Teach English in Quanzhai Zhen - Zhumadian Shi

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People from every corner of the world aspire to learn English, the global language that functions as a crucial international communication tool in the multinational world we live in today. A teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL) is therefore confronted with learners from diverse nationalities and cultures different from one’s own. The learner’s background influences his/her learning experience as well as the interaction between teacher and learner. It is of the utmost importance that the teacher familiarizes oneself with, and is mindful of specific cultural values and customs to keep potential problems from arising. The role of body language in language teaching Body language is one the most important tools an ESL teacher’s has when teaching a new language to students. Indeed, meaning is not solely understood verbally, and some gestures and movements are so universal, that they can cut through any language barriere. A smile is welcoming, nodding your head means agreement. However, it is very important to realise that the human body is treated very differently in almost every culture. This is where possible problems and misunderstandings may occur, especially as the teaching method of Total Physical Response (TPR) is one of the most frequently used teaching techniques in ESL. The human body and religion Religion plays a significant role in how the human body is treated within a culture. For instance, the head is seen as the most holy part of the body in a buddhist culture. Therefore, the teacher should never touch the head of a student, as it is a sign of the deepest disrespect. Again, being culturally mindful and a little bit creative will help the teacher avoid uncomfortable situations. A typical case is to modify the frequently used ESL activity duck duck goose by touching the student’s shoulder instead of his/her head. Body language in mixed classes Generally speaking, South American cultures have no issues at all with proximity to other students. On the contrary, there is usually quite a lot of energy, excessive gesticulation and touching involved during class, the notion of personal space does almost not exist. Asian cultures on the other hand mark the other hand of the spectrum so to speak. In their culture, personal space is regarded with the highest respect and the students act a lot more reserved in class. When dealing with a class where all the learners are from the same country, the teacher should be able to adapt their teaching style quite easily. A mixed class, where students of multiple nationalities and cultures come together, takes the challenge to a whole other level. In this case it is wise to avoid activities with physical interaction at least until the students have gotten to know each other well and cultural awareness amongst the students has been introduced and encouraged. Gestures and their connotations Even though it seems so simple and natural to talk with your hands, hand gestures are not neutral or universal. The exact same gesture can have different meanings to people from a different background. An example of this is pointing with your index finger. In North-American and European cultures this is considered as normal behaviour, and used frequently in class to mark someone’s turn. In many other cultures in Asia and Latin-America however, pointing your index finger is regarded as a very aggressive action, especially when pointing at a person. The teacher should be careful to point with an open hand, palm facing up instead. In conclusion, even though body language is crucial in conveying meaning, it should never be used carelessly when teaching students of other nationalities. Their cultural background determines majorly how the human body is regarded and consequently can change the meaning or connotation of body language the teacher is used to. The teacher should be culturally aware and considerate of this fact in order to avoid uncomfortable or even disrespectful situations and to make language acquisition more effective.