Cross-cultural Education: How It Helps ESL Students

Cross-cultural Education: How It Helps ESL Students

Lots of ESL teachers teach English in countries where English is not the native language, and the students’ culture is the dominant one.

But there are ESL teachers that teach English as a second language when it is, in fact, the dominant one. In addition to the language, students need to learn the cultural aspects that will help them not only understand the country they are now living in, but also interact with the locals. It is precisely this cross-cultural training that helps everything seem a little less “alien” and a little more “familiar”.
Here’s what you need to know for effective cross-cultural training within your ESL classroom.

The Benefits of Cross-cultural Training in the ESL Classroom

  • Whether your students are adults who will be doing business in a country that is foreign to them, or children who want to make new friends, cross-cultural training relieves the stress of relocation.
  • It helps prevent culture shock.
  • It helps students connect with locals faster, more confidently and enables them to form stronger social and business connections.

How to Include Cross-cultural Training in Your ESL Classroom

  1. 1

    Give Them Skills They Can Use – Every Day

    Upon arriving to a foreign country students may not understand a whole lot, but they will understand one thing: lots of things are different there. The first thing they can do to ensure there are no misunderstandings, and that no one is offended by the wrong type of remark is to learn some basic skills, which include:

    • Asking the speaker to slow down
    • Asking the speaker to repeat what he/she said
    • Retelling, to confirm they’ve understood correctly
    • Making polite requests
    • Asking for more information and learning about differences/things they don’t understand
    • Proper ways to greet people and say goodbye

    These are essential skills that will not only help them get around but also get them started on the right foot towards making new contacts/friends.

  2. 2

    Focus on Their Needs

    What is your students’ most pressing need? To make new friends at school? To do business/errands around town? To give professional presentations and participate in meetings? The answer to this question should give you exactly what you need to focus on throughout your lessons. You might want to tailor role plays with this particular need in mind. For example, if your ESL students are homemakers who have had to relocate with their husbands, there are several role play situations that will be specifically useful for them, from grocery shopping to health care concerns.

  3. 3

    Use Their Own Curiosity

    More often than not, a student will ask you what a particular word means. It might be a food, an item of clothing or a word used in a phrase. Take the opportunity to teach the meaning of that word but also any others that fall into the same category, like other local foods.

  4. 4

    Include Informal Language

    One of the most confusing aspects of the new language is the set of colloquialisms and slang a student is suddenly exposed to. Cash becomes dough; men become guys; women become gals, and the list goes on. Don’t forget to teach informal language that is useful to students, while still avoiding words and phrases that are obviously vulgar and can’t be used in polite conversation.

  5. 5

    Spark Interest

    While there are plenty of things you can teach them in the classroom, there are things they should also find out on their own. If they show interest in the local cuisine, you might want to teach them a few new words, but then encourage them to research others. Assign projects or homework that includes, for instance, taking photos of the food at a local restaurant or looking up menus online.

  6. 6

    Eliminate Exclusion, Foster Inclusion

    ESL students may learn all the right skills and useful vocabulary to communicate and interact with the locals, but that does not mean they won’t feel less excluded. Are there any opportunities for them to interact with local groups? A quick search on may turn up some interesting results. There are groups for people interested in photography, art, reading, and even foreign language exchange – in practically every city in the globe. They may not share the same native language, but they will certainly have a special interest in common. The sense of belonging to a group and feeling included can do wonders for your ESL students.

This last point can’t be emphasized enough.

What’s the point of helping them learn more about the local culture if they won’t have anyone to interact with? For example, you may teach your class all about the American Thanksgiving, but hopefully at some point, they will participate in the actual celebration at someone’s home. Our goal is to help them prepare so that they can face these events and day-to-day interactions with confidence, and enjoy them for what they are: opportunities to connect with others –despite the cultural differences.

Do you teach English in an English-speaking country? What challenges do your ESL students face?

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