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TESL or Cultural Sensitivity Training?
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once again



Joined: 27 Jan 2003
Posts: 815

PostPosted: Tue Feb 04, 2003 9:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Cultural sensitivity" - actually, as Liz showed, it is often our learners that need some guidance before they interact with us. But in chauvinist East Asia, English will always be a "foreign" language, and the question of acculturation does not get adequately addressed. They learn our vocabulary, grammar rules, yet they think in their own language, act in their accustomed ways and keep their traditional views."

Not sure how to use the quote thing here, but the above is taken from Roger's post. It strikes me that to lump the whole of the population of East Asia in to one group and call them chauvanist and then complain that they act in their accustomed ways and keep their traditional views is to be guilty of the highest chauvanism. Is to learn another language dependent on giving up our own culture?

I am from the UK, and have many friends who are native speakers from other countries. If we want to generalise then I am sure it is possible to say that the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all have different cultural norms and expectations of behaviour. Not to mention the cultural differences between the regions and states of those countries.

Yet they all speak the language that is called English.

When learning the functions of a language it is neccessary to see and recognise the cultural norms of others, but it does not mean that those norms must be adopted. Isn't to believe such some form of imperialism?

My wife is Chinese and I am from the UK, and I can assure you that we both retain our own cultural characteristics. But this does not mean that we can not communicate in English or Cantonese.
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Stephen



Joined: 02 Feb 2003
Posts: 101

PostPosted: Tue Feb 04, 2003 10:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It seems that the idea of cultural sensitivity at the expense of teaching is being highly overplayed. While being culturally aware is important, the ability to teach in an effective manner is much, much more so. Admitedly, cultural awareness will help, but please remember that in some cultures to teach effectively the teacher must break down the local conceptions about the role of teacher and students. For example, in Taiwan in the local culture a good student is quiet; the teacher talks, and the student listens. This is hardly condusive to producing students with good spoken English. Therefore, while it is helpful and often necessary to have a degree of understanding of the local culture, the local culture should not always be followed exactly. Another reason for this is that when speaking a language you should follow the cultural rules of the native speakers of that language, not your own culture. For example, Chinese students are not learning English to communicate with other Chinese people. By the same token Brits. do not learn Chinese to communicate with other Brits. or with Americans, the Irish, Australians, Canadians, or Kiwis. If a student is not being prepared to adequately interact with a native speaker (whatever language is being taught) then the teacher is failing the student.

But the critical thing here is that the teacher must be able to teach the student how to communicate in the target language. This, generally, requires some form of teacher training, not a course in cultural awareness. Remember that the teacher is learning about the culture of their students all the time if they are a resident in the country of those students.
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Roger



Joined: 19 Jan 2003
Posts: 9138

PostPosted: Tue Feb 04, 2003 10:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The last two posters probably have got it "the wrong way" by Tokyo Liz's standards, but I would agree with them in saying we can overdo it in terms of "sensitivity".
As I said before, the sensitivity part ought to be part of the study of ANY foreign language. And bi- or multilingual teachers obviously are more educated about intercultural norms than monoglot ones are. Still, we are teaching OUR language, and in doing so we are passing on anglophone culture with its own conventions and cultural norms.
This, I would postulate, should by rights be the job of our LOCAl teacher colleagues as the bridge-builders between their own cultural background and ours. I think they should prepare their own students for social intercourse with us in a way that relieves us of the necessity of making too many concessions in terms of accommodating local customs. For instance, the greetings mentioned in this context - the wai in Thailand, the Muslim reverence to their God or the utterance of "salaam aleikum" - 'aleikum Salaam" should become our habits only in local cultural contexts. Not that I frown on greeting a Muslim with "salaam aleikum", I most definitely don't! However, the classroom is a kind of extraterrestrial experimental ground where we practise and rehearse our style so that our students are sufficiently grounded in our habits before going abroad.
We want them to feel as equal not only on their home turf but also when they travel in a Western country.
To say we must accommodate their every whim is parochial. But to claim we don't need to adapt to their expectations would be selfish - we certainly can, and should, behave as is customary and courteous by local standards when and where appropriate.
The classroom, I feel, is a place where our students learn OUR manners and mannerisms! We in turn learn theirs while living among them.
I can't see any contradiction there.
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once again



Joined: 27 Jan 2003
Posts: 815

PostPosted: Wed Feb 05, 2003 12:13 pm    Post subject: class rooms Reply with quote

Just why in the class room do we need to ignore local culture? Surely if we want the students to learn then we should make it as natural as possible for them. And just why are cultures so different? From my experience all people care about the same things and share the same emotions.

The classroom should not be an alien environment..it should be a place where people feel comfortable..there is lots of evidence to support the idea that relaxed people learn more.
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Stephen



Joined: 02 Feb 2003
Posts: 101

PostPosted: Wed Feb 05, 2003 6:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Once again

I believe that for any teacher who seriously considers their student needs recognising the local culture is important. However, this does not mean that everything in that culture should be permitted within an EFL classroom. Somethings will need to be and some shouldn't be. For example, in a Taiwanese school the teacher talks and the student listens. This simply doesn't work in teaching EFL. Therefore, students need to be broken from this model.This, in my view, is where teaching skills are of great importance, ie. training & experience. Precisely because it is desireable that students feel comfortable, teaching skills will be of significance in achieving this.

Compare conversation styles amoungst Mandarin Speakers and native English speakers, and you will find a stark contrast. Native English speakers make sounds to show we are listening (which Mandarin Speakers do less than native English speakers in certain situations), ask for confirmation during speaking, and interupt using techniques like asking for focused repetition (not done commonly in Mandarin). Also Mandarin speakers tend to talk for longer and then finish without interuption in Mandarin, ie. there is less direct feedback to the speaker. To a native English speaker this is not polite, so students should not follow Mandarin rules in English. However, the level of the students depends on whether you would tackle this with them.

To suggest that we should either ignore or fully accomodate the students' culture is, in my view, a simplistic perspective. What has been argued by myself, and I believe by others, is not a total disregard for local culture, but the importance of the ability to teach and how this enables the development of cross-cultural understanding on the part of the students.
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TokyoLiz



Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 1073
Location: Tokyo, Japan

PostPosted: Wed Feb 05, 2003 6:48 pm    Post subject: Teaching culture is a little different in ESL and EFL Reply with quote

So many important points have been touched on in regards to accommodating the majority culture and introducing Anglo culture in the EFL context.

For what it's worth, I've observed a few interesting English teaching points both as an EFL and ESL teacher.

In the multilingual, multicultural classroom, I often do a lesson on greeting people. This is not merely an exercise in "Hi, how are ya?" but a contrastive exercise in greeting people in different cultures when the two parties are different social ranks (boss to employee) in society.

We explore gesture and language in a variety of contexts. For example, your Asian students might not know that it is polite for a man to stand when being introduced to a woman. South Americans might not realize that hugging or kissing your teacher on the cheek is a surprise for western Canadian teachers. Everybody feels a little awkward introducing a fellow student to their parents. We practice all these skills in little skits that use a variety of idiomatic expressions.

I've taught EFL in Japanese junior high schools, and granted, the level of language required to discuss the above situations. However, I brought a taste of Anglo culture by addressing the students by their first names instead of their family names, as is the custom in Japan. It's important to follow the majority culture to create an atmosphere of normalcy for the students. At the beginning of class period, teachers and students stand at attention, bow and greet their teacher with a polite expression, "Onegaishimasu". When it comes to activities to practice the language points taught in the course of a lesson, I often incorporated games from their culture and methods from Anglo culture to mix it up.

In either context, the students meet the new cultural expectations with wonder and I'm often told "Wow, I never knew THAT!" by my ESL students, and the EFL kids tell me how much they enjoy the fun "Canadian" cultural stuff that I bring them.
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Roger



Joined: 19 Jan 2003
Posts: 9138

PostPosted: Thu Feb 06, 2003 1:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Stephen,
thank you for your enlightening piece in reply to once again! Some people make too much out of this national-cultural thing, perhaps believing people are born acting in a particular cultural way! But of course, culture is acquired. More importantly, culture changes all the time, and even more significantly, culture has no defined national characteristics beyond some whims - it is human and thus, we all have a lot more in common in terms of culture. There simply are some with more refinement, others that act differently with the same goal.
So far, we have only discussed customs such as greetings. Sure, this is a topic you can hardly exhaust - go to France, and some teachers and students exchange a peck on their cheeks. Go to Greenland, and they do...what?
But we must focus on how to integrate Western, and, perhaps, less any particular anglophone country's cultural values. By this I mean things that have a defining function in the host culture or language. As Stephen pointed out, Chinese teaching is characterised by a style that is not conducive for students to pick up either the English language or its attendant cultural norms. It is a lecturing and memorisng, it is not an active, participative teaching and learning process. The teacher is a kind of role-model to be emulated, students become, sorry but this is a realistic term: Robots.
I have watched dozens of Chinese teachers in action and have often been envious of how they can keep their students hushed - because the students only act on the cues from their "cheerleader", the teacher. They don't act on their own initiative - which is in stark contrast with our upbringing.
Many, probably most Western teachers here complain about the unruliness of their students. A constant din of whispering voices - students talking among themselves. The expat teacher has to reaise his or her voice, and students will complain they could not hear him or her clearly. A "cultural" phenomenon? Perhaps - but an undesirable one that could be turned into a more acceptable one if students had learnt from their Chinese teacher to listen and to take notes, to digest new information and to think for themselves. Since this obviously is not the objective of their own schooling we are faced here with a major challenge.
Once Chinese habits are too deeply ingrained, we are faced with what we perceive to be a "cultural enigma" that is best left untouched. Yet, these same students are depriving themselves of the greatest benefits that Western teaching could offer them - more active, more mind-stimulating, more imaginative. They say they need more speaking practice - they get it in our classes, but in the wrong language (many), to the detriment of most (including those who actually make efforts at cooperating with the expat teacher).
Conversely speaking, some of us taking mandarin classes in Chinese or Taiwan schools find the teaching unsuitable because it is talking about the subject, not using the subject (CHinese). Some teachers deliver an English lecture on Mandarin, others simply rehearse simple phrases or sentences without adequate explanations.
So, if our host countries adopted more education know-how from Western countries they would improve the quality of their own education without necessarily sacrificing anything in the process. Imagine we adopted this Confucian top-down, hierarchical and mind-numbing teaching style in the West!
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arioch36



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 3589

PostPosted: Sat Feb 08, 2003 7:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I also give the thumbs up to Stephen's post, and how often do I agree with Roger Shocked
Especially on the mark, how we act when listening to others. What for the Chinese is a sign of "I am confused, but I am listening" goes to the Westerner as "Yes, I understand and agree", etc. They must learn to change that...the teacher should not change.
Those who ever read my posts know that if anything, I am too pro chinese. But cultural sensitivity training is mostly a joke. Respect for others, common decency (such as NOT flirting in a clasroom, but teaching all), this is all that is needed, and usually can't be taught. Apologies to Paul, but I don't thimk any cert course, or even a longer course in the home country will help much. A cert course is not cultural specific
I get along great with the vast majority of my students. Bu that classroom IS MINE!!! Students will not spit on the floor, talk when others are talking, or cop[y from others. Otherwise they will be told to leave. This includes when I work at a leanguage school as well.
I am not there to be their friend, though this often happens. I am not there to make them laugh, though we sometimes have a good time, an I think that that is good. Outside the classroom we adapt to each other. Inside the classroom I am responsible for deciding which Chinese customs to keep, which is few. For instance I do use two hands for accepting things. I do use the class monitor.
I think I would disagree with Tokyo Liz, and do have to agree with Roger to some extent on something else

Cultural sensitivity" - actually, as Liz showed, it is often our learners that need some guidance before they interact with us. But in chauvinist East Asia, English will always be a "foreign" language, and the question of acculturation does not get adequately addressed. They learn our vocabulary, grammar rules, yet they think in their own language, act in their accustomed ways and keep their traditional views."

This really is true; for every country, true...but I find the Japanese and Chinese very unwilling to adapt at all to an outside culture. I have many Chinese and Japanese friends (I will neglect talking about Koreans, a country i have no desire to teach in), but it is very hard for them, even when living in America for several years, to accept that they should do things just a little diffferent.
Sometimes they would tell me how they hate the way this or that is done back home, yet they keep doing it in America. Many of the students I teach may never deal with another westerner, though I am surprised at how many do. But the students and the administration say: don't teach us the Chinese way, but the American (or British, etc) way. And that's what I give them.
Common courtesy, professional conduct, mutual respect....yes. Cultural sensitivity, for the most part...humbug!. I love China, and learning their 500,000 year history. As much as the Chinese hate Japanese (for some good reasons), I also like Japan. I love learning the local culture, which can not be taught. If I were to do business, I would try to behave culturally correct.
As a teacher,I am there to help the Chinese students how to interact with the western culture, not to learn how to be a good Chinese person.
(I do that in my spare time)
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scot47



Joined: 10 Jan 2003
Posts: 12084
Location: Ultima Thule

PostPosted: Mon Feb 10, 2003 11:51 am    Post subject: Cultural Sensitivity Courses Reply with quote

These are a scam. They are usually provided for monoglot North Americans who cannot or will not learn any of the culture and language of the host nation.
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Stephen



Joined: 02 Feb 2003
Posts: 101

PostPosted: Mon Feb 10, 2003 1:53 pm    Post subject: Re: Cultural Sensitivity Courses Reply with quote

scot47 wrote:
These are a scam. They are usually provided for monoglot North Americans who cannot or will not learn any of the culture and language of the host nation.


Scott, what are "these" and "they"? As I tell my students, when writing use the noun before the pronoun, unless you are using "I" or "you".

If, of course, you mean all the posts in this thread perhaps you could put us all on the road to enlightment.

Best wishes
Stephen (who is a Brit.)
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TokyoLiz



Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 1073
Location: Tokyo, Japan

PostPosted: Mon Feb 10, 2003 5:34 pm    Post subject: The fine line Reply with quote

Arioch wrote,

Quote:
As a teacher,I am there to help the Chinese students how to interact with the western culture, not to learn how to be a good Chinese person.
(I do that in my spare time)


The above comment sums up how I felt about my role as teacher and resident when I was in Japan. As an Assistant Language Teacher in a Japanese Junior Highschool, I decided to strke a balance between observing social convention and being a conventional Canadian girl. In social interactions with teachers, I spoke English or Japanese but tried to accommodate the cultural expectations they had - respecting the seniority system of the school, serving tea in the staff room with the aid of other junior teachers, joining in club activities and staying after school to work on lesson plans (Japanese teacher's neurotic behaviour?). When I really couldn't deal with some element of school life, militaristic marching on sports day (I'm a pacifist), for example, I voiced my feelings gently and excused myself from the proceedings.

In the classroom, I tried to keep the precedings as AngloCanadian as possible. After the standard greeting in Japanese, I feigned ignorance of the language when they demanded answers in Japanese, used typical gestures and called them by their first names.

In the first few months at the schools I really didn't understand much of the language, but by the middle of my tour, I had grasped the fundamnetals. The kids didn't believe that I could speak Japanese, and I used this to my advantage, encouraging them to talk to me in the hallways and schoolyards in English.

This is how I did it.

Arioch wrote

Quote:
I get along great with the vast majority of my students. Bu that classroom IS MINE!!! Students will not spit on the floor, talk when others are talking, or cop[y from others. Otherwise they will be told to leave. This includes when I work at a leanguage school as well.


Spitting on the floor?!

In Japanese schools, teachers are prohibited by law from sending students out of the classroom becuase it denies them their rights to learn. It's a big discipline problem there, and I didn't agree with the policy at all. In the classroom I don't tolerate kids who disrupt the class, and my only recourse is to be firm and tell them their behaviour is inappropriate.

I'm curious about the ways other teachers deal with discipline across the cultural divide? Comments?

All your base are belong to us.
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scot47



Joined: 10 Jan 2003
Posts: 12084
Location: Ultima Thule

PostPosted: Mon Feb 10, 2003 9:04 pm    Post subject: Cultural Sensitivity Courses Reply with quote

"These are a scam. They are usually provided for monoglot North Americans who cannot or will not learn any of the culture and language of the host nation. "

I meant :

Cultural Sensitivity Training courses are a scam. They are usually provided for monoglot North Americans who cannot or will not learn any of the culture and language of the host nation.
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TokyoLiz



Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 1073
Location: Tokyo, Japan

PostPosted: Tue Feb 11, 2003 2:17 am    Post subject: Monoglot Canadians hard to find Reply with quote

Scot wrote

Quote:
They are usually provided for monoglot North Americans who cannot or will not learn any of the culture and language of the host nation


Taking the initiative to learn about cultures indicates some interest in learning about them.

One university campus in my city offers language courses which include cultural components - these components, which teach cultural expectations in the languages are required for credit. I had the opportunity to take Japanese language lessons at the university and was treated to an etiquette lesson on what's expected of a visitor to a Japanese home, how to properly greet your host, serve tea, present gifts, thank your host and make a polite exit. I learned elements of the culture I had never explored and quite frankly, had no idea about. The other students in the class were really impressed, too, with the whole experience and learned some insights into values that Canadians share with Japanese people and about the differences, too.

There are lots of people out there willing to experience other cultures. By its very nature, my home city, Vancouver, is an experiment in cross-cultural learning. Census findings show that almost half of school aged children in the city do not speak English at home, and something like 40 percent of Vancouver people are of East Asian or South Asian ancestry.
You'd be hard pressed to find monoglot Canadians from major cities.

People from other parts of the Anglo world have a different attitude, I'm sure, so I can't speak for them. However, I can say something about my British cousins - all of them speak more than just English, and many of them have worked in Continental Europe. They, too, have sought out cultural understanding and language training.
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Roger



Joined: 19 Jan 2003
Posts: 9138

PostPosted: Tue Feb 11, 2003 3:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It goes without saying that ESL/EFL teachers should mentally prepare themselves for their insertion in a foreign environment which will perceive them as foreign bodies. A foreign body that refuses to adapt may end up being rejected.
Nowadays, you can't find a single European or any other Western city that is not multiethnic. All Westerners are familiar with the plight of refugees, and I distinctly remember having read an introduction to teaching French or German to Vietnamese refugees that were swamping asylum-seeker camps in Western countries decades ago. The book in question was part of my linguistics studies.
Knowing some behavioral patterns of your host country is a necessity for you to survive there, but it is not necessary for your students of English to survive in a Western cultural setting. To know a Vietnamese or Chinese family tree (rather complicated) will be useful if you marry there, not if you marry in the USA or Canada. Our Asian English majors should learn to view us not so much through their Asian eyes but through our own eyes. They learn English primarily so they have access to alternative sources of information. To view the world at large through the narrow lenses of your own culture is a sin, and this sin is daily committed by people who only "respect" their own culture.
To give an example: It is not my idea that Chinese should celebrate Christmas. In point of fact, when I came here it was treated as a strictly private business of Westerners. We were not allowed to entertain Chinese in our homes on Christmas, for well-known reasons.
How things have changed over the past eight years!
These days, you must actually lie to their faces, telling them you are sick or on holiday or what not, just to fend them off! They give you no privacy. They actually demand your presence at their parties. The worst is that they express their "invitation" at extremely short notice.
For them, Christmas is just another occasion to enjoy themselves and party! To us, it may or may not have deeper meaning. Most importantly, however, to us it still is a rare occasion for family contact, whether by phone or e-mail, or face-to-face. However, try and explain your personal needs to your Chinese "hosts" and "hostesses", or bosses! They deem you as "impolite" for refusing to give them the benefit of your image-enhancing presence!
That is why I advocate a more robust Western teaching in English classes. It is not just my way of spending Christmas, it is for the benefit of my learners to know how we live, why we live this way, and how many concessions it would be reasonable to extract from me.
Christmas, by the way, is good for Chinese business. In Western Society, we make gifts to each other. My CHinese charges don't do that. They are used to receiving money, cash, instead of useful or beautiful objects. Their season of gift-making is the Spring Festival, aka CHinese New Year.
Shouldn't our CHinese students learn to respect us and our preferences, while we respect, though we may not emulate, their lunar new year customs?
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Paul G



Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 125
Location: China & USA

PostPosted: Tue Feb 11, 2003 3:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Scot:

I think your post is a perfect example of why cultural sensitivity classes are not a scam.

The cultural sensitivity component of my uni program did not deal in great detail with the specifics of any one culture. It dealt with the importance of learning about, appreciating and, to some degree, accepting the various cultures that we find ourselves living and teaching in.

Is the need for this type of training limited to North Americans? In your opinion, apparently so. I honestly thought a bona-fide guru would be beyond making such seemingly bigoted and sweeping generalizations. But, hey, you ARE the guru. If you say that there are absolutely no nationalistic, close-minded red-necks whatsoever in all of Ireland, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, I'll just have to take your word for it.

"Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I cannot accept,
And the wisdom to know the difference."
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