ESL Teacher as Cultural Broker

ESL Teacher as Cultural Broker

by Judie Haynes

Simple awareness on the part of mainstream staff members will help them deal more effectively with cross-cultural dissension. As ESL/bilingual professionals we need to teach strategies which help our colleagues understand the role culture plays in the behavior and reactions of second language learners and their parents.

Understanding and interpreting the cultures of second language learners is an important part of the ESL/bilingual teachers' role. Helping classroom teachers to do this is even more of a challenge. Misinterpretations are bound to occur on both sides. Whenever a mainstream staff members thinks an ESL youngsters' behavior seems unwarranted, bizarre, rude, or in some way unexpected, it's possible that this is a sign of cultural misunderstanding. And it is the ESL/bilingual professional who is called upon to unlock the cultural puzzle.

Can ESL/bilingual or classroom teachers learn all there is to know about the various cultures in your school? No, of course not!

Effective staff development courses are a way ESL/bilingual professionals can help mainstream staff members better interpret the cultures of the diverse student populations in your school. The objectives of a staff development workshop would be to give participants:

Download these activities for your next staff inservice.

State your point of view
Participants state their attitudes and beliefs about multiculturalism in the U.S. in a non-threatening way. This activity can easily be modified to meet the needs of individual groups or districts.

What is...?
See what the participants in your workshop know about ESL. There are two activities in this PDF file; one for ESL professionals and one for classroom teachers.

Communication game
Most Americans who have not lived or gone to school in another country do not understand what it feels like to come to the United States and function in a strange school setting. Give workshop participants the experience of not being able to make themselves understood through this lively activity

Stand up and be counted
This is a demonstration of how we are all members of a minority at one time or another. At the end of this exercise, ask participants which items they were reluctant to stand up for and why. Discuss how it felt to be standing alone or with only a few other people. Of course, the items in this activity can be changed to meet the needs of your audience.

Is the American ugly?
Adapted from the work of Hsu, an antropologist who spent half his life in China and half in the U.S, this activity will show participants how Americans are viewed from the outside. Hsu found Americans obsessed with privacy. However, we don't seem to value privacy to the French with our unfenced yards, open office doors and the windows of our homes facing the street. It all depends on who's looking.

Cultural quiz
This is a lively activity where participants develop cultural insights into the behavior of second language learners in their classrooms. It is a favorite activity for staff inservice programs. Divide participants into groups of three or four and provide each group with a cultural scenerio. Have groups discuss what they think is causing the problem in their scenerio and present their conclusions.

What's in a gesture?
Gestures are an important element when exchanging ideas or information with people from other cultures. Learning how gestures can affect cross-cultural communication is another favorite with mainstream teachers.

Multicultural me
This activity shows how we all identify with different groups at different times. Participants should write their names in the center circle and then write five different groups with which they identify in the outside circles. Examples of the different kinds of groups that can be named are race, religion, gender, age, profession, language, town, neighborhood, school, and beliefs. After the group has finished this activity, you might want to have them share when they felt proud to be a member of one of their groups and when it felt uncomfortable.

Truth of Stereotyp
South American culture is featured in this activity. Have your audience read the scenerios and decided if they agree or disagree.

Take the Elevator!
Have you ever heard anyone say "They're in the U.S. now, let them do it our way." This activity demonstrates how deeply ingrained our cultural behavior is and how difficult it would be to change it.

Exploring Prejudice and Bias
Have participants in your workshop discover their own prejudices in a non-threatening environment. This activity provides an anonymous way for people to express themselves freely. The results will surprise you.

Myths of second language acquisition
There are many misconceptions about how a second language is acquired. Address these myths with this short quiz. Some of the responses will surprise even the most savvy participants. This activity has been updated.

Keep an arms-length away
Have you ever heard of the American "bubble?" Most Americans feel most comfortable when people keep an arms-length away during conversations. Try this out with this activity.

Second language sensitivity
This is a dynamite activity for demonstrating to participants what it is like to sit in a classroom while someone lectures in an incomprehensible language.


Activity Downloads

Note: To view the classroom activities, you must have Acrobat Reader intalled. Acrobat is a free application available from Adobe Systems.

PDF fileTruth or Stereotype2 (28k .PDF)

PDF fileUgly American (4k .PDF)

PDF fileWhat's in a Gesture? (4k .PDF)

PDF fileExploring Prejudice and Biases (3k .PDF)

PDF fileWhat is...? (4k .PDF)

PDF fileTake the Elevator (4k .PDF)

PDF fileCulture Questions (15k .PDF)

PDF fileSecond language sensitivity (4k .PDF)

PDF fileState your point of view (7k .PDF)

PDF fileCommunication game (3k .PDF)

PDF fileStand up and be counted (2k .PDF)

PDF fileKeep an arms-length away (3k .PDF)

PDF fileMulticultural me (3k .PDF)

Related Links

What! I Lost a Year!
One of the roles of ESL teachers is to help mainstream staff members unlock cultural puzzles by teaching strategies that help them understand the role culture plays in the behavior and learning of ESL students. Enjoy the reprint of my Spring 2003 column for Essential Teacher.

Twenty Cultural Questions
Help the classroom teachers in your school solve cultural differences. Here are twenty new cultural scenerios gathered from participants in my workshops over the past year.