There is no hard-coded rule for an effective intercultural communication practice. There will always be room to improve as an instructor. Cultural sensitivity is one of the core aspects, but is not the entirety of the battle.
Teaching ESL would entail you, the instructor, to face students of different nationalities. New teachers find this a daunting task, as we tend to be careful with certain mannerisms, statements, or topics. In this article, I will be discussing some key strategies you can take into account when facing a student of an unfamiliar nationality.
Let us define the complex term “culture.”
Before you read, I want you to take a few seconds to try to come up with a strong definition of the term “culture.”
The term “culture” is a highly subjective vocabulary term that varies in definition according to whichever resource you are reading, which is ironic because THAT is the definition of culture. For the sake of cohesion, culture, according to my understanding, is a “constructed ideology of the human experience based on historically defined meanings.” One thing to note is that culture is constructed throughout time; it is something we build upon with our social location and interactions. It is never fixed, and it is always evolving.
One key strategy of intercultural communication is “convergence.” Basically, as instructors, we adapt in terms of cultural linguistics to our students. In other words, if you have a student who is at the A1 or A2 level based on the Common European Language Framework (CEFR), we tone down our usage of vocabulary. This idea does not solely serve the purpose of understanding. Rather it creates an immaterial connection between us and the students. The main goal here is to find the comfort level of communication between you and the student.
Knowledge is key when handling intercultural communication. Prior to student engagements, ask for the nationalities of your students. A simple Youtube vlog or related articles would help you in understanding your students’ cultures. You would be surprised at how little we know of other cultures if we put our time and resources into prior research!
Considered to be one of the more important quotients in determining intelligence, mindfulness allows us to understand other people’s worldview and/or perception. This is especially important for ESL instructors handling kids, as kids tend to only have constructed social ideals based on their first-degree surroundings. As instructors, it is our job to understand those perceptions. Honestly, we do not even have to necessarily agree with their understanding of the world. Rather, we have to understand and empathize with them. This strategy would also help you in constructing lesson plans that are more appealing to your students. Here are some questions you may ask yourself:
- What engages my student?
- How will he/she feel about this activity?
- Will this develop his/her worldview?
- Will this disrupt his/her beliefs?
It is always important that we do not destroy beliefs, but rather that we reinforce the good ones. As teachers, we do not have the right to manipulate cultural beliefs–it is unethical. Additionally, it may spark dissonance with the cultural identity of the student. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.
More than likely, the institution you are/will be working for has seminars for interaction with the students and, more than likely, these are designed to be a very general approach. As the instructor, be aware of these skills and use them whenever they are deemed necessary, but do not be afraid to design your own interaction strategy to adapt to the culture of the students.