Look Who’s Talking, How do you Balance Culture and New Methods of Teaching?

By Yolande Deane
DELTA qualified EFL teacher with 5 years’ teaching experience

How do you balance culture and new methods of teaching?

Let’s Go Teach

So, you are now living abroad, and you want to make your classes fun and communicative, you really want to help your class develop their English.  But you may be in a culture that is not open to your communicative methods, maybe the learners just want to pass their exams, and English is just one of many of the exams they have to take.  Perhaps your learners do not want to speak in class, either because of embarrassment, or the fact that they are from a culture where the teacher is expected to do most of the talking.  Maybe there is a book you have to follow and set exercises that need to be done, and it is frowned upon if you stray from it, in fact maybe there just is not enough time in one lesson to even put your communicative tasks into practice.

What do you do?

I suppose we often forget that the idea of communicative teaching; more student speaking time, tasks that encourage real use of the language, has probably been developed within a culture/s that encourages as much discussion as possible within learning environments. So, we are ensconced within our “communicative” classrooms assuming it is the “natural” way to teach, and then you go abroad and walk right into a cultural wall that says “we don’t do it like that, hold your horses!”  Do you push on regardless, which will probably end up with you on the losing side or do you step back and just do it how they have always done it?

Look who’s talking

It can be frustrating having to teach in a way that is alien to you, but probably very comfortable for your learners, for example, in China, where I teach, the choral repetition of a text out loud three or four times after the teacher is very common. I do not think I have ever done that in a class in the UK, or if I have it has not been more than two repetitions.  My CELTA instinct says “This is not how you learn a language!”  It can be very frustrating and disheartening to see what you think are your attempts at encouraging authentic communication being strongly resisted. Not only by the staff but also learners, and possibly parents!

Perhaps we do need to hold our horses and trot along with them, and then pick up speed somewhere along the way?  Perhaps there is arrogance in assuming that our method is the way? I do not have the answer, but it is a daily professional conundrum that keeps my brain ticking over; how do you balance culture and new methods of teaching?

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One Response to “Look Who’s Talking, How do you Balance Culture and New Methods of Teaching?”

  1. Mostafa
    September 11, 2013 at 1:05 am #

    Dear Yolande

    As a senior teacher, I should say that the best way to motivate the students of any culture is to start with leniency so that they consider you a member of their own gang. When you feel they have accepted you and can get on well, it’s time to switch to a degree of strictness, but in a genius way that they don’t feel, which I look at as creativity and experience. Gradually, you can add higher degrees of discipline and strictness along with friendliness and respect.


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