Acknowledging Cultural Differences in the Classroom In the TEFL classroom, it is important

In the TEFL classroom, it is important to recognize that cultural differences exist both between teacher and students, and between different students in a multilingual classroom. These differences have the potential to create problems, such as misunderstanding or uncomfortable situations. This article will discuss these issues and suggest ways they can be dealt with or prevented.

Lisa Delpit discusses challenges of teaching in a multicultural society. Although she is referring to multicultural students in the United States, the issues she discusses are very relevant to teaching English as a foreign language abroad or in an English-speaking country. Some of these issues are: failure to recognize cultural differences and problems that might arise because of these differences, stereotyping, assuming that someone cannot succeed in the classroom due to cultural background, and failure to include aspects of the students' culture in lessons (Delpit 238). Problems that could arise due to cultural differences might be a 'clash' between the students and the structure of the school in which they are learning (Delpit 238). The way the teacher addresses students in the class might be different than what students are used to, therefore, it is important to establish the perception of the teacher by students, and make sure the relationship is appropriate by both cultural standards.

The teacher must not assume for any reason based on preconceived notions that students are unable to learn based on a stereotype of the culture. This is especially important if a teacher has had a bad experience in the past with a certain group of students. Stereotyping is hurtful to students and can prevent them from performing up to their potential in the classroom. How can a teacher prevent other potentially negative impacts of cultural differences'

Perhaps the most important thing a teacher can do is be open- minded and willing to learn about the culture of the students, and know that in many situations the students will not be knowledgeable about the culture of the teacher or other students. This can have an impact on students' comprehension of certain words or lessons. One example of this might be the word 'democracy'. A teacher cannot assume that students will understand the word or concept (Allen 324). In some cultures, words used by the teacher's culture might not even exist, or the words and concepts surrounding them may have very different meanings.

Virginia Allen suggests that cultural insight can greatly contribute to learning a foreign language (324). Therefore, the teacher should attempt to teach about the experiences or cultural context in which certain words are used, but not in a way that portrays that culture as superior. The teacher can provide authentic materials that give students an idea of the cultural context in which English is used, such as games, stories, songs, history books, television shows and newspapers (Allen 326).

Equally important is the teacher's knowledge of the culture of the students he or she is teaching. The teacher should not be ethnocentric, and should participate in that culture he or she is teaching with an open mind. By doing this, the teacher can learn from the students, and avoid confusing or offending them by assuming that they share the same cultural values.


Allen, Virginia. The Modern Language Journal, Vol. 53, No. 5, Understanding the Cultural Context. (May, 1969), pp. 324-326.

Delpit, Lisa. The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 61, No. 3, Africentrism and Multiculturalism: Conflict or Consonance. (Summer, 1992), pp. 237-249.