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(Cultural) Product Placement: Arepas

A non-fiction reading, suggestions for introducing cultural products in stories

mola de PanamáThere are so many cultural products that I would like to introduce to my students. I have considered scheduling a once a week “cultural moment” in which we try a bit of the iconic Peruvian drink Inka Kola or I show them a mola that I brought back from Panama. Next week, if I teach this right, we will all become obsessed with arepas. As a language learner a “cultural moment” makes perfect sense to me because I understand that fluency requires cultural and well as grammatical understanding. Nonetheless, for my students it may feel random and add a chaotic rather than unifying vibe to the class. From the student perspective a “cultural moment” runs the risk of lacking a compelling reason for being. Culture should be embedded within my lessons, not a bizarre add-on that interrupts the flow of the lesson.

la-areperia-chipichapeYet I do want my students to develop the kind of depth of knowledge that a “cultural moment” fosters; that is, I want my students to develop more than a passing familiarity with key cultural products. If I were teaching a class of learners who were like me, I might organize a week-long lesson plan dissecting Spanish-language documentaries about Arepas. Fascinating!! While The History Channel is hugely popular among my demographic (40 to 60 year old males) I have to recognize that my preferred approach is not so appealing to many teenagers. I was considering this while watching a Costa Rican television show. The obvious product placement within the sitcom was hilarious. Then I thought about the Spanish program El Internado; next time you watch it count how many times someone delivers a package from Mail Boxes Etc. The magic of product placement within a compelling story makes an unfamiliar product familiar!

Next Monday while co-creating a class story I´ll casually ask what the main character is eating and, after rejecting several responses, I´ll insert the arepa into our story. Es obvio, as Blaine would say. Perhaps I´ll add es una comida de Colombia, but unless my class is super curious I´ll leave it there for the time being. Sure, I´ll circle the word arepa several times and contrast it with hamburguesa and perro caliente, but no further explanations about the cultural significance until the next day when students receive the written version of the story. Within the story I will include an advertisement for an Arepería, including a fake coupon for a free arepa (redeemable only in Colombia, of course). Instead of reading the ad I will apologize to the class and explain, in Spanish of course, that I have enrolled in a google ads campaign in order to raise money for our class library. With a straight face and pushing forward I am confident that many students will not question me. If they do perhaps I´ll tell them that I get a penny per page view, thus my class of 36 just earned me 36 centavos

On Wednesday I´ll find a pretext to add a stock phrase advertising the Brentwood Arepera . With my level three class we have been working with si phrases followed by the imperfect subjunctive and conditional tenses. I´ll point to a picture on the wall and say something like Si yo tuviera una arepera Brentwood, podría hacer arepas aquí en la clase. Once again, apologies, but I get 2 cents every time I say that in class. Circle, circle: ¿Tienes una arepera en la mochila? Clase, Jenny no tiene una arepera en la mochila (¡ay ay ay!) Pero si ella tuviera una arepera…

Thursday I´ll come in with my Brentwood Arepera but no, I will not make arepas in class. Last time I attended a training with Blaine he mentioned that, while storytelling, he has a strong preference towards moving backward in the story because moving forward ends the story. He doesn´t want to end the story, he wants to milk the story of every opportunity for comprehensible input. In the same way, once I make those arepas then the story is over. Pero si yo tuviera Goya ® Masarepa, las haría. ¡Claro que sí!

Friday is Arepa day, and since I took just a few minutes each day to develop their curiosity they are now primed to do the cultural activity that I had originally planned.  Click here to download a .pdf of the reading that they will complete on their own, and click here to see the simple recipe that I follow to make arepas in class. My arepera is fairly slow, so at best I only have time to create two batches. If it is a small class of 24 students I just make one batch of six and cut the arepas into quarters.

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