Cultural differences can be confusing, awkward, stressful and unpleasant, but they don’t have to be. One of your first responsibilities as an ESL tutor or teacher is to help your student negotiate the intricacies of a brand new culture, while simultaneously working to understand your student’s culture as well. Taking the time to understand the cultural differences between yourself and your student will prove beneficial throughout your time together as student and tutor/teacher and will help you to counter the inevitable obstacles that you will face together.
Cultural differences can be confusing, awkward, stressful and unpleasant, but they don’t have to be.
It is really easy for a tutor be rather ethnocentric in their dealings with ESL students – after all, these students often come from countries with completely different values, practices and social roles. For some cultures, it may be very difficult for a student to question their teachers. This is not because they think they are better than their teacher, nor is it because they are too shy, but instead it is a sign of respect and a habit that is taught from childhood. In other cultures, it may be very difficult for a male student to take suggestions from a female authority figure. Again, this is not necessarily because they are disrespectful but because of their cultural background and experience. It is important that you both understand your students’ cultural background and that you help explain to your student your own cultural background. Teaching is not a one-way street. Effective teaching or tutoring relies on a sense of mutual understanding between student and tutor and an openness about expectations and concerns.
Effective teaching or tutoring relies on a sense of mutual understanding between student and tutor and an openness about expectations and concerns.
There are many resources that address the difficulties ESL tutors can face when confronted with cultural differences and there are many more resources that can help you gain at least a basic understanding of cultural values in comparison to your own. Remember of course, that all people are individuals and may or may not ascribe to larger cultural values from their particular ethnography or demographic. The single fool-proof way of addressing cultural differences is to be honest and open about your expectations with your students and ensuring that they can be honest with you in return. The best way to do this is to gain their trust, which we will be discussing later on in this chapter.
For a useful comparison of general cultural values, check out The Hofstede Center
This article will help you gain a working knowledge of cultural differences in the ESL classroom and how to effectively address them.
Finally, an interview with an ESL teacher discussing the importance of understanding Cultural Background