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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles:
Adjust Your Teaching Styles for English Language Learners (ELL) in ESL/Bilingual Classrooms

Notes from the National Association of Bilingual Education Conference
by guest contributor Berthalina Hernandez

The following is a guest reflection by Berthalina Hernandez, a fifth grade bilingual teacher in Longmont, CO. Berthalina reports on Georgina Tezer’s presentation entitled: "Cultural Contrasts in a Multicultural World." (For a two column chart on cultural contrasts, click here.) The notes/reflections contain information that ESL teachers need to be continually sensitive to, and therefore I think they are valuable to the novice and experienced teacher. Thank you, Berthalina, for sharing.


Cultural Contrasts in a Multicultural World

Immigrants arrive without any understanding of the U.S. schools system, culture, etc. They often do not know what is expected of them.

American school systems are unique:
No other school system in the world requires the amount of parent participation and involvement that the U.S schools do.

What is expected from the parents in school systems in other countries is VERY different from the U.S: Educators are revered- never questioned. You don't use their names--you call them "Maestra/Teacher," "Señora o Señorita/ Mrs. or Miss."

There is a discipline "enforcer" in middle school and high school (in Mexico he/she is called PREFECTO). Students are expected to behave and attendance is not enforced, however, if you miss a class you know you will be expected to make up anything you missed or it will affect your grade. As a result, students almost never miss school!

Problems are handled at school, without parents (going to the office is your worst nightmare! You would rather have your parents involved than talk to the principal!!).

Parents rely on report cards. Teachers call meetings, not parents. Parents are neither expected nor encouraged to visit school. When a parent goes to the school it is seen as disrespectful since it seems like the parent is questioning what the teacher is doing.

Respect of private space can be misinterpreted as dislike if you stand too far away. The closer you stand to a person, the more you like her/him.

Here, if a child is unmotivated or shy, he/she is not taught to be ambitious or competitive. In other cultures, ambition and competition is seen as arrogant and ruthless.

Individualistic pride is a foreign concept. Public display of self-acclamation is false, sinful and discourteous. You do NOT compete with others--you help and learn from others.

Getting "right to the point" is considered rude. You have to connect personally before getting down to business. Couching commands in questions is not understood as a command, but as a question. If you want a child to sit down you don't ask "Would you sit down, please?" you say, "Sit down, please."

Work and school is serious business; emphasis on making learning "fun" is a hard concept to understand.

Stay away from idioms! It is VERY possible that someone from a different culture/language background will not understand or misinterpret what you say.

Martha J. Cruz-Janzen, Assistant Professor of Multicultural Education in Florida explains that in Hispanic/Latin countries, formal education is only PART of the component, not necessarily the most important part. The humanistic education, honor, respect, responsibility to the family, integrity, is foremost.
There in the difference between:
letrado: book learned, and
educado (educated): the humanistic portion.

Think of culture simply in terms of its scientific definition: an invented behavior adopted by a population, and passed on to succeeding generations. This behavior will be closely related to needs, beliefs, and environment of the group.


For the two column chart on cultural contrasts, click here.

Questions or comments? E-mail Tobey.


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