Cultural Differences

How come…? Why…?

Sometimes, the why an ELL is not doing the expected behaviour is due to cultural differences. A student might not understand why you want them to look you in the eye or why you want an opinion opposed the “right answer” during a class discussion or a written assignment simply because those ways of communicating were not expected  within their previous educational experiences or appropriate within their culture. Learning about a student’s cultural background can help everyone be and feel more comfortable and respected. Understanding the differences between cultures can create teachable moments that enrich the learning environment of the classroom benefitting everyone.

Ways to start to learning about an ELL student’s home culture:

  • Ask the student and parents
  • Websites
  • Books – library (multicultural literature)
  • Community cultural centres
  • SWIS (Settlement Workers in Schools)
  • ELL Teachers (colleagues)
  • Documentary & narrative films

Behaviours that might have a cultural explanation:

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Smiling when its not the expected reaction
  • Refusing to eat with peers
  • Does not collaborate with peers
  • Refusing to participate in PE
  • Not asking for help
  • Unresponsive or uncooperative working with the opposite gender
  • Reluctant to express opinions or debate
  • Being uncomfortable or embarrassed being praised

Not only must ELLs acquire English, but they must also adapt to a new culture with its own set of mores, social rules, conventions, and associated expectations for behavior” (Sousa, D. A. (2011). How the ELL brain learns. Thousand Oaks: Calif. p. 214).