2012 Hall of Fame Nominee

Lisa Podbilski

Berkley Preparatory School
Tampa, FL
2012 Finalist from SCOLT
Mandarin Chinese

When I was in 7th grade, I became friends with a girl who emigrated from Taiwan a year earlier. Her language and culture was completely different from my own. Her grandfather was Buddhist, her family spoke Mandarin, and her home contained unique artwork that I had never seen before.

From 7th to 8th grade I discovered that the unique artwork was called calligraphy scrolls and that my favorite Chinese food became “bao zi” (Chinese steamed dumplings). When I was a junior in high school, I had the opportunity to learn Mandarin. By the end of my high school career, I had studied Latin in the 7th and 8th grade; Spanish for all four years in high school; and Chinese in 11th and 12th. I was enamored with language learning. When I was searching for a university, it had to offer Chinese and Russian.

Having studied three different languages allotted to me the wonderful opportunity to learn about other cultures. One cannot separate learning a language from learning culture; they are intertwined. Culture and language cannot exist without one another. Learning another language and culture not only allows one to gain understanding and insight to that new culture, but also provides an opportunity for reflection upon one’s own culture. Reflection and introspection allow us to become better people, and, in turn, to gain empathy for other cultures.

I frequently tell my students that they can speak a language perfectly, but if they do not understand culture, their language skills will get them nowhere. Therefore, it is extremely important to integrate culture when teaching language. As a result, students can naturally make their own connections, thus comparing and reflecting up on their own culture and experiences. Teachers can incorporate simple, daily activities in the classroom to promote culture and language. Music is always a wonderful way to connect young people. Spanish teachers know this all too well. Listening to music when I was a Spanish student prompted me to purchase Latin music for my own personal enjoyment, and, in turn, improve my language skills. Last summer while in China, one of my students learned a popular Chinese pop song called Xi Shuashua. As she played the song, I instantly knew all of my classes would want to hear it. During the annual Florida Statewide Chinese competition, students from my school performed a dance to the song. Upon their return from the competition, I had the students perform their dance in front of the entire school. Needless to say, their performance was warmly received. Students and teachers alike wanted to know the name of the song!

My goal as a world language teacher is to encourage students to connect with people from other cultures, show them the tools that they can use to make that connection, and then watch as my students realize that people from around the world are not any different from us. As students grow and mature, the lessons that they learned from learning a foreign language goes beyond the classroom – it is something they take with them for a lifetime.