Ethiopian food and cultural artifacts at 2am.

Written by: Spencer Greenhalgh

Primary Source: Spencer Greenhalgh

When we’re introducing ourselves to new people, Kathryn and I often mention (and joke about) our different backgrounds. Florence isn’t really a small town, but Torrance boasts about five times its population and is just one suburb of the sprawl that is Los Angeles. My father-in-law likes to describe Los Angeles as the kind of city where if you wake up one morning and decide you want to try Ethiopian food, you have half a dozen places to choose from for your first taste. I love this idea, and recently it’s struck me as an appropriate metaphor for describing a language teacher with access to the Internet.

I’m constantly surprised at what kind of Francophone cultural artifacts I can look up, download, study, and share just on a whim (or even by accident!) as long I have a computer and a wi-fi signal. Consider some of the following examples:

  • Over the past several weeks, I’ve gone from knowing nothing about Malian music to regularly listening to Amadou & Mariam‘s Dimanche à Bamako thanks to a serendipitous recommendation from Spotify.
  • A few months ago, I began to wonder how much Haitian Creole I’d be able to understand thanks to my French experience. All it took was a quick trip to YouTube and the Kreyòl Wikipedia to find out.
  • Thanks to the webcomic L’Actu en Patates (The news with potatoes) and my trusty RSS reader, I regularly get little snippets of not only what’s going on in the French news, but what French people are making fun of in the news. Much to my delight, Martin Vidberg, potato-artist extraordinare, is also a former teacher with a lot to say about education and a passionate board gamer who increasingly appears to be the face of French hobby gaming. I’ve learned a lot from Vidberg and his potatoes!
  • Browsing through the French Wikipedia during one stats lecture that just couldn’t keep my attention, I stumbled on the term röstigraben, a fascinating insight into the way that the Swiss see the cultural and linguistic differences that distinguish their country.

I’ve learned a lot about Francophone cultures over the past few years thanks to my Internet connection. In a way, the Internet is my Los Angeles: If I wake up one morning with a pressing question or curiosity about this field (or any field) that I love so much, I have a huge number of options at my disposal. Even when I don’t have a particular mission in mind, I frequently stumble on new cultural discoveries that have to be just as exciting as trying Ethiopian food on a whim.

Whether you’re a language teacher, an aspiring cosmopolitan polyglot, or just someone who wants to learn a little more about the world, I recommend that you don’t forget this amazing affordance of the Internet!

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Hi there! My name is Spencer Greenhalgh, and I am a student in the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology doctoral program at Michigan State University. I came to Michigan State University with a strong belief in the importance of an education grounded in the humanities. As an undergraduate, I studied French and political science and worked as a teaching assistant in both fields. After graduation, I taught French, debate, and keyboarding in a Utah private school before coming to MSU, where I plan to study how technology can be used to help students connect the humanities with their lives. I have a particular interest in the use of games and simulations to promote ethical reasoning and explore moral dilemmas, but am eager to study any technology that can help students see the relevance of studying language, culture, history, and government.