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4 Ways To Be Culturally Sensitive In The ESL Classroom

Cultural sensitivity is something that is extremely beneficial when teaching to different cultures. When teaching English, the importance of cultural sensitivity becomes even greater. Being a culturally sensitive teacher is to learn about and understand your students’ cultural backgrounds.

In doing so,  teachers improve the classroom experience, help increase the students’ level of English fluency and their overall ability to learn.

About the Author: Jessica Whitehorne is a graduate of OnTESOL’s 250-hour TESOL diplomaTeaching English to Young Learners Specialist Course and Teaching Business English Course. She currently lives and teaches in rural Madagascar. 

1. Creating A Context-Specific Curriculum

English teachers who teach in any culture different than their own, must create a learning environment that promotes student success.

For example, a context-specific curriculum must guarantee that students can participate in all aspects of the classroom learning experience. This can be challenging especially in developing countries such as Madagascar that lack basic infrastructure and education. 

In Madagascar, the culture is vastly unique from many other cultures and is based on thousands of years of living off the land and in nature. Basic education is lacking. Therefore, teachers must adapt to the local context.

They can do so by avoiding teaching about something that students may have never experienced before. For example, this can include images of household items like a refrigerator or oven.

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2. Giving Students The Choice To Create Authentic Work

When students have a choice in what they are learning, whether art-based learning or creative writing, they are validated and empowered to learn.

If students can use their own stories and experiences to express themselves when learning English,  you as a teacher are able to cross a cultural barrier.

In my experience, when students are given the freedom to share their own perspectives and cultures, they are more comfortable and motivated to use the target language.

Be A Culturally-Sensitive English Teacher3. Creating Lessons That Focus On Students’ Personal Interest

It is so common for ESL teachers to create their lessons around a curriculum that they know, or exclusively focus on western culture.

For example an artist, musician, or entertainer. Of course when studying the English language, learning English culture is important.

However, when teaching in a developing country, it becomes irrelevant and can demotivate the learner. After getting to know your students and their culture, it is much easier to be creative with your lessons and focus on unique personal interests.

For example, taking art from a local artist to teach your students color vocabulary or personal description vocabulary. This is something that worked extremely well with my beginner adult class.

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4. Demonstrating Your Cultural Understanding

As an English teacher, you must demonstrate your understanding of the issues within any culture. In addition, you will need to learn how they affect the learning environment in your classroom.

This could include how you dress like a teacher in the classroom or even small cultural taboos. For example, in Madagascar to point your finger at someone is extremely taboo and can signify death to that person.

If you are unaware, cultural taboos can alter the students’ classroom learning experience. As ESL teachers, we must demonstrate our knowledge of these things in the classroom. We do so to ensure every student feels comfortable.

In addition, consider different religious holidays or popular cultural events because you may need to change guidelines surrounding class attendance.

Read: Teaching Refugees: Teaching English to Low Literacy Adults

Conclusion about cultural sensitivity

Celebrate Your ESL Student's Culture-Cultural sensitivity

In conclusion, teaching English abroad especially in developing countries is more than just presenting the English language to students.

It is about modifying the information and the approach taken to a specific culture to create success in the classroom.

For example, students in Taiwan do not benefit from the same style of teaching used in Madagascar because they are culturally different.

Without a high degree of cultural sensitivity and creativity, the teacher will not connect with students.

In addition,  they may have difficulty adjusting to their new environment.

Recommended Reading:

The Challenge of Teaching English to Refugee Children

TESOL Madagascar – ESL Summer Camp for Young Learners

TESOL Teacher in Madagascar: Using Authentic Material in the ESL Classroom

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