Understanding Stereotypes

Learning a new language is more than simply memorizing words and engaging in conversation; it also involves understanding the intricacies of culture and society. In English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), students taking a Media and Current Events class recently learned about common stereotypes and created public service announcements (PSAs) addressing these issues in video format.

They began by identifying stereotypes about specific groups of people. Videos watched in class spurred discussion of how the media, entertainment, and news industries can influence a viewer’s perceptions of people. The students also explored the boundaries between a “funny” stereotype and a hurtful or offensive one. They were then asked to research a stereotype they found interesting and were challenged to delve deeper into the meaning and basis of the stereotype to determine the truths or misperceptions behind them. Their PSAs included such topics as the history and culprits of discrimination against women; the stereotype that rice is the only source of food in China; and the perception that all politicians are corrupt.

The project took place over the course of four weeks and incorporated a series of steps, including writing development and speech practice. In writing, students created scripts and focused on improving word choice and organization to make their messages more powerful. In speech, they practiced showing emotion as well as using correct pronunciation.

“Stereotypes can teach us about other cultures but can give us the wrong impression of people, which can create a bias,” said ESOL teacher Christine Perigen. “We explored the lines between funny and wrong and then found stereotypes that we felt could have portions of truth but are wholly exaggerated. We wanted to find the truth behind the stereotype but also provide a better understanding of the people behind the culture.”