Fostering Your Language Students’ Cultural Competency through Peer-to-Peer Communication: Introducing LUV Global Connections

Culture is an essential component of language learning. Language is culture, and culture is language. The two are inextricably interconnected. Teachers know that teaching a language is not just about teaching grammar rules, vocabulary, and useful phrases. They need to introduce cultures around the world and set standards for the students to achieve a certain level of cultural competence.

Developing cultural awareness, empathy, and respect for others is a very important part of helping students to not only develop global competency but also to understand the value of what they are learning in class.

Since 2012, LUV’s mission has been to globalize the classroom and facilitate seamless collaboration between students from around the world. Over 1000 classrooms in more than 20 countries have participated in LUV’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) hands-on project. On LUV’s 10th anniversary, we are proud to launch a new product, Global Connections. The driving force behind Global Connections was the desire to bring authentic conversations, intercultural communication, and collaboration between language students around the world.

What is LUV Global Connections?

Level Up Village provides a global collaboration platform that brings together language learners from around the world for a unique exploration of culture. Guided by our carefully curated content, students engage in authentic conversations around key cultural products, practices, and perspectives. They explore topics, exchange videos, and reflect on what they’ve learned, all on our safe and secure online platform. Students practice their language skills while developing 21st century skills, cross-cultural communication skills, and cultural awareness.

Why Is Cultural Competence Important?

Today’s children are growing up in a world that is becoming more and more interconnected and interdependent, where global competency skills will be essential to their success. It is, therefore, paramount to expose them to other cultures and teach them global perspectives so that they can grow into global citizens with empathy and an appreciation of others.

To be culturally competent, children need to develop 21st century skills of critical thinking, communication, creativity, collaboration, perseverance, problem-solving, information literacy, etc. They also need to be able to respect differences and to be able to respond empathetically and effectively with people from other countries and cultures.

“Whether students go on to work or study after they leave school, they will be living in an interconnected world, and many of them will be responsible for social, political, and economic interactions in their everyday lives,” says Paula Van Ells, Learning Program Manager at LUV. In order for students to become culturally competent, they need to be able to start practicing these skills early. Incorporating cultural products, practices, and perspectives into the language and social studies courses is a great way for students to learn and grow their skills.

How Does LUV Global Connections Help Develop Students’ Cultural Competence?

Cultural learning is an essential part of learning a language. LUV Global Connections exchanges give students their first opportunity to learn and practice intercultural communication in authentic conversations with global peers in the target language. “Students don’t just learn about culture, they get to experience cultural products, practices, and perspectives through the lens of their peers from around the world. They make real global connections and use authentic intercultural communication skills, reinforcing the language skills they are learning in class,” says Scott Gravina, Director of Research and Development.

The LUV Global Connections curriculum has been aligned to the Intercultural Communication Proficiency Benchmarks and incorporate the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements for intercultural communication. Students can demonstrate their competence through Global Connections video exchanges, where they are both presenting aspects of their own culture and responding to what they learn about their peers’ culture.

What’s Unique about LUV Global Connections?

Developing intercultural competency in students can be a real challenge for many teachers due to a lack of appropriate and authentic resources or lack of time to find them. Many students lack opportunities for meaningful communication using language and intercultural communication skills in an authentic way. Level Up Village helps students make real-world connections with peers who are the same age and who can bring the culture they are learning about to life, something that can’t be possible with just a textbook or an online video. “One teacher summed it up well for me when he explained that in the past, his students spent a lot of time role-playing in class, imagining what it would be like to interact with someone from Mexico or Spain or Colombia for example. With LUV, the role play is real – the student WILL interact with students from other countries, and in a sustained way. They can have multiple exchanges on several topics and in at least two languages! This makes it very real,” said Paula Van Ells.

How Does It Work?

The goal of Level Up Village is to reinforce the material students are learning in class by infusing your curriculum with authentic cultural content. The flexibility of the program allows teachers to select courses that align with their curriculum goals and customize them to their students’ experiences. The tasks are designed to maximize student interaction. Students first introduce themselves to their global peers. Then, they investigate their own and other cultures and share knowledge on cultural products, practices, and perspectives. Next, students interact by viewing their peers’ videos, making real world cultural connections, and continuing the conversation through video or text. Finally, they reflect on and think critically about what they’ve learned. The goal is for students to communicate in their target language, and the tasks alternate between English and another language, so students on both ends of the partnership get the chance to practice the language they’re learning.

The video-based platform is familiar to students, and teachers can easily find tasks that align specifically to the topics they are teaching in class, helping students take that next step towards becoming global citizens.

LUV and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an essential part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which people gain and apply the skills and knowledge to develop healthy identities, manage emotions, achieve goals, demonstrate tolerance and empathy, build healthy relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making are four of the core components of SEL as outlined in the CASEL Framework that Level Up Village (LUV) Global Connections fosters as part of its curriculum.

Self-awareness is the ability to “understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts.” As students prepare video exchanges with their peers, they make decisions on how they are going to present themselves—what they will reveal about themselves, what parts of their lives they are willing and able to share and show on video—and what connections they will present and explain, such as their connection to their community, their family, and their school.

Social awareness is the ability to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. LUV Global Connections raises awareness through the course topics, such as food, school, and social issues, but the visuals in the videos themselves raise awareness all on their own – students might be wearing uniforms, or not, they might be sitting in a crowded room with a chalkboard or in a room with state-of-the art technology; they might be standing on a street in their town where things look orderly or chaotic, depending on one’s point of view. It’s not just what students say, it’s also what they see.​

Relationship skills is the ability to “establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups.” As students create and post videos, they strive to connect with their peers and effectively communicate their messages. They make a real effort to connect with their peers, generally by commenting on similarities or by empathizing differences, utilizing the skills of effective communication and cultural competence.​

Responsible decision-making is the ability to “make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations.” As students create and post videos, they have to make smart decisions about what to post and what information to share in their videos. With the help from the teacher, who can approve or reject their videos, students develop critical thinking and awareness of what’s acceptable in a safe environment.

Alignment to Standards

LUV’s course content is directly aligned with World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages and the Intercultural Communication Proficiency Benchmarks. It incorporates the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements for intercultural communication and makes it easier for teachers to integrate culture into their curriculum. In each module, students introduce, investigate, interact, and reflect on specified cultural topics in a target language. Self-assessment and teacher assessment tools help students quantify what they’re learning about culture as they use their language to connect with their global partners.

LUV Global Connections courses break down classroom walls and facilitate student-centered discovery, cultural learning, project collaboration, and virtual exchanges between young people from around the world on a safe and secure platform.

The LUV Global Connections program easily and seamlessly pairs students with peers in another country to collaborate on projects while developing global perspectives and cross-cultural understanding.

About Gosia Jaros-White

Gosia is a bilingual marketer with almost 20 years of experience in educational publishing. She holds a master’s degree in applied linguistics from Montclair State University. She has spent most of her career creating and developing materials for English language learners and is passionate about language and language education.