Cross-Cultural Learning Styles: ELL Children and Understanding How They Learn

Language, LSI, Culture, Home Life

To be an effective teacher, one must understand how different people from different cultures learn. The cross-cultural learning styles children exhibit can be understood in four categories. These four categories are the LSI (Learning Style Inventory), Language, Culture, and Home life.


Clearly language is an incredibly important factor when it comes to cross-cultural learning. Hidden within the English language are thousands of assumptions, endless idioms, and confusing pronunciation. That goes without mentioning body language.

Skill doesn't always transfer easily. If a Chinese student were brilliant at calligraphy studies and poetry, this would not mean that he or she would experience similar success in English, even in an ESL classroom. The languages are, simply put, very different. This difference is something that only time and practice can overcome. It is difficult to separate the language from the learning.

Clearly there are differences between Chinese and American public schools. The discipline and respect are shown in different ways. Different tasks are asked of them within each school, the attitudes and culture of the school, and the expectations of parents are all different. Separating the cultural factors from grammar and fundamentals of language learning requires an individual look at the specific student. It is very difficult, and often costly, to generalize in situations like these. Each student needs to be taken into account on an individual level.

LSI (Learning Style Inventory)

The LSI is an important tool to help us understand how people learn. If a student answers, “Always” to the question “Can you remember more about a subject through the lecture method with information, explanations and discussion?” then we can discern that this student is, in part, an auditory learner.

The LSI gives us a broad understanding of the learning methods of a student through his own self-evaluation. LSI can also be deduced through observing a student. It need not be a self-observation. The LSI paints a picture of the student as a certain style of learner. If you are having trouble identifying the learning style of a learner, this is a great tool to use.


By completing the sentence “All Americans…” we step into the world of generalizations and stereotypes.This is true of any culture. It is better, therefore, to take every international student as a person first. Let them explain to you what their culture is about. Allow them to dictate the terms in which they are defined. Holding onto assumptions about an entire culture creates resentment and fosters ignorance. When working with ESL students for a long time you will most likely see patterns emerge within cultures. It isn't prejudice to notice that a lot of your male Ecuadorian students like soccer. It is ignorant, however, to assume that they all do.

Home LIfe

To understand how a student will learn, one needs to understand who is raising that student. A healthy home life is going to give that student an important advantage in the academic world. To separate culture from home life can be a difficult challenge as well. How does one take the American out of the equation when measuring the expectations of the parents for their children? When speaking to parents from diverse backgrounds it is incredibly important to understand exactly where they are coming from and why they feel the way they do without being condescending or misunderstood. Typically you will find that your interests and those of the parents are aligned.

All Things Considered

Through balancing these four important categories you will have what you need to make good decisions regarding any student from any culture and the cross cultural learning styles children have. Keep in mind that although international students represent their countries it is not their job to fully understand and be able to explain them. Let them share when they want to. If they are not interested in being diplomats for an entire nation we should not force them to be. After all, it is a tall order.

This post is part of the series: Better Teaching: Making informed Decisions

It’s always the right time to check out some great lesson plans!
  1. Cross-Cultural Learning Styles: Children and Diversity