Last month I wrote an article about using local holidays as a place to really dig into the language and culture. So I was excited when Duke Dillard of Captivating Cappadocia agreed to share his family’s holiday language learning adventures and I am excited to share his story with you in today’s guest post. Enjoy.
Aaron recently wrote about using local holidays to learn language by having your friends tell you about their holiday traditions and celebrations. Every holiday has traditions and most families experience them differently. This gives the language learner wonderful opportunities for listening to stories and connecting deeply with anyone who will share. Do we really know someone if we do not understand the deepest experiences of their lives?
With that said, depending on where you live, Christmas offers a different kind of opportunity. For those of us in Turkey (and other Muslim countries), our neighbors do not celebrate the birth of Jesus, but since they are our friends, they are interested in what we do.
Since language learning is not only about speaking but also about becoming part of a community, we want our friends to know and understand our experiences as well. Our family does this in two ways: we bake cookies and deliver them to our neighbors, and we invite some friends over for a cookie decorating party. This experience has the added bonus of involving whole families. Language (and life) becomes so much richer when moms and dads and kids and friends are all interacting.
We learned a valuable culture lesson the first time we delivered cookies. I will not go into details here, but wanted to mention that doing this kind of thing allows you to take risks and learn ways of interacting that you will not learn otherwise. Many of our assumptions are revealed when we do the “most natural” thing and find out that our hosts do not find it so “natural”!
For the cookie decorating party we bake a ton of cookies – gingerbread men (and women) and other shapes as well as sugar cookies in various shapes. Then we make icing in as many colors as we can think of and put them in little sandwich bags with the corners clipped for squishing out the icing (if you have cake decorating tips, they come in handy here).
Our friends come over at the designated time, we give a little demonstration, and then everyone goes at it. One great thing about this activity is that it works whether you are new to the language or fluent. The activity provides both many language opportunities (shapes, colors, numbers and new verbs for the beginner) as well as cookies to focus on when you cannot think of anything to say.
We have lived in four countries and have yet to find someone who did not enjoy this evening. Even very conservative Muslims have joined us and had a great time. We take advantage of the opportunity to share about Christmas and how we celebrate it, and hope that it opens doors for them to include us in their holidays (if they have not already).
Once the evening is done you can debrief with your family. Discuss what you learned and observed. Review any new words. Think of questions to ask your guests the next time you see them. This will provide a memory to share for a long time to come.
I would recommend connecting with the guests later (one at a time, if possible) and asking them to tell the story of the evening. This is a great way to get comprehensible input and deepen your friendships.
What activities can you think of to include your friends and improve your language during this Christmas season?
I want to remind you that for every dollar you spend on an Everyday Language Learner Guide this month, I will donate 50% of the money to Blood:Water Mission to help fight HIV/AIDs in Africa. You can read about my campaign to help HERE.
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