New Orleans: Teaching Portuguese Language and Brazilian Culture

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue May 6 12:55:39 UTC 2008

Monday, May 5, 2008

Generous support from CETL and the Department of English and Foreign
Languages enabled me to attend the Ninth Congress of the Brazilian
Studies Association (BRASA) in New Orleans, March 27-29, 2008. BRASA
is the major international organization focused on multidisciplinary
Brazilian studies. The conference had approximately 1,000 attendees
from the US, Brazil, and other countries. Remarkable this time were
the number of panels dealing with Portuguese language and culture
pedagogy and related issues. This increase, I believe, has been
stimulated by the steady expansion of Portuguese language instruction
in the US (WSSU initiated its program in fall 2005), the publication
of new and very good materials for beginning learners in the US, and
the recent implementation of an internationally administered
standardized, multi-skill proficiency test in Brazilian Portuguese.
Aside from the shared theme of culture and langauge instruction, there
were two threads that ran through these presentations were (1) the
integral connections between culture and language and (2) the utility
of the World Wide Web for both finding and storing relevant materials.

I attended one panel and presented in another on this broad topic. The
first panel, "Questions of Identity in the Study of Portuguese as L1
and L2 ("Questões identitárias no estudo do português como L1 e L2")
included presentations "Challenges for the Teaching of Brazilian
Culture to Foreigners" ("Desafios para o ensino de cultura brasileira
para estrangeiros") by Monica Rector (UNC-Chapel Hill), "Identity and
Language: Matters of Usage ("Identidade e língua: questões de uso") by
Ricardo Borges Alencar (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de
Janeiro), "Portuguese in the Current Context Is Portuguese without a
Text" ("Português no contexto atual é Português sem texto") by Regina
Igel (University of Maryland, College Park), and "Active Poetry:
Incorporation of Poems into the Teaching of Portuguese Language"
("Poesia ativa: a incorporação de poemas no ensino de língua
portuguesa") by Sophia Beal (Brown University).

As far as the integral connections between culture and language are
concerned, while language teachers have long taken for granted the
importance of culture (broadly conceived) in language instruction, in
the 1990s, the American Council on the Teaching of Forewign Languages
(ACTFL) lead the development of the Standards for Foreign Language
Learning. The "five Cs," as these are known, are Comminication,
Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. Teachers and
authors of materials have felt emboldened since the publications of
the standards to integrated language instruction with other dimensions
of worlds in which languages are used. The integration and overlap of
the five Cs lead us to inject thoroughly and systematicall types of
instruction into the earliest course in the language instruction
sequence. Thus, while the vehicle of these is linguistic, the skills
are cultural. Again, these contents are not new to instructors but
integration into the elementary-intermediate curriculum often is. Two
new texytbooks, as well as supplemental materials, deal with these
matters. Ponto de encontro: Portuguese as a World Language by Anna
Klobucka et al. (Prentice-Hall-Pearson, 2007) courageously brings both
European and Brazilian Portuguese and formal and informal registers
together in the beliefe that the learner should bot have exposure
restricted but should learn early on how to deal with these
differences. Working Portuguese by Monica Rector et al. (Norton,
forthcoming) as well as Prof. Alencar's presentation underscore the
pragmaitcs of oral communication in Brazil, understanding otf which is
useful not only to Americans doing business in Brazil but also the
general learner. Prof. Beal's presented ingeniously constructed
lessons using canonical yet accessible Brazilian poetry to teach
multiple language skills to elementary students. These lessaons are
supplemtnal to the regular use of Ponto de encontro. Finally, Prof.
Rector's textbook is unusual in that it is explicitly informed by
Paulo Freyre' pedagogy of the oppressed and "dialogue" adult
educational practices synthesized by Jane Vella in On Teaching and
Learning: Putting the Principles of Dialoque Education into Practice
(John Wiley Sons, 2007) and previous books. In short, culture is not
just an appendage of the language class, it is intertwined with it.

The panel on which I presented was "Innovative Strategies for
Strengthening Portuguese Language Programs." We learned practical
details about the design and administration of "CELPE-Bras Portuguese
Proficiency Exam," from Mary Risner (University of Florida), who also
presented an "Overview of Initiatives to Promote Portuguese." The
CELPE-Bras test is an important breakthrough because, if students can
get to testing sites, the test is free or very modestly priced, and it
is widely acknowledged in the Portuguese-speaking world and among area
specialists in the US. We got a window on "the making of" the video
that accompanies Ponto de Encontro from one of the co-cauthors
herself, Clémence Jouët-Pastré (Harvard University. In both this and
the previous session we had fruitful debates about the merits of both
Ponto de Encontro and Working Portuguese because co-cauthors were
present. Denise Gomes Leal da Cruz Pacheco (UCLA) presented on
"Teaching Foreign Language and Didactic Materials in the Face of New
Information Technologies" ("Ensino de línguas estrangeiras e os
materiais didáticos face às tecnologias de informação e comunicação,"
which seemed to echo Prof. Igel's presentation and center on the
obsolescence of the print textbook expecially for full integration of
the five Cs. While is is good to be reminded of this, there is
something to be said for the maintencne of the print text especially
for teaching communications skills insofar as they are portable and
unify the class tactically. I presented on "Fund for the Improvement
of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE): U.S.-Brazil Higher Education
Consortia Program: Focus on the HBCU Experience." WSSU is a partner in
two FIPSE grantee consortia, of one of which I am the PI. Insofar as
these consortia are focused on student exchange and language/culture
learning they have been crucial for leveraging on-campus interaction
and co-curricular activity related to Portuguese and Brazil. One of my
central points, based on WSSU student testimonials, was that, although
the theme of the exchange was "The African Diaspora in Brazil and the
US: A Comparative Approach," and although most of the coursework in
Brazil and the US were centered on that theme, what the students
remark at most is the experience of being taken out of a majority
African American institution and going back into a majority white
institutional context in Brazil, and then returning to WSSU. They also
comment on how US Black identity is both mirrored and challenged by
Afro-Brazilians' daily experience. One Fisk student, participating in
a different consortium but studying in Salvador--one of our partner
cities, summed things up: "[the experience] helped me understand the
meaning of 'African Diaspora.'" From my perspective, I believe the
study abroad experience in conjunction with coursework at the home
institution is the best route to accelerated language proficiency and
progress in all five Cs. I have a Power Point on the exchange that I
am happy to present at WSSU.

In regard to the World Wide Web, we were given URLs for a number of
useful sites for teachers in our field, including links to demos of
Prof. Beal's classes. These are of more use to specialists, but I can
provide these addresses upon request. We also learned of two useful
print sources for teaching Brazilian culture: Gilvan Muller, "Language
Policy in Brazil: Monolingualism and Linguistic Prejudice," Language
Policy 3.1 (2004): 3-23, and Tracey Novinger and Donald Haughey,
Communicating with Brazilians: When "Yes" Means "No" (University of
Texas P, 2004).

N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list