Cultural Awareness in the ESL/EFL Classroom

As an ESL/EFL teacher, you want to promote a positive learning environment for your students. In order to do this, you must have some understanding of the culture and customs of your students. Cultural awareness begins with developing sensitivity and understanding of your students' beliefs, attitudes and values. You will need to familiarize yourself with your students' cultural characteristics, history, values, belief systems, and behaviours.

When teaching English in a foreign land, you should read up on the customs and culture of that country.  You can often acquire knowledge about other cultures by reading books or watching movies, and attending cultural events and festivals.

Developing cultural awareness is an ongoing process. It is important to remember that someone's cultural background often affects the way they interact in the classroom and how they learn English. Also, try to be aware that differences also exist within cultures.

Find out what topics and actions are taboo. Speak to other teachers and try to get a better understanding of the cultural problems they face. Each culture is different and there will be certain actions or topics, which are off limits. Having respect for someone's culture breaks down barriers of communication and makes your students feel at ease. You don't want to embarrass or upset your students through ignorant actions. You may find that younger students are more used to western culture. However, this is no excuse to ignore theirs.

If you are teaching ESL in your home country, make your students aware of your own culture. You can share information about which topics and actions are appropriate and which are not. This will help your students immensely in their daily lives. Your students can also tell you about their customs and cultures. Your students will probably be from many different countries, so this will help you as a teacher understand about a variety of customs from all over the world.

Conversation plays a big part of the ESL/EFL classroom. However, there are some topics that you should generally avoid, so as not to offend your students. These are as follows:





Historical or on-going conflicts


Actions and gestures that you should also avoid as an ESL/EFL teacher:



Embarrassing students

Touching students

Chewing gum

Holding eye contact

Standing too close to a student

Give your students the respect they deserve. This acts as a great role-model for the students and creates harmony in the classroom.

Cultural Awareness.PDF



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