Benefits of Teaching One Culture at a Time – ESL, Teaching English

When you start teaching ESL in a major English center like the UK or Australia, you may find that you teach multi-cultural classes who come from all parts of the globe. In one seat you’d have a student from Japan, in another, a student from Turkey, and next to them, a student from Brazil seated beside one from Korea.

What this means for your lessons and classes is cultural diversity, and the ability to draw from their different heritages when planning or teaching. What do you do, then, when you find yourself teaching one group of students who all come from the same city and country?

Comparing and contrasting cultures

Teaching in the UK usually means multi-cultural classes, but teaching elsewhere in the world often means teaching one culture at a time. In this case, your class gets to draw from your cultural background, instead of you drawing from the comparisons and contrasts of theirs.

Encourage them to ask you questions about your life at home, and always look for opportunities to compare your old way of life to your new one.

If you find a mono-cultural class needs some changing up, what you can do is create new identities for your students. This really does help to mix things up from time to time. Create new names, ages, careers, and hobbies and assign these new identities to your mono-cultural class.

What this can do is stimulate discussion of cultural stereotypes, the language used therein, and also lighten to mood to allow for spontaneous chatting, and fun, especially when students have to mingle with the class with their new identities.

Also Read: Mono-lingual V/s Multi-lingual Classes

Publishing for multi-cultural classes

Most of the ESL publishers create content that is expected to be used in multi-cultural settings. Back in the day, going to the UK or the USA was a rite of passage for learners of English. They would attend a language college and explore the English speaking city they were in to improve their language skills, or so everyone believed.

The most popular student books had lessons based on all aspects of life in English, but many had lessons tailored specifically for a class made up of different nationalities.

This is still true today, but what often happens nowadays is that these books are used in classes where there is only one nationality or culture. The teacher would have to modify the questions or assign new identities, as stated above.

The point here is, don’t be surprised if you open a student book and find a task that requires students from different countries to sit in groups to discuss the target language.

Error correction in mono-national classes

If you are a new teacher who was expecting to teach in a multi-cultural class, or if you are an experienced teacher who has only ever taught in one, there are many benefits to teaching one nationality at a time.

One example is that often students of the same language have similar needs. The class as a whole might benefit from more talking time if the culture they’re in is more reticent. If you’re in a place where people are encouraged to be more talkative and less accurate, you could have more error correction tasks to show them where they went wrong.

An error correction task after a speaking task is good for both the talkative and less talkative students. While they’re discussing given topics, take note of the mistakes they make while speaking. For the confident students who you know won’t mind being corrected, on the spot correction is good if you notice they repeat the same mistake. In that case, you would be breaking a mental habit of theirs.

For the more reserved students, if you were to interrupt them constantly, they’d clam up. It is for this reason that it’s better to make a note of mistakes, then write them on the board, and get the students to spot the mistakes in groups of pairs. After they have had some time to discuss what the error is, get the whole class to discuss it and correct the mistakes on the board.

What you might find is that many of the mistakes the students make are L1 mistakes, i.e mistakes they’re making because of first language interference. They might not swap the order of the subject pronoun and auxiliary verb in questions, or not use the correct intonation for the target language.

By doing a whole class activity based on their own mistakes, they’d have the chance to see their own mistakes in others, and themselves, which will hopefully be a motivating factor to self-correct.

Also Read: Error Correction: When should we correct student errors?

Adapting coursebook material

Always check what the policies are at the school, college, or institution where you work. Sometimes, schools will have an 80% -20% policy, meaning that 20% of the time you can use your own material. Again, it is a good idea to check the policy regarding adapting the other 80%.

Across the board, though, as teachers, we’re encouraged to make the material work for our classes and adapt what we need to get the target language across. The best course of action is to make the most of the book you’ve got, i.e. use what you can, and adapt or supplement the material 20% of the time.

When you teach a multi-cultural class, it’s usually easy to use the student book as is. Still, when you have a class made up of one culture, who share one language, unless the book is about various cultures, which you get to speak about, it can be limiting.

As an example, if the target language is food, your book might say “ask your partner questions about breakfast in their country”. You could, of course, get your students to do exactly that, but it would be a bit flat and boring, wouldn’t it? Be prepared by printing out slips of different breakfasts in different cultures, and assign them to the class, getting as many different ‘new cultures’ into the class as possible.

Make the most of it

Teaching one culture at a time has great benefits for the teacher, even if it means having to tailor your student book. You also get to have your students teach you about the new country you are in. Enjoy the opportunities that a mono-cultural class can offer and use it in your lesson planning.

Not only will you learn more about where you have travelled to, but you will you get to know the class better as a whole, and will be thus more equipped to help them improve their English.

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This article was originally published on November 18, 2019 and was last updated on January 14, 2021.

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