World language instruction offers a natural opportunity for students to learn about social responsibility and international understanding. Teaching Tagalog has shown me how to use language instruction as an inroad to complex cultural issues that add meaning to life both inside and outside the classroom.
Over time, I’ve landed on several engaging strategies that go beyond grammar and vocabulary to build my students’ compassion and empathy and enrich their appreciation of the issues facing the Filipino community.
These approaches can easily be adapted for any world language classroom.
1. Incorporate Documentaries
I routinely turn to age-appropriate documentaries to uncover details that lie behind what’s typically written in textbooks. A good documentary can help students learn more about the way of life in a particular culture, including its values and belief systems, and be entertaining at the same time.
For example, my Tagalog class follows the YouTube channel of a local TV station in the Philippines called UNTV: Istorya (“Story” in English), which features personal narratives of Filipinos that are both educational and inspiring. I’ve had my students watch the story of a jeepney artist, for instance, which explores how jeepneys (open-air public vehicles in the Philippines) came about as one of the national symbols of arts in the country. Through the documentary, students learn about the life stories of jeepney artists who struggle to make ends meet for their families and pursue their creative passion. By watching documentaries, students also strengthen their viewing and listening skills.
To inspire social responsibility, I usually ask students to participate in an activity called Paano kung (“What if…”). I ask them two hypothetical questions, such as “Paano kung ikaw yung jeepney artist—ganoon din ba ang gagawin mo?” (“What if you were the jeepney artist—would you do the same?”) and “Paano kung may pagkakataon kang tumulong—ano ang gagawin mo?” (“What if you had the chance to help—what would you do?”). Then, the classroom discourse becomes more dynamic and meaningful as students justify their answers based on the details of the documentary.
2. Explore Relevant Issues With Role-Playing
World language teachers can also distribute news features or articles written in the target language that can nurture social responsibility and international understanding. The challenge, of course, is to share articles that explore compelling issues that require solutions.
In our class, students read about the issue of fauna endangerment, such as the diminishing number of haribon (Philippine eagle) in the country. From there, they can identify deforestation and exploitation of natural resources as root causes for the dwindling populations of these birds, and explore solutions like environmental education and reforestation.
I sometimes ask students to do role-play using Model United Nations (MUN) simulations; they act as panel members, mimicking the job of UN representatives. Once they have read the articles, they present their resolutions on environmental issues by modifying procedures from Model UN.
First, I encapsulate the procedures into four simple steps to make the activity easier to digest. Then participants introduce themselves to the class and provide a one-sentence opening statement. That second step allows students to present and expound their drafted resolutions in no more than five minutes. Then, their classmates ask the speakers relevant questions. Lastly, the students deliver one-minute-long concluding statements.
This activity works well with students who have advanced knowledge and fluency in the target language, as they need to produce more sophisticated discourse to support their reports and claims.
3. Connect Students to Inspiring Individuals
Amid many social issues in many countries, inspiring individuals work as advocates to make a difference in their communities. Once they’ve done research to identify important social issues (e.g., climate change, poverty, illiteracy) in the target culture, my students set to work identifying who those advocates are in the Philippines so they can learn from the individuals themselves.
Because virtual events are now routine and convenient, we invite the advocate to talk to the class about how their work advances a cause. For example, in Tagalog, there is a forgotten script called Baybayin that some native Filipinos still have knowledge of. Jay Enage, an expert in Baybayin who is fighting to reintroduce this script to younger Filipinos, was a classroom guest and talked about the distinct characteristics of the script, shared its history, and explained how the reintroduction of Baybayin could bolster Filipinos’ cultural identity. My students learned how to write their names in Baybayin and gained an appreciation of the importance of preserving this part of Filipino heritage.
4. Organize Outreach Activities
Outreach events can give students a deep sense of fulfillment when they’re done in tandem with learning another language. Once my students have learned about different social issues in the Philippines and have actively participated in classroom discussions, I sometimes ask them to organize a modest fundraising event for a particular cause that builds their autonomy, social awareness, and understanding of social responsibility.
For example, they can plan a mini–fashion show of traditional costumes from the Philippines and sell authentic cultural items such as snacks and souvenirs on campus at a small profit and then donate the proceeds. Once we cooked and sold adobo (a Filipino meat dish) and kanin (cooked rice) on campus after an earthquake devastated some parts of southern Philippines in 2019. The funds we raised were sent to nonprofit organizations there that could provide relief goods to affected Filipino families. The bonus was that our students were able to use their Tagalog language skills as they sold adobo and kanin to buyers.