holding his newborn, the main character, up to the sky and proclaiming his child’s name to his gods. Recalling that powerful scene, a feeling of wonder awakens again. Images of mahouts riding elephants through the ruins of Ankor Wat are also etched in my memory. Stories of the lifestyles of people in other cultures turned me into a passionate reader.
Students today are just as excited about different cultures as we teachers were when we first started reading. The world teems with people with different worldviews and experiences. Celebrate the multicultural diversity of our planet and draw students into reading and speaking English with astonishing stories of the experiences of peoples who are like us in many ways, but who are also different in spectacular ways. These were my goals when writing Multicultural Perspectives.
Multicultural Perspectives refers to the numerous ways that different cultures view the same event or aspect of life. Think about Seijin no Hi or “Coming of Age Day” in Japan, which is a major event for our students, who are very curious about how children become adults in other countries. If I had a hundred yen for each time that a student asked about how Americans become adults, I’d be a rich ESL teacher without pension worries.
“Becoming an Adult,” the unit about this topic introduces students to how Apache girls, some Latin American girls and boys in a remote Brazilian tribe become adults. Students also listen for information regarding the minimum ages that various cultures have decided are appropriate for driving a car, marrying, voting, drinking alcohol, etc. Finally, students discuss and decide for themselves the minimum ages that are best for those activities.
Actually, many years of searching for answers to student questions about culture inspired me to write Multicultural Perspectives http://www.mlh.co.jp/catalog/product/728. The cultural information that I infused into my ESL classes stimulated more interest in reading, more student discussion, and more questions to me. Eventually, I had enough materials for a book. When I showed my proposal to an editor for Macmillan Languagehouse, he advised me to focus on keeping the “awe factor” present in each unit, which fits my belief that teaching materials have to be stimulating and personally meaningful. I want my students to be unconsciously saying “eh” as they read, listen, and discuss how other people think, feel, and see the world in comparison with their own cultural and personal perspectives.
Another belief regarding textbook writing is that reading and listening texts should be combined with powerful visuals. Therefore, I made sure that each chapter has thought-provoking photographs. In my own classes, I often show free photo essays and Yahoo videos that are on the Internet to my students. I searched long and hard for ones that match each unit of Multicultural Perspectives. I compiled a list of these. Please click on http://www.mlh.co.jp/resource/?type=other to download the list.
Teaching culture-based ESL classes, writing teaching materials, and experiencing other cultures are great joys in my life. Writing this book was deeply satisfying. Please take a look at Multicultural Perspectives. I will not be surprised if you re-experience the “awe factor” of culture.