I then outline a framework from ICC which I have modified and integrated into methodology courses to train more socioculturally aware ESL/EFL teachers.
in the process of exporting methodologies in an attempt to make language classrooms more interactive and communicative. For example, Hu (2002) reports that communicative language teaching (CLT) has failed to have the expected impact on ELT in China because assumptions underlying CLT conflict with the Chinese culture of learning. His argument is supported by others who have shown how Chinese teachers and students view explicit grammar analysis as crucial to foreign language learning, and believe that the teacher should dominate the classroom. A teacher who does not do so risks being seen as lazy or incompetent. Chinese students, on the other hand, have problems in accepting group work, debates, and other interactive activities as meaningful or relevant to their learning. Instead, they value mastery through memorization because they perceive it as knowledge that will bring them confidence and a feeling of success (Cortazzi and Jin 1996). The promotion of autonomy in traditional Chinese classrooms has also been difficult because ‘while personal autonomy appears to be a universally desirable and beneficial objective, . . . learner autonomy is exercised within the context of specific cultures’
In many EFL contexts grammar study and exam practice override other concerns.
In Japan, the most popular activity for students was the whole class working with the teacher. Japanese classrooms did not emphasize interaction, and the mother tongue was used heavily in the lessons (LoCastro 1996).
In Korea teachers preferred discrete-point grammar tests to communicative language teaching, and lacked confidence in their own English, while their students showed resistance to classroom participation (Li 1998). Such resistance was not limited to secondary school students.
These examples suffice to show that innovations based on behavior quite different from students’ and teachers’ previous experiences and expectations can lead to problems. Cultural awareness and understanding are thus essential for language teachers to have in applying pedagogic innovations across contexts.
Informed questioning as proposed below is not only useful in helping pre- and in-service teachers to learn about possible areas of cultural variation, but it can also help them to ‘look in the mirror’, and question their own preconceived notions of various cultures and subcultures.
1 ‘What are the historical/social/ideological characteristics of the group?’
What do we know of the historical/social/ideological characteristics of
our student body, including their common beliefs and dominant world
views? How did we come to have this knowledge? Is it based on facts, or
on opinions we have derived from our/others’ experiences? If the latter,
what is the extent of these experiences, and how can we avoid
overgeneralizations, hence stereotyping? What resources are available for
us to find out more about these issues? How current and reliable are
Asking these questions helps trainees to acknowledge their own cultural
dispositions and possible stereotypes concerning particular learner
groups. The questions also aid in their considering possible avenues of
gathering more information about target learner groups.
2 ‘How does one learn membership and identity?’ (socialization)
What do we know of the formal and informal norms and standards of
education that the student body went through? How can we learn about
students’ primary and secondary socialization experiences that shaped
their schemas of the good teacher or good teaching practices? What kind
of descriptive questions can we ask the students and fellow teachers in a
new teaching context?
These questions lead teachers towards exploring crucial aspects of
sociocultural schemas as shaped by primary socialization in the family
and secondary socialization in schools. Brainstorming about descriptive
questions focuses them on components and sequencing of classroom
activities. Teachers discuss how they can elicit from their students and
colleagues a description of the typical school day, including an outline of
common everyday practices and discourse, or a description of a good
student and a competent teacher. These descriptions can then inform
them about the norms and expectations of their students, and facilitate
their adaptation of their intended methodology towards accommodating
students’ and administrators’ expectations. Such preparation would be
an important step in the successful spread of innovations as well.
3 ‘What are the preferred forms of communication?’ (forms of discourse)
What do we know about the ways in which language(s) are viewed and
used in the students’ cultures? What are common attitudes toward
English? Are there valid, reliable, and current sociolinguistic studies that
can give us information?
This is a good context to discuss how conscious the teachers are of their
own norms of verbal and non-verbal communication, and how to become
more aware of them. Do teachers know how to observe students across
contexts to learn about common gestures, use of personal space, facial
expressions, norms of turn-taking, and the like? This is also an ideal
juncture for introducing the notion of sociolinguistic relativity as the
variation in the norms of language use across (sub)cultures that would
complement teachers’ knowledge of linguistic relativity.
4 ‘What are the preferred or assumed human relationships?’ (face systems)
What do we know about the value of kinship and hierarchy in this group?
What about gender differences? What current information, if any, is
there about their norms of politeness? What kinds of topics are taboo,
thus face-threatening for the people in question? Who can we ask for
information about appropriate behavior, taboos, and other social
concerns common to this group? How can we avoid overgeneralizations
and outdated sources of information?
Following from domain 1 above, these questions lead trainees toward
discussing their perceptions of the more specific aspects of interaction
among the target learner groups. They also reinforce their understanding
of the role that culture plays in shaping our communication. More
importantly, they can lead them to investigate sociolinguistic studies to
gather background information on the above issues.