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CULTURAL AWARENESS - June 1999

• You tried to guess what Puerto Ricans did 180 times an hour . Some interesting
ideas there!
• Then you thought about what you would tell students about Geordie culture: Your
ideas were surprisingly negative!! (Or so I thought!) Some of the things you
mentioned were Newcastle United; people wearing shell suits; people wearing
almost nothing even in Winter; the phenomenon that is the Bigg Market; people
being friendly, stotties, people being aggressive; calling people “pet” and “man” .
There were many, many more other points.

• Several points came up in your own ideas on a culture you know well.

• Taboo subjects: People talked about the difficulties of discussing religion in some
cultures, mainly in relation to Islam. Deborah mentioned “the war” and older
Germans, but said that with younger people it wasn’t an issue.
• Body language: Some further points to think about..........In some cultures it is
considered inappropriate to hold eye contact. This can lead people from our
culture to infer insecurity or even shiftiness. Some cultures are very , very tactile
and even for “touchy” people it can be quite disconcerting at first to see students
draping themselves around each other in class ( and even more disconcerting to
have them draping themselves around you!) There are also things like the bows
given me by Japanese students. I want to tell them not to bow to me, but I know
that by doing so I may be giving great offence.
• The teacher: the position of the teacher physically is an interesting issue too - in
some cultures, not standing over students may seriously affect their opinion of
you. Soles of the feet...touching people on the head...be careful! There is a lot of
offence-causing potential here.
• Dress: people made a lot of comments like “Oh, the ................ dress quite
conservatively”, or “The French outside Paris dress really badly.” Also think
about how students may judge you according to how you dress! Lots of people
had comments on body hair too!
• Lots of people found the fact that queuing doesn’t necessarily occur in other
cultures quite frustrating. What do you think people find frustrating about
British / English/ East Anglian culture?

• With regard to material, some points were quickly made on this in terms of
cultural awareness.

• Be careful with images on handouts/ visuals used. Nudity or even bare knees
could be offensive, and you should consider whether it is worth taking the risk.
• Be wary of assuming what students know, culturally. Do they know who the
Beatles were? Would they know that Ali said, ‘I am the greatest’? Perhaps they
do/ would, but don’t assume it.
• Be wary of assuming that, for example, ‘childhood’ is going to elicit the same
vocabulary in every country. It may mean ‘gun; bullet; blood; kill...’ to some
students.
• Be aware of main elements of your students’ history. Are there sensitive topics it
would be best to avoid, at least until you know them better?
• Don’t be afraid to teach people about British culture (e.g. pubs). Culture and
language are inextricably linked (as in functions - who’s speaking to who?).
However...is the language used in pubs useful for your students?! As Norah said,
it is possible to go too far and end up with nothing to teach. The key is, the more
you know about your students and their culture, the more principled your teaching
decisions can be.

Some general points

• Don’t go to a country with a mission to change or challenge their culture from


your position as an EFL teacher. You might want to...indeed you might
succeed...but be prepared to be put on the next plane home. I’ve had a letter from
a recent trainee, teaching in China. She was very upset because one of her
colleagues, a lovely, newly-qualified person had just been deported. He’d used a
newspaper in class, despite being warned not to use political material. Don’t go
into class wearing your favourite sleeveless dress, as a ‘challenge’ to what you see
as an over-strict dress code.
• Ask questions before you go. Track down other teachers who’ve taught there.
Contact the British Council. Read books on the culture (e.g. ‘Learner English’ in
the methodology section on your shelves, and the ‘EFL Guide.’
If you seriously don’t like what you hear/read about that culture, don’t go.
Role A

You are the director of a language school. A woman student from Oman
has just come to see you in tears, saying that she is being victimised by
two Saudi Arabian male students in her class. They have had “words”
with her, telling her she isn’t a good Muslim , as she dresses in a Western
style, doesn’t wear a head scarf and laughs too much. The rest of the
female students in her class think that she should not have to put up with
this, and that the male students should not be allowed back in class.
Financially , the male students both plan to stay full time for a year, the
female student only for three months.
What do you do?

Role B

You are the director of a language school . Two male students from Saudi
Arabia have just come to see you. They feel that they have been wrongly
accused of victimising a female student from Oman. She claims that they
have had “words” with her, telling her she isn’t a good Muslim , as she
dresses in a Western style, doesn’t wear a head scarf and laughs too
much. They totally deny this, saying that they made a joke about this
once, but that it was only a joke. All of the other students in the class
have turned against them , and they feel that the record should be set
straight.
Financially , the male students both plan to stay full time for a year, the
female student only for three months.

What do you do?