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AI As a Gateway to Cultural Learning in the Classroom

AI As a Gateway to Cultural Learning in the Classroom

There’s a common perception that mastering a foreign language means being able to conjugate and decline words or being able to string together complex sentences in split seconds. There is truth to this; world language classes often adopt this heuristic of measurement, and foreign language proficiency tests frequently examine students’ ability to perform in these respects. The only issue is that when it comes to practical applications of a language, understanding and utilizing its grammatical rules only contributes a fraction of what’s necessary to be “fully proficient.” When it comes to interacting with a native foreign-language-speaking society, knowledge of culture can also be key.

As mentioned before, standard world language curriculums do not emphasize learning cultures associated with languages. Yet understanding cultural taboos, traditions, or dialectal variations equips students with the tools to formulate contextually appropriate sentences and form stronger connections in the process. So then why is culture often forfeited in the classroom? One of the main answers is a lack of resources and time. Languages are hard to learn — they require students to memorize large masses of vocabulary, sentence structures, and grammatical exceptions. And considering the limited amount of time each teacher has in a day to teach and concoct lesson plans, it is understandable that less emphasis is placed on cultural learning.

However, with recent developments in artificial intelligence, there is a solution. Generative AI chatbots in the form of tools like ChatGPT are practically catered towards this issue. These machine learning models are trained on vast amounts of data on the internet, making them highly educated on almost any topic thinkable. As a result, these kinds of large AI chatbots are customizable to a wide range of tasks, especially when it pertains to subjects well-defined online such as cultures of different societies. The streamlined prompt-output structure of these tools (i.e, users feed in a prompt (or input) and the chatbot spits out a response (or output)) are particularly useful for saving time, the main issue faced in this scenario.

Cultural Prompts

In general, AI chatbots can help language teachers generate materials for students to learn about cultural topics. These could range from textbook summaries to more creative multimedia sources such as movies, books, or TV shows. The latter can be quite useful for engaging students in what has been traditionally seen as more of an unnecessary subject, so here is a link to a prompt tool that provides a simple interface to generate such prompts (note that users can specify a random source by typing “random source” in the multimedia source field). Though the prompt tool is provided on Lowtech AI, users can easily migrate the prompt to other chatbot interfaces like ChatGPT (just click “Show Prompt” and replace the placeholder words in double curly brackets). For variety, here is one example of the prompt and output as seen in the ChatGPT interface:

INPUT: ​​Provide a list of recommendations for a movie that explores day of the dead.

OUTPUT: Certainly! Here's a list of movie recommendations that explore the Day of the Dead theme:

  • Coco (2017): This animated film from Disney-Pixar beautifully depicts the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos. It tells the story of a young boy named Miguel who embarks on a journey in the Land of the Dead to uncover the truth about his family's history. The film is visually stunning, emotionally touching, and a celebration of Mexican culture.
  • The Book of Life (2014): Another animated film set during the Day of the Dead, The Book of Life follows the story of Manolo, a young man torn between fulfilling his family's expectations and following his heart. With vibrant animation, catchy music, and a unique visual style inspired by Mexican folk art, it's a delightful and colorful adventure.
  • Macario (1960): This Mexican film is a classic exploration of the Day of the Dead tradition. It tells the tale of a poor woodcutter named Macario who is visited by Death on the Day of the Dead and given a magical gift. The film explores themes of mortality, greed, and the human condition, while providing a cultural insight into the Mexican holiday.
  • The Corpse Bride (2005): Directed by Tim Burton, this stop-motion animated film is a dark and whimsical tale about a young man named Victor who accidentally marries a deceased bride while practicing his wedding vows. Set in a gloomy and stylized Victorian-era world, the film incorporates elements of the Day of the Dead and explores themes of love, death, and redemption.
  • El Muerto (2007): Based on a comic book series, El Muerto tells the story of Diego de la Muerte, a man who is brought back from the dead as a supernatural being. Blending elements of horror, action, and comedy, the film explores Day of the Dead imagery and Mexican folklore in a unique way.
  • Santa Sangre (1989): Directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Santa Sangre is a surreal and haunting film that incorporates Day of the Dead symbolism. It follows the journey of a young man who, as a child, witnessed the murder of his mother by his father and later joins a circus where he becomes involved in a series of bizarre and macabre events.

These films provide a variety of perspectives and styles when it comes to exploring the Day of the Dead theme. Enjoy watching!

The customizability inherent within these AI models allow for follow up questions to incorporate additional information to the input prompt. For example, if the user is teaching a more advanced language class, that user could add another prompt right after the chatbot’s response restricting the multimedia sources to those written in the foreign language.

In a similar vein, teachers can use generative AI tools to create writing assignments about cultural topics to test students’ knowledge. These could even be follow-up assignments meant to test what students learned from the source generated by the previous prompt. See a link to the prompt tool here (again, follow up prompts can be used to express additional information, such as students’ language level). Below is another ChatGPT input-output example:

INPUT: Generate a list of random assignment ideas covering the day of the dead .

OUTPUT: Certainly! Here's a list of random assignment ideas covering the Day of the Dead theme:

  • Research Paper: Write a research paper exploring the historical origins and cultural significance of the Day of the Dead in different regions around the world.
  • Art Project: Create a mixed media art piece inspired by the Day of the Dead, incorporating traditional elements such as sugar skulls, marigolds, and vibrant colors.
  • Photography Exhibition: Capture a series of photographs that depict the preparations, celebrations, and symbolism of the Day of the Dead in your community or a nearby location.
  • Recipe Collection: Compile a collection of traditional recipes associated with the Day of the Dead, including dishes like pan de muerto (bread of the dead) and sugar skull cookies. Include a brief description of the cultural significance of each dish.
  • Cultural Comparison: Compare and contrast the Day of the Dead with other cultural festivals or traditions related to honoring and remembering the deceased, such as the Qingming Festival in China or All Saints' Day in Europe.
  • Short Film: Create a short film that tells a fictional or documentary-style story centered around the Day of the Dead. It could explore themes of family, remembrance, or the blending of the living and the dead.
  • Community Event Planning: Plan and organize a Day of the Dead celebration in your community, including activities like altar displays, traditional music and dance performances, and educational workshops on the holiday's significance.
  • Children's Book: Write and illustrate a children's book that introduces young readers to the Day of the Dead in an engaging and culturally sensitive way.
  • Fashion Design: Design a clothing or accessory collection inspired by the Day of the Dead, incorporating traditional motifs and colors while offering a modern and wearable interpretation.
  • Comparative Literature Analysis: Compare and analyze literary works that explore the themes of life, death, and remembrance, such as "Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel and "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman, in relation to the Day of the Dead.

Remember to choose an assignment that aligns with your interests and allows you to delve deeper into the rich cultural traditions of the Day of the Dead.

Cultural Conversation Bot

Both of the two previous prompts were quite general and can be applied to subjects outside of language learning. However, the following prompt is more geared towards multilingual conversations. This prompt is a “cultural conversation bot.” It highlights the practical nature of learning about culture in foreign language classrooms by generating a natural, realistic conversation that touches upon a given cultural topic. The conversation is interactive, meaning that students can respond to the chatbot through follow up prompts. So, teachers can assign this tool to students to both improve their cultural knowledge outside of class and strengthen their interpersonal communication skills. Here is the prompt tool. The Lowtech interface seems to generate more natural and interactive conversations, however, so for this prompt in particular, it is recommended to use Lowtech AI instead of ChatGPT. For comparison, the Lowtech outputs are provided below:

OUTPUT on Lowtech:

Note that at the moment ChatGPT includes certain symbols that Lowtech AI does not (such as some Chinese characters). So in case it is necessary to use ChatGPT, the following steps can be taken to generate a cultural conversation:

First, start with “begin an interactive conversation in [language] with me”:

INPUT: begin an interactive conversation in Chinese with me.

OUTPUT: 当然可以!我很高兴与您进行互动对话。请问有什么我可以帮助您的问题或主题呢?(translation: Sure! I'm happy to have an interactive conversation with you. Is there any question or topic that I can help you with?)

Then, use a “Pretend” phrase to create a roleplay scenario. An example of what that means is provided below:

INPUT: Pretend like we are celebrating Chinese New Year.

OUTPUT: 当然!新年快乐!请告诉我,您在庆祝春节时通常会做些什么呢?有什么传统活动或习俗您喜欢参与吗?(translation: Certainly! Happy New Year! Please tell me, what do you usually do when celebrating Chinese New Year? Are there any traditional activities or customs that you like to participate in?)

Of course, this process is not as effective as that of Lowtech, but it can still provide meaningful conversations for cultural learning.

Conclusion

Indeed, tools such as these are great resources that should be utilized in the classroom. Though cultural learning is a perfect example, other subjects that are deemphasized due to time or resource constraints can also be used in this context. The prompts provided in this article only scratch the surface of what generative AI chatbots offer. By using thoughtful and detailed wording, one can generate more prompts to fit any need, whether it be inside the classroom or not.



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