Tuesday, May 1, 2012

TESOL Teaching Tip #23 - Understand Culture Shock

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:

TESOL Teaching Tip #23 - Understand culture shock by experiencing it. Our esl or ell students often experience culture shock when they come into our classrooms. It's hard to really understand what they've been through if you've never had culture shock yourself. You don't need to travel overseas to have culture shock. Check out this blog post at Raki's Rad Resources to find some suggestions on how to experience culture shock and build empathy for your students.

ELL Teaching Tip #23: Go Through Culture Shock
Imagine you are sitting in a room with 20 people who all speak a language that you don’t speak.  Someone comes up to you and asks you a question in that language.  When you don’t answer, they ask you again, and again, this time louder, but you still don’t know what they are saying.  How do you feel?  This is how many of our students feel, especially on their first day in our classroom. 
Most teachers can sympathize with this feeling, but they can’t necessarily empathize.  I can tell you from personal experience that going this experience – which we often call culture shock – is not something you can understand from listening to a story about it.  In order to truly empathize, and understand how your students feel, you need to actually experience culture shock.

I first experienced true culture shock on my first trip to MoroccoCommunal Plate Couscous in Morocco (before I moved here) six years ago.  I sat with my husband’s family at the dinner table, hearing a language fly around me, of which I didn’t understand one word.  I had food put in front of me that I didn’t recognize.  I was asked to eat off of a communal plate.  I didn’t know what to say when I wanted some water, or needed to go to the bathroom.  I felt lost and uncomfortable.  It is a time I will never forget.  It changed my life, it changed how I deal with people, and it changed how I teach.  Now, when my students get that shell shocked look on their face, I know what they are feeling, and how to help them.
Now,  you don’t have to go to far off places to feel culture shock – although the culture shock may be more intense if you do.  But, you can probably give yourself a good dose in your own area, if you are willing to be open minded and go outside the box.  

Here are some ways you can give yourself this experience:

- Find a family who speaks another language at home, and ask to be invited for dinner.  Let them know that you want to “experience” that language and culture.  Ask them to make traditional food, and speak in their home language for the entire meal – even if you don’t know what’s going on.

- Go shopping in the “ethnic” district of a big city (Chinatown, the Russian district, Little Italy etc.)  Try to communicate without using English.  Buy a few items that you’ve never seen before. 

- Attend a religious service at a place of worship that is very Ancient Moroccan Mosquedifferent from your standard religion.  (Call first – as different religions have different views on visitors.)  Stay for the entire service and try to participate.

- Attend a political convention of a political group that holds political beliefs opposite of your won.  Stay for the entire service – and try not to disagree with anyone.

- Attend a festival honoring an ethnic holiday you are unfamiliar with (Dia de los Muertos, Chinese New Year, Divalia etc.).  Get involved in some of the activities that you’ve never experienced.  Eat food you’ve never seen before.

- Sponsor an exchange student.  There are generally programs looking for host families for students from other cultures.  While you are hosting, get to know your students’ experiences, ask about the food they normally eat, take them to gatherings with their friends from their culture – go through culture shock with them.

Remember that the entire point of culture shock is to feel uncomfortable.  The closer an experience is to your “normal” life, the less culture shock you will generally experience.  After you have a culture shock experience – please come back and tell us about it.  Already had a major culture shock experience?  I’d love you to leave me a comment about that too!  How has it changed how you deal with people?  How has it changed how you teach?

Strategies for Teaching English Language LearnersDo you enjoy the weekly TESOL Teaching Tips? Would you like to view an hour long presentation on this topic?  I recently  presented on Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners at the Everything’s Intermediate Expo.  Now you can grab the presentation for just $4.95 from Teacher’s Notebook.

Find more TESOL Teaching Tips here, and come back every Tuesday for a new tip!
Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources