Speech Language Literacy Lab co-founder Jen Preschern is living in Linz, Austria during the 2014-2015 school year with her family. As school starts, Jen has a new perspective on being a foreigner in a country where she is not proficient in the language She would like to share this perspective with her colleagues back in the United States, as she feels her experiences must mimic to some extent the feelings of English language learning parents back in the United States.
How Culturally Sensitive Are Your School Supply Lists?
The Austrian school supply list arrived in German. On the list, it said that all children must bring their "hausschuh" and leave them by the lockers. The students change into "hausschuh" every day in the school building.
The literal translation of "hausschuh" is slipper. Slippers? In school? After asking around, it is apparent that the word "hausschuh" has an entirely different meaning than the literal translation. A meaning that is shared by the countrymen of Austria, but non-accessible to a foreigner using a dictionary translation. Within the Austrian culture, it is important to keep street shoes outside and clean shoes inside. Therefore, children change into Birkenstock-like sandals (pictured above) in the morning. They wear these shoes all day long within the school building.
How often in American schools do we give our parents supply lists that have items with implied cultural meanings?
Think about the images that come to mind when you see these words on a school supply list:
- Winter Coat
If living in a cold climate, like Chicago, we picture a thick insulated jackets, lined boots, and waterproof gloves. But how often do we see parents sending their children to school in single layer jackets, rain boots, or thin cotton gloves, which makes children unprepared to deal with snow on the playground? Parents, by nature, want the best for their children. Immigrant parents may not share the implied cultural meaning of items that Americans take for granted. Imagine a recently immigrated parent from Mexico or the Middle East. As a child, did they play in snow? Was there even cold weather in their country?
For many immigrant families, they do not have the financial resources to buy multiple pieces of clothing for their children, so it is important that parents buy the proper items the first time. As teachers, if we are more aware of the cultural gaps in understanding, we can help parents better prepare their children for school.
Instead of making phone calls home or letters to parents about sending warm clothes, at SL3 we suggest sending pictures of either a child dressed appropriately or individual pictures of each item requested. This idea could be applied more broadly to other items on the school supply list as well, providing pictures of items that are not easily understood with a literal translation.
As the saying goes, a picture of a hausschuh is worth 1,000 dictionaries with the word hausschuh.