Intercultural dialogue from day one in the language classroom

Here are some lesson plans and strategies I presented at the 3rd Symposium of Spanish as a Second Language (III Taller de ELE) at KU Leuven (June, 2015) on how to promote intercultural dialogue in the foreign language classroom. As you get settled for this new academic year, here are some ideas you might want to integrate from day one in your classroom.

As I plan my lessons, I try to set up not only linguistic and communicative goals but also intercultural objectives.

The intercultural objectives of these activities are:

Symbols and Associations (can be done from day one)
Identify symbols and associations related to the students’ own culture and the target culture (Spain on the example).
Evaluate the origin of some of these symbols.
Recognize and identify possible stereotypes associated with the target culture.
Challenge certain stereotyped visions.

Netflix in Latin America
Identify the challenges Netflix faced when entering the Latin American market.
Identify the causes of piracy in Latin America.
Evaluate the strategies of Netflix, an American company, to expand in the Latin American market.

MOOCs for interdisciplinary, intercultural learning
Encourage students to take MOOCs of their interest. There are great MOOCs out there that feature interdisciplinary topics.
Encourage them to engage in intercultural exchange with students around the world who are taking the MOOC.

You can find the full presentation here.

How do you encourage your language students to reflect upon intercultural issues from day one in your classroom? Please share!

MOOCs: authentic content and intercultural exchange for Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) students

As language teachers, we promote language and cultural exchange programs among college and university students. However, for various reasons, the majority of students will not complete internships in foreign countries or study abroad programs during their college years. For this reason, universities need to develop international curricula and expand language and digital learning so that students who are not mobile can also acquire global skills.

Computer-mediated learning environments such as MOOCs can potentially be a form to exploit virtual mobility, defined by the Being Mobile team as a “form of learning which consists of virtual components through an ICT supported learning environment that includes cross-border collaboration with people from different backgrounds and cultures working and studying together, having, as its main purpose, the enhancement of intercultural understanding and the exchange of knowledge”.

It is a matter of designing the right tasks to engage students in conversation and collaborative opportunities with people across borders. As LSP (Languages for Specific Purposes) teachers, we can create an assignment where students have to follow one MOOC module or unit of their choice that relates to language or culture. As part of the assignment, they could pose questions, comments and engage in intercultural dialogue with students of different backgrounds and institutions in the MOOC environment and afterwards, they could write a reflection entry about their experience or give a mini lesson to their classmates about a language term or a cultural fact they learned about.

Here are just a few examples of MOOCs that could be used in LSP courses for this purpose:

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.20.30This MOOC is open for registration now. Possible assignment: Business and Marketing students could follow week 5’s topic “What do ads teach us about race, class, gender and sexuality”. They could search an ad in the target language and share it with the class to discuss language choice and illustrate some of the aspects they learned about.
Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 13.30.24This MOOC is self-paced and always open. It explores communication and culture, Hofstede’s cultural taxonomies, Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck’s cultural patterns, etc. Possible assignment: In the MOOC, students could search for other students who study the same foreign language to engage in discussion. They could compare cultural differences between their native and target cultures, using Hofstede’s taxonomy as a model.
Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.42.57This MOOC has ended but there will be a future session. It explores issues of gender and power within and outside of the Latino community, Latinos in sports, Latino stereotypes in media, medicine in Latino culture, etc. Great course for anyone studying Latin America, Spanish for Business, Marketing, Medicine, etc.
Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 12.17.57 copy
This MOOC starts in June, 2015. One of the modules covers writing an informative and a persuasive document relevant to a business context in Asia. Possible assignment: Business students who take Chinese could follow this particular module and write a sample of a persuasive document as one of their MOOC assignments and they could then share it with the class, for everyone to identify evidence of cross-cultural style and genre, particular to Chinese corporate culture.
Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 11.31.33
This MOOC is self-paced and always open. Possible assignment: Medical students could choose any module and topic of their choice such as global challenges related to maternal and child health. They could identify students in the MOOC who also study the target language and culture and start a discussion thread with them. They could research the particularities of the target culture they are studying in regards to maternal and child health and lead a class discussion with their teacher and class.

How to introduce Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) content in basic language courses?

There is great controversy over whether Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) should be taught at the basic language levels. The truth is that teachers cannot anticipate which specific skills their students will need in the workplace or which specific work situation they will encounter. Students often don’t know that either so every academic course should aim at transferring meaningful skills to students to become successful professionals. With that in mind, Annie Abbott and Holly Nibert presented their approach on how to connect language instruction with professional information during the last NOBLE webinar. They suggest implementing a variety of activities and tasks that introduce professional related vocabulary, promote reflection and intercultural dialogue, and explore careers and professional behaviors. In addition, they suggest implementing alternative professional-focused writing and oral assessments. This approach makes language learning more relevant to the students’ individual core discipline and their potential future career.

How about you? What is your approach when teaching LSP in basic level courses? What are your concerns? How about assessments? Do you use alternative assessments to measure other skills and competences?

Here are some examples of activities and tasks out of the presenters’ recent publication Día a Día, a manual in which half of each chapter is dedicated to a professional sector:

Vocabulary 1
Vocabulary 2
Competencia cultural 1
Competencia cultural 2


Professional Spanish in the basic levels

These are two great and simple articles to talk about personal traits, abilities and capabilities (something we usually cover in the basic language levels) and make connections with job search.

The first article talks about the 10 most common words Spanish LinkedIn professionals use to describe themselves on their CVs. This is a great way to introduce relevant vocabulary and to start discussion on personality traits that make you stand out on your job search. Students could think of examples of what it means to be “creativo”, “motivado” or “apasionado” in their particular career contexts and how they can show employers that they possess these skills.

The second article discusses job search strategies. It gives concrete steps such as defining your objectives, knowing yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, doing networking, etc. and it also provides basic questions prior to job search such as ¿Cómo soy?, ¿Qué sé?, Qué se hacer?, ¿Dónde quiero trabajar?, ¿Cuáles son los sectores que más me interesan?, etc. Again, great questions to practice basic skills while making real-life connections.

These activities will also help you get to know more about your students, their personality, their personal goals and career aspirations!

Linguee, useful online dictionary when writing in a foreign language

At the last Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) Conference in Antwerp (July, 2014), Kris Buyse from KU Leuven presented a variety of strategies to support foreign language students during the writing process.

Linguee is one of the tools he mentioned. I definitely think Linguee is worth sharing with your students. I have to say that since then, I’ve been using this tool myself quite often when writing in Dutch. I’ll usually look for words using the language combination tool – Spanish-Dutch/Dutch-Spanish or English-Dutch/Dutch-English in this case – and the results that come up will most likely be exactly what I was looking for. Linguee is specially helpful when looking for the right preposition, for different word combinations and when looking for examples of how the word is used in context, whether that is day to day, academic or professional contexts.

Take a look:


If you know the word you want to use in Spanish but you are not sure of the correct preposition or you want to see all word combinations, type the word directly in Spanish into and you will find a variety of possibilities. Here I typed “tratar” and this is what I got:

linguee palabra tratar



If you type the word “keep”, you will get different word combinations immediately. Once you choose the one you were looking for, in this case “keep in touch”, you will see different short texts where this word is being used in context.

linguee word keep


linguee keep in touch


Spanish language combinations:
English language combinations:
Dutch language combinations:


Twitter to talk about success and failure

I used some of these tweets with my Business Spanish classes. For more ideas on how to use Twitter with your students, check this post.

Twitter to build online debate communities

On one of my previous posts about Twitter in education, I shared 3 reflections to help you decide if Twitter is the “long-term tool” you are looking for to use in class. I mentioned how one of my challenges is to extend its use beyond the classroom so that students can continue to follow people or organizations that have a meaning to them personally or professionally and how we can build communities to encourage students to use Twitter to make real connections and share their views beyond the classroom and for life.

Here is how Pasi Sahlberg, visiting professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, is involving the whole community of educators to participate in his class discussions, such a fantastic way to enrich class debates through the lens of teachers and future teachers with multiple, international perspectives. If you teach future teachers, this is a great way for them to use Twitter and express their thoughts on different educational practices.

Twitter for your Spanish writing class: La tilde

Here are more examples of how you can use Twitter to pinpoint certain accentuation rules in your Spanish (writing) class. As I explained in my previous post, Twitter is an excellent resource to experience authentic language use beyond the classroom. Check that post for more ideas. If you find more tweets related to accent rules, please retweet them to me. Thanks.

La importancia de las tildes

La tilde diacrítica para diferenciar pares de palabras que se escriben igual pero tienen significado distinto, generalmente monosílabas. No todas están aquí, si encuentran más ejemplos, por favor reenviármelos a @cegusquiza. ¡Gracias!

Palabras que antes llevaban tilde diacrítica pero que ya no deben llevarla según las reglas de acentuación vigentes de la RAE.

Otros monosílabos que no deben llevar tilde nunca ya que a diferencia de los monosílabos con tilde diacrítica, no hay una variante de la cual tienen que ser diferenciados.

Palabras terminadas en -mente

3 reflections before using Twitter for education

Whenever you decide to use a new edtech tool or social networking site in your classroom, you should ask yourself Why? Why using that particular tool? A message I’ll never forget from the recent #antwerpcall2014 conference (CALL: Computer Assisted Language Learning) is that we should aim at designing long-term activities and tasks instead of one-time activities, presentation by Michael Marek at @MiMarek1 and Vivian Wu. If we find a few tools and stick to them long-term, we’ll be able to improve our practices and design more meaningful tasks over time, find multiple alternatives, collect data and get ongoing student feedback.

If you’re looking into using Twitter in your (online) class, here are three things to consider before you can decide if Twitter is a tool you can use for several classes and school years:

Does it make sense to you? Does it have value in your everyday (work)life?

I’ve talked to a few teachers and other people who have Twitter but simply don’t tweet. They say they don’t know what to tweet. The platform doesn’t make sense to them yet. Other teachers are still not convinced by the whole idea of Twitter but feel pressured to use it in class because other colleagues are using it. Twitter has to do with having a voice and wanting to say something to the whole world. It aligns with some of the 21st skills we want to transfer to our students: innovation, critical thinking, managing information, and collaboration across networks. It may take a little while to figure it all out. Once you do, you’ll realize that Twitter is a unique site to find people with common job/hobby interests, to access relevant articles and resources, and to follow institutions, organizations or certain leaders in your field. Moreover, Twitter makes long distances shorter because, in education for example, you can follow and communicate with great educational leaders such as Tony Wagner at @DrTonyWagner and get inspired by his quotes, resources and ideas. You can collaborate with teachers around the world and express your ideas and reflections on best educational practices, short and to the point. It’s also easy to use on all devices. Once you value Twitter for what it brings to you as a teacher, you will be able to reflect on how it can be valuable to your students.

Explore how other teachers are using it.

Doing a little informal research is always helpful when choosing a new tool or platform. Talk to teachers who have used it, attend free webinars about this topic or look for an article or open presentation or video about the topic via Slideshare, TED or YouTube. This is how some teachers I’ve talked to (personally or via social media) use Twitter in their classes:

  • Some teachers are using Twitter to post homework assignments and due dates. Something to think about: But why Twitter? Couldn’t they just use the school’s online learning platform for this purpose?
  • Other teachers tell students to follow a famous person, for foreign languages for example, it’s usually a celebrity, writer or politician. Something to think about: This person may be valuable to you but is he/she valuable to your students?
  • Other teachers tell students to tweet reflections on readings and assignments using a specific hashtag or tweeting directly to the class twitter account. Something to think about: Do these reflections end once the class ends?
  • Other teachers ask students to check the feed of posts under a specific hashtag to see what has been said about a topic. This is usually done prior to class discussion on that particular topic. Students may not need to have a Twitter account for this purpose. Something to think about: Do you want students to somehow capture the most memorable messages?
  • [margin]

    Now how are you going to use it?

    So far, I’ve personally used Twitter as a resource for authentic materials and authentic language in my classroom but I haven’t used it for any graded activities. I’m just not there yet. I want to experiment with these uses some more and take them beyond classroom use, that’s one of my personal challenges.

    With a Business Spanish class I had with marketing and logistics students I used Twitter to show relevant quotes and bits of advice in Spanish that had to to with the topic we were discussing about. For example, when we discussed “Claves del éxito” or “the key to success”, I shared tweets from Frases de marketing at @frasesmarketing and Marketing en español at @MKTenEspanol on different dates and came back to those specific tweets when needed. You will find a few examples below but I must say that there are tons of tweets I can use and they just keep coming. It was a moment to reflect on authentic language use for their future careers; the messages had real, relevant vocabulary for them to learn, the messages connected with what they learn during their core discipline courses and some tweets could be very inspirational, poetic, and carried a message they could take with them and hopefully apply as professionals. It’s very easy to collect these tweets for class, simply by saving them to your favorites – that explains why I have so many on my Twitter account – and embedding them into your blog, class page, school’s online platform or slide presentations. Almost every time I check my Twitter I find a couple of phrases or articles for future classroom use.

    Other way I used Twitter is that when we were reviewing some writing tips and spelling and orthography, I would show a couple of tweets from Ortografía at @ORTOGRAFIA of examples of “la tilde diacrítica” – accent mark to differentiate words that are written the same way but have different meaning – this meaning is marked with the accent such as in ‘te’ (you, object pronoun such as in ‘te quiero’ – ‘I love you’) and ‘té’ (tea, noun). @ORTOGRAFIA explained all the rules there were to know and gave great examples so why looking for something else or writing my own examples. Again, if students continue to study the language and become users of the language – which I always try to encourage – and find @ORTOGRAFIA a valuable tool for personal use beyond the classroom, then that’s what it’s all about.

    How can you extend on all of these ideas?

    Telling students to follow a specific account – such as @frasesmarketing for example – may be valuable once they value the content of this Twitter feed and have personal interest – beyond the classroom – in what this person or organization has to say. Your role can always be to expose students to different influential people or feeds they may want to follow, not simply telling them who to follow. You could show them along the course relevant tweets from different people/institutions they might find interesting. If they decide to follow them and continue to do so after the course is over, that is more valuable than just having to follow someone for that particular course. If you are lucky to have the same group for future (language) classes, they could give a presentation at a future time about what they have learned from following that one person or organization they chose. Students could also select some of the tweets that inspired them and include them in their (digital) portfolios, to reflect upon the meaning of that particular quote and how they can apply that message to their everyday (professional) lives.

    Regarding Twitter class accounts, it could be great to build communities, connect and collaborate with other classes to enrich discussions so it’s not just the tweets of one specific class that are posted but of different students who take the same subject. Students could also curate content such as relevant articles or quotes and post them to the class account. Students could analyze what others have said about a topic by following the specific hashtag twitter feed and retweeting the messages they find important or sharing them/embedding them to the class page or class forum or select them and organize them using Flipboard or Storify, which are tools that allow you to create a collection of content and visualize it as an online magazine (Flipboard) or a story line or timeline (Storify) of tweets of a particular topic. Finally, students who plan to work in that particular field could continue to keep the account alive and encourage others to participate.

    Here are some examples of the tweets I’ve used from @frasesmarketing and @MKTenEspanol

    Regarding this particular tweet, a student said there should be a correction: “La ‘mala’ reputación de una marca o una empresa no se quita con Photoshop.”

    Some tweets from @ORTOGRAFIA on “la tilde diacrítica. I’m posting more related tweets on a different blog entry.