TEFL Cultural sensitivity in the classroom

As an ESL teacher one of the biggest challenges I have had to face is cultural sensitivity. Not only on my part as a teacher but on the part of my students as well.
My first experience on this subject dealt with stereotypes. Not only those held by my students but those that I carried as well. The second issue was how to bridge the gaps between our two cultures. Therefore, the issue becomes how do we increase our level of cultural sensitivity.
There have been many studies done on this issue. Most focus on the things the teacher should do to bridge the gap. I believe that it takes effort on the part of both the student and the teacher to resolve this issue.
As ESL teachers most of us have left our countries and begun teaching in other countries. In his book The Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity, Milton Bennett list six stages that people go through to bridge this gap. These stages are as follows:
1.Denial ? People are unaware of the cultural differences.
2.Defense- People recognize some differences but see them as negative.
3.Minimization- people believe that their on values are superior and are unaware of their projection of those values.
4.Acceptance ? People began to understand that your actions while acceptable in your country may not be acceptable or have a different meaning in other cultures.
5.Adaptation ? People began to judge other?s behavior from their culture and adopt their behavior to fit the norms of another culture.
6.Integration- people can go between the two cultures and handle any identity issues that may arise.

I believe that for the purpose of teaching English the most important stages are Acceptance and Adaptation. It is very important to understand these while in the classroom. Acceptance as it will go along way to preventing cultural misunderstandings class. Adaptation because once you know the norms of the cultural you can plan your lessons to be more effective. As now you understand how your students think and you
use that in your teaching points. As teachers we get students from many different countries and cultures in the same?classroom. My personal experience has taught me that in these case that student often want to study with people from difference countries. They think they will get more chances to speak . As the class progresses problems begin to arise because of differences in culture and stereotypes that the each have. Johnnie Johnson Hafernif, in the article Promoting Cultural Sensitivity Among Students gives ten suggestions to achieve it with your students. For my purposes I will only use two. They are as follows:

1.Make an effort to teach about other countries and cultures in class.
2. Teach lessons that point out the practical aspects of knowing about the culture of other countries.

This will help to foster an awareness of the differences between cultures. At the same when these issues arise as teachers we should address the issues directly. By talking about these issues in this manner we can help our students become more cultural sensitive.
As teachers we should respect the cultures of our host countries. When problems we should open the lines of communication. Address these issues directly. Explain why the actions are offensive. We should also take the time to learn about the culture we are working in. This will help us not only avoid offending our students but to relate to them as well. In the end we will become better teachers because of it.
There are no easy ways to do this. But a start is in following the golden rule.
When we respect our student s culture they will show a respect for ours. This helps to open up the lines of communication. In closing it is only through communication that we can foster cultural sensitivity in our classrooms.


Cronin Marianne 1995 , Considering the cultural context in teaching and learning for Korean tertiary students by western teachers.: TL Forum

Elliot Candia 1999, Stages of Intercultural Sensitivity: Awesome Library, Multicultural Tool Kit.

Hafernik, Johnnie Johnson 1994, Promoting Cultural Sensitivity Among Students: TESOL Matters Vol 4. Davis, Barbara Gross, 1999 Diversity and Complexity in the Classroom. Tools for Teaching.

Author: Arthur Cartlidge

Date of post: 2006-09-26