The Benefits of Multicultural Interaction for Young People

by Lexa Pennington /
Lexa Pennington's picture
Mar 21, 2013 / 0 comments

When you’re learning a different language from that of your native tongue, it is extremely easy to remain well within your comfort zone.


You practice the same phrases, the same vocabulary, and the same grammatical constructions. You can also find, if you’re persistent enough to use them, that the same phrases can offer a fall-back option for different conversational strands.


And this is fine…to a point. But language, and the way that life and language intersect, are not like this. The circumstances in which you will have to use foreign languages are not simply restrained to ordering a baguette at a bakery, asking directions to the station, or - that oft repeated favourite - describing your family.


Circumstances, and conversation, are fluid. As such, if you restrain yourself to using the same phrases over and over again, and restrict yourself to a set vocabulary of a few hundred words, eventually you will hit a brick wall - a linguistic cul-de-sac.


One of the best ways of breaking through this wall is to put yourself in situations where thinking on your feet is part of the language learning process. Class-based language learning is still crucial to the process, of course, but it can become repetitive, predictable and, ultimately, a bit dry. As a result, young students can quickly lose interest in the learning process and their minds can wander.


An excellent way, therefore, to inject a little action and inspiration into proceedings is to take the class outside the classroom and place the students in different, interactive situations where they will have to react to new circumstances and create new, improvised solutions to linguistic problems.


In this sense, something like the Kingswood Interaction Programme is an extremely useful solution for schools and students. It mixes students with their peers from foreign countries in a controlled environment. They can socialise freely, interact, and find new ways to practice the target language. On top of this, they learn more naturally and instinctively about different cultures and customs by sitting together, eating communally, and informally sharing diverse elements of their respective customs.


As someone who has spent many years of their life practising languages and seeking out opportunities to improve them, I can honestly say that the adrenalin rush of satisfaction when you have successfully completed a conversation on a new topic (which you have not practiced before) is one of the main thrills of language learning. Holiday-type phrases are important, of course, but nothing beats the buzz of working something out for yourself.


In our increasingly mobile world, the idea of pen-pals is a pretty distant one. Now it is much more possible for language students of similar ages to mix in constructive environments such as the Kingswood example, mentioned above. By mixing students of different nationalities together, sitting them side by side, and giving them shared tasks where cooperation and communication are key, language skills can be quickly accelerated.


When there is then a shared sense of success if the given task is completed, subsequent conversation then flows more naturally - and a genuine cultural exchange occurs. Students can then learn in a more organic way about the subjects (i.e., music, film, sports) which will prove extremely useful, interesting, and fertile points of entry into improving their grasp of the target language.


Moreover, the language learning process then becomes fun. This is a crucial point in ensuring the continued motivation of the students. As this expert points out, relaxed learning is vital to laying solid linguistic foundations. Activities like orienteering or treasure hunts offer a stimulating framework within which to introduce new vocabularies, grammatical structures and phrases, and language learners do so with energy, with impetus.


Cultural exchange, like language, happens in the real world, outside of the classroom. By managing the demands of the curriculum and re-contextualising them for students in different, inspiring, and interactive environments, teachers can take the rigor and dry formality out of language learning - and instead provide an enriching, multi-faceted process which is much more like the circumstances within which students will use their language skills in the future.