Teach English in ShuAnggou Zhen - Suqian Shi

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The classroom where English as a foreign language (EFL) takes place can reflect a variety of cultural settings. It can be mono-cultural, where the teacher and learners all have their roots in the same culture (1). It can be bi-cultural, meaning that the learners are of one culture and the teacher is of another. The EFL classroom can also be multicultural, meaning that learners are all of different cultures, not necessarily the same as the teacher. For the purposes of this exposition, I will address cultural sensitivity in the bi-cultural classroom: where the teacher, most likely originating from a majority English-speaking country (US, UK, Ireland, Australia, etc.) is from one culture, and the learners are all from a culture that is different from the teacher’s. In order to be most effective, it is important that EFL teachers be culturally sensitive. This means both being aware of cultural differences and their influence on effective learning, and also acting upon this awareness. This action should ideally take place in the dynamic between the teacher and learners (Unit 1), how the classroom is managed (Unit 5), and in lesson planning (Unit 9). In this summative task I will examine relevant cultural dimensions, and how the relationship between teacher and learners, as well as among learners themselves, reflects these dimensions. The cultural dimensions that teachers should be aware of follow the Hofstede model (‘Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind,’ McGraw-Hill Education, 3rd ed., 2010), as follows: Power distance: The extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. **Individualism versus collectivism: the degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups. **Uncertainty avoidance: society’s tolerance for ambiguity. **Masculinity versus femininity: a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success, versus a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. **Long-term versus short-term orientation: this dimension associates the connection of the past with the current and future actions and/or challenges. **Indulgence versus restraint: the degree of freedom that societal norms give to citizens in fulfilling their human desires. While it may be interesting to see how these cultural dimensions manifest in a single culture, they are most useful when cultures are compared. Given the length constraints of this summative task (500 - 1000 words), I will only examine two of the dimensions which I believe are most crucial in the classroom: power distance and individualism versus collectivism. As I am from the US and my likely target group of learners will be from Cambodia, my examples will focus on a teacher with a US cultural background, and learners from a Vietnamese cultural background. Data from Vietnam is necessary as there isn’t sufficient data from Cambodia to make well-founded cultural observations. Both my observations and established research place the Vietnamese and Cambodian cultures very close to one another, with common ancestry, history, religion, practices, norms and values. When I refer to a generic teacher, I will use the masculine pronoun (he/his). **Power distance: the US cultural dimension for power distance is relatively low (40 on a scale of 0 - 100). In a hierarchical relationship, this means that Americans tend to communicate informally, with frequent sharing of information up and down organizations. Employees are expected to be self-reliant and to take initiative. In Vietnam, where power distance is much higher (70) people are accepting of a more strict hierarchy. They typically carry out orders in accordance with their place in the hierarchy, rather than showing what Americans class as personal initiative. What the Americans see as initiative, the Vietnamese see as deviating from their designated role. In the classroom, this means that learners will not typically speak up, especially in unfamiliar situations. They will not spontaneously share their thoughts, as this is seen as challenging the teacher’s role. They tend to only respond when directly prompted to by the teacher. He is seen as the subject matter authority. Therefore, stating “I don’t know,” when asked a direct question by a learner, as recommended in the study guide, may undermine the teacher’s authority. It is better to use alternative methods of communication in such circumstances, such as inviting his students to research the answer together with him, while he guides them toward sources of information. **Individualism versus collectivism: This has to do with whether people's self-image is defined in terms of ‘I’ or ‘We’. in this cultural dimension, the difference between Vietnam and the US is the most stark. The US has the highest ranking individualism score (91) of any culture. In Individualist societies people are expected to look after themselves and their immediate family. In Collectivist societies, such as Vietnam (where the score is extremely low (20)), people belong to ‘in-groups’ that take care of them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount and overrides most other societal rules and regulations. In the classroom, this means that the teacher must plan his lessons so that they involve a minimum of individual work. Encouraging group work is far more effective than relying on western-style competitive performance. Another aspect has to do with classroom management and discipline. In highly collectivist cultures, face-saving is critical. Correcting or reprimanding students in front of the group can be socially devastating, and can impede learning. Praising individual learners over the collective may also have a deleterious effect. A star pupil who was highly praised one day, may suddenly become quiet and withdrawn the next. They may have suffered a reprimand and social pressure from the group for the previous-day’s solo performance. All of the cultural dimensions play a role in the relationship between teacher and learners, how a teacher manages his classroom and plans his lessons. The more a teacher is aware of cultural differences between himself and his learners, the more effective he will be as a teacher, and the more his learners will progress. (1) “Culture” is defined as the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group (Oxford). It is often equated with ‘nationality,’ but the two words are not necessarily homonymic.