According to the UN World Commission on Culture and Development, “culture is the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features
that characterizes a group or society”. Whether you are a teacher
in a multilingual or a monolingual class, it is important to be aware of the different cultures and norms within individual members of a class, or of the distinctive culture of an entire class, and be sensitive to them. If the teacher
doesn't understand and practice cultural sensitivity in the classroom, she may fail to gain the trust and respect of the students, or even possibly offend them.
In a multilingual class, since students do not share a common native language, it is likely that they come from a variety of cultural backgrounds. It is the teacher
's responsibility to get a basic understanding of the various student backgrounds in the class to ensure that the materials and topics used will not offend or isolate anyone. Furthermore, there should be an emphasis in the classroom on tolerance and cultural awareness. Incorporating activities that celebrate cultural and linguistic diversity will not only make lessons more varied and interesting, but also teach the students important lessons on avoiding cultural stereotypes and encouraging intercultural communication.
In the case of a monolingual class, since the class will be held in the students' home country, they will generally share the same native language and cultural background. It is wise for the teacher
to do some research before the first lesson to get a sense of the kinds of topics and materials to use which will be interesting and relevant for the students. Many experienced teacher
s comment that in a monolingual class it is easier to identify certain topics that would be of interest to the group. However, on the contrary, the students cannot benefit from the advantages that arise from a culturally diverse class, such as exposure to different ideas and traditions. In this case, the teacher
can choose to incorporate different cultures into the teaching content.
I have identified below a few ways in which a teacher
can cultivate cultural sensitivity in the classroom:
1. Do your research before meeting a new class or presenting new materials and topics.
Students' behavior will be largely determined by the cultural norms in their home country. For example, in many non-english
speaking countries, particularly Asian cultures, students tend to be more passive when interacting with adults and teacher
s. In this case, the teacher
may need to adapt their methods to ensure that the students are understanding and learning the material. More passive students may be intimidated to approach the teacher
if they need help. Therefore, it may be beneficial to include more progress checks in the syllabus to gage whether the students are adequately absorbing the material.
2. Include different cultures into the teaching content.
Like I mentioned earlier, incorporating a variety of cultures into the teaching content will expose the students to different norms and ideas, make classes more interesting and varied, and result in more open-minded, non-judgmental students. Some examples of such activities and exercises include comparing and contrasting traditions and holidays in different countries, oral presentations on students' native countries, and student show-and-tell of their favourite food, dance, etc. from their home country.
3. Use activities that encourage group and pair work.
These activities will not only help with learning the language, but will encourage tolerance, cooperation and problem solving.
Ultimately, cultural sensitivity must first come from the teacher
to create a welcoming and inclusive class atmosphere. Once the teacher
has made the effort to understand and acknowledge the different cultures of the class or the distinct culture of the group, then cultural sensitivity can be cultivated within the students through teaching methods, practices, materials and topics. Once diversity and tolerance has been made an integral part of the class, then students can truly begin to learn without inhibition, ask questions
without feeling intimidated, and express opinions without the fear of judgment.