My class consists of 19 students, of which only 1 speaks English only in his household, and even he began his life in a bilingual environment. The other 18 speak at least one, if not two other languages in their homes. Most of my students speak Arabic, but many also speak French. I have 3 who speak French and not Arabic, 1 who speaks Spanish, and 1 who speaks a Philippine dialect. All of my students speak SOME English, but to varying degrees. My job is to teach them English, while also teaching them everything we normally teach in school (reading, writing, math, science, social studies etc.) Fortunately, I am certified to teach ESL and have some experience with English Language Learners. Due to my unique teaching position, I have had some readers ask for tips on teaching English Language Learners. So, from now on, I will now be doing a Teaching Tip Tuesday geared especially towards teaching English Language Learners. Here’s this week’s Tuesday TESOL Teaching Tip:
ELL Teaching Tip #10: Understand How Culture Affects Language
Language can be very culturally driven. How you say something, or who you say something to are a big part of culture. For example, here in Morocco, if you are making an appointment or asking when something will happen, it is normal to follow this with the phrase “Enshallah”, which literally translated means “If God wills it.” The reason behind this phrasing is that it is culturally believed that only God has control over what happens, and to assume that you know that you will meet at the coffee shop on Friday at 3:30 is assuming that you know more than God. So, while it is rare to hear If God wills it as a part of normal English conversation, the culture of Moroccan students (or Arabic/Muslim students in general) will make them take pause and try to figure out how to include their cultural background into their English conversation. Many English speakers who are natives of Morocco will keep Enshallah in their phrasing and simply say it in Arabic. ie. I’ll see you on Sunday, Enshallah. This is just one example, of so many I could give you that I have encountered here in Morocco.
While it is impossible to know everything about a culture that might affect your students’ language growth, I believe it is important to make yourself aware of their culture so as to help them through any stumbling blocks they may face. Also, be aware that cultural language carries over into body language and gesturing. A country or region may have a way of motioning that carries a different meaning than another area of the world. For example, it is very rude here in Morocco to use one finger to motion for a student to come here. This motion has a very negative meaning. My students are also often taught to point with their middle fingers, a hand signal that has a negative meaning for me.
It is not possible to be aware of every cultural difference, but being aware of cultural differences and how they may affect your interaction with your students, as well as their language growth is important when teaching English Language Learners. I’d love if you shared your best cultural differences anecdote in the comments section!
Do you want more TESOL Teaching Tips – check back each Tuesday for more. Also, check out my previous tips: