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English Teaching Info

English Teaching Interview

-- Richard Bienvenu --
A student interview from RMIT University about
Understanding Cultural Diversity.

The student writes:
"I am a student from RMIT University in Melbourne. I am in my third year of primary education. As part of my course we are undertaking the subject Understanding Diversity. As part of this subject we need to gain an understanding of teachers experiences of working with students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds."

The interview:

1 - Have you any experiences in teaching students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds? What were the backgrounds of the students?

Yes. I have taught and am teaching students from Spain, Mexico, South America, Africa, Japan, Thailand, Korea, France, Italy, Germany, Vietnam, China, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, and Jordan.

2 - What are the needs of the students? (Main challenges)

Their needs are as varied as they are as individuals. One main challenge is to get them speaking the language correctly. Most have been schooled by non-native speakers so they have gotten into a lot of bad speaking habits and word usage that can difficult to break.

If people don't correct them in the right pronunciation and usage the bad habits get ingrained and is sometimes like breaking through concrete to get them to alter their speech patterns.

Latin Americans are more open with their dress and the way they talk, those from Muslim countries more conservative.

But in my experience so far I love the Turkish men that I am teaching. They are the sweetest, most generous people I have ever met and I have become close friends with many of them. They are my favorite so far and seem to have the least problems with pronouncing English and getting the grammar even though the Turkish grammar is nothing like Latin based grammar.

But on the whole, more than anything else, you deal more with people as individuals and personalities rather than who they are culturally or linguistically. It matters not what country they come from, they all have similar challenges and triumphs. Who they are culturally is secondary, it seems to me.

3 - What was your approach when teaching the diverse students?

There really is no difference in approach. Each culture has it's own problems with pronouncing English which is peculiar to each culture. I know what linguistic challenges I'll have with each new student when he comes to class depending on what country he comes from.

Strangely enough I seem to have the most problems with people from Latin America in pronunciation and understanding the grammar although Spanish is similar in many ways to English. They seem to want to make it more complicated than it is. This is normally a point of frustration not only for me but for my fellow teachers as well.

4 - What resources are employed to facilitate their learning?

The thing about teaching English is that, really, anything written in English, as well as TV and movies, can be be material for teaching. So I try to bring in all kinds of subjects to teach from. It gives the students variety, helps them learn about different topics so I get to expand their minds as well, and keeps the classes interesting.

Also, letting them understand more about American culture is beneficial. We have to, many times, set the record straight about how things really are in the U.S. Things can be exaggerated in movies, on TV and books about American culture. Many are shocked by the differences from how they thought it would be. Some have no culture shock at all because of their exposure to American culture through the media before arriving here.

Many students are studying for the TOEFL exam which is not an easy exam to pass. We give them some instruction in TOEFL but the best way to study for it is for them to get the materials and do it on their own. But it takes many hours of daily dedicated work to get proficient enough to pass it.

We hear many stories of Asians coming to America who get high marks on the TOEFL and get into good universities but who literally cannot actually speak a word of English. So now they are adding a spoken part to the TOEFL in September of this year.

The spoken test is very difficult to pass. I had one private student who has taken the test 15 times and has, as of this writing, still not passed it! Another student has taken it 10 times with no passing grade.

Their main problem is bad pronunciation due to bad habits they've gotten into. Very difficult to correct. And they have to work on it everyday to correct it which, sorry to say, they don't.

Teaching beginning students is the most difficult. The older they are the more difficult usually. Their are exceptions. The desire to learn is all important. It is frustrating to work with a student who does not have the passion to learn English and who will not study. I have one student like that right now from Ecuador.

I believe there is a better way to teach beginning students than from just books and memorizing and studying grammar. I don't know what that is. I don't think it's been developed yet.

I think there is an easier way for anyone to learn any language. I just don't know what that is yet. I find myself saying to myself in class, "There's got to be a better way to do this. I shouldn't be this hard and shouldn't take this long to learn."

5 - What is your view on how schools can best meet the needs from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds?

I think schools do the best they can with the resources they have. I think really what it comes down to is, first of all, the student's real passion for learning and, secondly, the teacher's ability and skill to deliver the information and the lessons.

It's is so important in my view that the teacher really love what he is doing and really loves the students and cares about the student and can relate to each one individually and discern what their needs are. Sometimes that is not clear, sometimes it is. I always think of challenging the students and inspiring them to do better and to really want to learn and speak English well.

So I think compassion, understanding, inspiring the student, challenging them and caring about who they are as individuals is of utmost importance. Who they are culturally or linguistically is only secondary.

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