“Being able to interact with people on their own terms in their own language gives you insights that you would not get if they are speakers of [your language]. People are themselves when they are speaking their language in a way that they aren’t when they are speaking a second language. It gives you a personal connection to folks in other countries when you allow them to be themselves, their authentic selves.”
I connected up with Sharla Zwirek for conversation for a variety of reasons, but two stand out: she has proven success in publishing world language and culture educational materials, and she has personal drive toward and insight on language learning and cultural experiences.
Like so many of my guests so far, Sharla’s interest in language learning came from wanting to know more about and engage more in her own identity and family history. Like many monolinguals in this country, she was in middle school before being able to take a language; happily, one of the offerings provided her language and cultural insight into the lives of some cousins, and off and running she went.
So where DO we go when we come face to face with our identity through experiencing the identity of others through their language and culture? Inevitably, we are transformed. Inevitably, as we have seen in podcast after podcast in this series, we search to understand and engage more and more; tasting a morsel of understanding of how humanity works leaves us hungrier than we were before.
For Sharla, this hunger and her awareness of the power of language and education led her into the publishing business. She describes beautifully the collaboration and dedication needed to bring forth materials and programs that support the skills of educators and open the minds and hearts of learners to the world. Moreover, there is a unique role of professionally produced resources in assuring that accessibility, equity, and inclusion are present in programs.
I was personally fascinated to realize, as the conversation unfolded, that acceptance of the “cultural product” of a text/program is as much dependent on the “perspectives and practices” of cultures of the purchasers around the country. As Sharla puts it, “Everyone wants the best quality, but providing comfort plus quality for each cultural area of the U.S. is a balancing act.” Put more plainly, both facts and attitudes expressed in materials often change across various regions of the country. In all subject areas, publishers have to take a look at how they approach some “touchy” cultural subjects–and even what facts they choose to include–to address “acceptable content” according to the cultural attitudes of various regions of the country. In response to this publishing reality, I ask of all of us: How can we object to cultural understanding about others when we insist upon it for ourselves?
So listen to this episode with Sharla to understand how the choices we make in what we use to understand the world and to train our youth can open wide the doors to understanding and personal fulfillment or, conversely, reaffirm our bias and shut ourselves into pinched and impoverished lives.
And consider: How do you go about opening or closing doors to your own understanding and to understanding between individuals, groups, societies, and nations?
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2 thoughts on “Episode 11: Pathways to Understanding: A Conversation with Sharla Zwirek”
I loved hearing Sharla speak and felt as though I was sitting there with both of you just enjoying a friendly, inspiring chat. Having worked with Sharla and knowing her passion for world language learning, it is enlightening to hear her discuss the thought processes going on behind the scenes as we strive to provide the best educational materials possible for our classrooms. I love how she discusses the sensitivity required for the process of selecting materials, as well as the importance of being open to other perspectives, while also seeking balance in diversity for all our students. Her description of the huge team effort needed to select effective authentic resources and then to develop them effectively, scaffolding the process of how they are presented and brought to fruition for the classroom, is so profound. Sharla is amazing…her legacy surely lives with me! I am so privileged to have worked with her on both editions of Temas and Thèmes! Thank you for this beautiful Podcast!