Language & Culture are Linked

Students participating in DCIFF’s “Acing the Interview” afterschool high school program recently attended a virtual session with Dr. Young-Key Kim-Renaud, Professor Emeritus of Korean Language and Culture and International Affairs at George Washington University. Dr. Young-Key, who contributed to the program’s syllabus and selection of topics, led an engaging session with students to explore the connection between a person’s languages and cultures.

A native Korean speaker who was born in Korea and then studied in France at the Sorbonne before moving to the United States, Dr. Young-Key drew on extensive experience teaching the Korean language and culture to foster discussion about both language and the requisite skills and awareness for interviewing an individual to learn about their linguistic and cultural identity and experiences. 

The lecture and discussion began with a global perspective of bilingualism (including multilingualism). With seventy-five of the world’s population speaking two or more languages, a majority of the world’s population have multiple options for multiple linguistic perspectives and modes of expression. Students noted their own experiences of early-memories of language-switching in line with Dr. Young-Kim’s claim that by age 2.5, a multilingual child begins to make choices in language use and to identify their majority language. Regardless of what age a person engages a language, whether by beginning to learn it or mastering fluency, speaking additional languages opens whole other worlds for the speaker. 

Dr. Young-Kim also discussed best-practices for the students when speaking with their bilingual interviewees, highlighting both “universal and culture-specific norms of polite behavior.” Unsurprisingly, universal norms include expressing sincerity and curiosity; being generous without condescending; maintaining awareness that questions are never threatening or imply negative assumptions; and offering encouraging responses, gestures, exclamations. For culturally specific suggestions, she highlighted the importance of recognizing the role of power in the personal dynamic or general topic of the conversation, ensuring solidarity with the interviewee, fostering an interpersonal relationship, expressing appropriate formality, and maintaining awareness of language that can imply inclusion or exclusion. As a general principle, Dr. Young-Key quoted the British philosopher of language Paul Grice who claimed that “conversations are to a certain degree cooperative efforts.” Overall, she noted the importance for an interviewer to be informed, relevant, and lucid in their interview conversation.

Dr. Young-Key will participate in the program’s screening and talkback event on March 13 where attendees can virtually view students’ final interview films and hear from the students on their creative processes.

Written by: 
Daniel Erichsen-Tel