TEFL Cultural differences

While teaching English as a foreign language it is very important that the teacher or instructor take on board the cultural differences and discrepancies that occur between different societies. As may appear obvious, teaching English in Asia will be significantly different to teaching English in the Middle East. This is due to the religious, social and all round societal differences between the regions i.e. the cultural differences.

As pointed out by Kenneth Barre in his online article, cultural differences from a teacher?s standpoint can affect a variety of key teaching planning, methodology and structure. Cultural Differences Affects: ?What students expect to hear in a conversation ?Vocabulary and set phrases students try to use ?Degrees of formality / informality ?Literal translations from own language into English. ?Cultural misunderstandings ? Cultural differences can especially cause confusion for standard situations such as: ?Saying hello / goodbye ?Job interviews ?Making excuses ?Accepting / giving presents ?At mealtimes (

These problems can be shown clearly if put in context. While teachers in Thailand are highly respected, classes do take place in quite an informal setting with an emphasis on the students having fun during the class, a positive way for them to reinforce the language grammar and vocabulary points made in the lesson. On the other hand teaching English in countries such as Saudi Arabia and Korea take place in a much more formalized setting, with the emphasis on teachers to student interaction, not student to student interaction

?Being aware of cultural differences and possible pitfalls before you start employment as a teacher in Korea will help you prepare for any disappointments you may encounter.? (

This is due to a high percentage of students in both Saudi Arabia and Korea needing to achieve certain grades etc to apply to university courses, while in Thailand learning English is targeted much more towards obtaining a good job and career advancement. This can be again contrasted with certain cities, such as Hong Kong and Shanghi, were English language learning is aimed broadly at the business community, meaning a largely different and specialized vocabulary being taught in many classes and courses. All of these difference must be thought of while lesson planning etc in the specific countries.

Also noted must be the actions of the teachers while in the classroom. Teachers must remember that in Thailand it is taboo to ever touch a students head or to show the soles of your feet to someone. In Italy a light touch of congratulations on a students head may be considered positive reinforcement, where as in any Buddhist country it will be completely taboo. In the Middle East one must make sure to be appropriately dressed, especially females, covering completely the necessary parts of the body. In general therefore EFL teachers must always take into account cultural differences in the specific society which they wish to work in.

Author: Chris McQuillan

Date of post: 2006-05-12