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Tips for Exploring and Expressing Differences in Culture

written by: Audrey Alleyne • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 8/2/2012

Cultural differences could result in ineffective communication. Pay attention to this in preparing your ESL methodology course lesson plans.

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    Effects of Cross Cultural Communication

    As an ESL teacher, you should expect some instances of miscommunication between you and your students, and among the students themselves. There are many factors which can contribute to this, but one of the main ones to consider in the course of your ESL methodology lesson plans, is that of incorporating the comparison of cultures. Cross cultural communication differs in respect to ideas, attitudes and behaviors among people. If your students are from diverse cultures, as they probably are, they will demonstrate these traits. Your awareness of how cultures operate both by communication and conflict will allow both you and the students the ability to respond effectively to these differences.

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    Explain Differences in English Culture

    Let’s take for example the culture of the target language, in this case English. Include in your lesson plans cultural points about the English speaking country you are teaching, i.e., England, the United States, Australia, or Canada. For example, your lesson plan can take this form.

    You want to show students that even though people in these countries all speak English there are certain cultural differences. You can show students that although Canada and the USA are in close proximity of each other, and there are certain similarities including the fact that people in both countries speak English, there are also differences.

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    Three Major Differences

    Three of these major differences are:

    Whereas in the United States, there are many signs written both in English and Spanish, in Canada most signs, and clothing and food labels among other things are written in both English and French. This is because in the United States there is a large and growing Hispanic population, while in Canada many people speak French, and about 20% of the population is French-Canadian.

    Both Canada and the United Sates have diversity. In The United Sates, the largest ethnic groups are white and black. In Canada, the largest ones are of British, French and European origin followed by Native American which represents about 2% of the population, then Asian. In the United States, Native American is placed after Asian and represents less than 2%. So, the two countries have different ethnic groups, and in different order according to numbers.

    Both Canada and the United States have English as their main language. In the United States, the second language is Spanish, but spoken only by a minority of the population. In Canada, there are two official language, English and French.

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    Indicating Ethnicity on Forms

    A case in point where a variable across cultures can be demonstrated is as follows. When a person fills out a form in the United States, such as job application forms or immigration form for example, there is a section on ethnicity, where it is “so-called” optional, but more or less required to fill out whether the person is “Black, non-Hispanic, or White, or Pacific Islander etc.” In France for example, this does not exist. A French student who is faced with this exercise would find it highly unusual, since it is practically illegal to differentiate race like that when filling out a form in France.

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    Students' Turn

    After you have presented your course lesson plans on culture in ESL methodology, invite students from different countries to present cultural highlights of their own countries in the manner in which you have done it. If a Spanish speaking student for example is aware of cultural differences in a Spanish speaking country other than his own, have him outline them. This will encourage students to share aspects of their various cultural backgrounds. It will also encourage conversations skills. A good idea is to include in this exercise the use of certain common idioms and expressions, and compare how they differ in various languages to express the same meaning. Have fun exploring culture.