Multicultural, Multiracial High School Students' Feelings toward Hispanic Cultures


  • Nancy S. O'Neill

    1. Hofstra University
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      Nancy S. O'Neill (Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University) is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Spanish at Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY.


ABSTRACT  Culture is “everything humans have learned” (Seelye 1993, 22). How to teach culture in an integrated manner with language study is an ongoing dilemma. Before foreign language educators can successfully teach culture along with language, it is important that we listen to and learn about our growing, diverse student population - to know what cultures and races the students belong to, what understanding they possess about other cultures, and how they feel about themselves and others. In this way, educators may utilize instructional strategies more effectively by building on students' backgrounds, that is, by tapping into what they already know.

A qualitative mode of inquiry was employed in this study. Most of the research investigations in foreign language education have been quantitative in nature; few have been qualitative. Most have dealt with homogeneous populations, mainly white, monolingual, English-speaking students in nonurban settings. This article reports the views of Hispanic cultures held by a diverse group of eight high school students who were studying Spanish as a foreign language. These eight students' perceptions of Hispanic cultures were culled from comments they made during an instructional activity (e.g., grouping pictures) and an interview, on a questionnaire, and during follow-up interviews. The participants represented the multicultural, multiracial mix in a large, urban public high school located in the Northeast. The findings overall revealed some degree of empathy on the part of each of the students toward Hispanic cultures. Any feelings of prejudice were related mainly through stereotypes and ethnocentrism. The varying degrees of cultural awareness the students possessed generally were not derived from the foreign language class.