Promoting cultural awareness in the Language Club
The learners in your Language Clubs will be coming from very different places – language skills, experience and quite literally from other countries and cultures. The importance of cultural awareness and sensitivity cannot be underestimated and good facilitation practice can helpto ensure that all group members are respected and empowered.
- Be aware of the feelings of individuals: establishing and maintaining an atmosphere of trust and respect requires an awareness of how people are responding to both activities and discussion topics, and the reactions of other people in the group. Noting when people are becoming quieter or more withdrawn is essential. Sensing how an individual is feeling and responding appropriately is a critical facilitation skill.
- Be aware of the chemistry of the group: being sensitive and responsive to the group’s dynamic is essential to skilled facilitation. Note that this may very well change from session to session, so it’s important to take regular sense checks to assess how the group is, and react accordingly if they are tired, energetic, anxious or bored.
- Remember the importance of active listening: active listening is essential to understand how people are feeling and what is important to them. Truly effective listening picks up on both the explicit meaning of words and also their implicit meaning and tone.
- Step in tactfully: sometimes as a facilitator you may have to say difficult things for the good of the group. The ability to do so carefully and kindly is critical, especially if the issue is sensitive and/or related to an individuals’ cultural background. You will need particular tact in dealing with emotional situations respectfully but, where necessary, firmly too.
- Develop an excellent sense of timing: You will develop awareness of when to bring a discussion to a close, when to change the topic, when to cut off someone who has talked too long, when to let the discussion run over, and when to let the silence continue a little longer. This is very important when emotive or sensitive topics are being discussed. Be prepared to be flexible.
- Celebrate the group’s diversity: A good facilitator will recognise that each group is as different as the learners who make it up, and that this brings with it a wealth of interesting ideas for activities and discussions. Approach cultural differences in a very positive way, by taking an interest in each individual’s background and providing opportunities for learners to talk to the group about their background.
- Be careful how much you focus on highlighting cultural differences. There is a strong argument that it is equally important to focus learners’ attention on the cultural similarities within a group and community, emphasising common interests and values and promoting harmony.
The importance of cultural awareness
Learning or facilitating a language always entails some aspects, even if unspoken, of cultural awareness and differentiation.
It is important to remember that culture is acquired behaviour, not instinctive behaviour. All people gradually acquire the culture of their community and country throughout their lives. Hofstede suggests there are different “levels of culture, each one deeper and less conscious than the others, and each requiring different tools to be uncovered”.
|Level of culture||How it manifests||Evidence|
|Artefacts and behaviour||Tradition, clothing, customs||Observation|
|Beliefs and values||Beliefs about how the world should be||Interview and survey|
|Assumptions||Often unspoken or unconscious||Inference and interpretation|
Language education for adults has always required cultural awareness because it addresses all sorts of topics and discussions, not just language acquisition and grammar. In your Language Clubs you will show cultural awareness by engaging with your learners and using resources that discuss the cultural context of the UK where they are learning English.
Be careful how much you focus on highlighting cultural differences. There is a strong argument that it is equally important to focus learners’ attention on the cultural similarities within a group and community, emphasising common interests and values and promoting harmony.
Activity – Culture quotes
Use some of the following quotes about culture as the starting point for a group discussion:
“All people are the same. It’s only their habits that are so different.” Confucius
“Culture is the learned behaviour of a society or a subgroup.” Margaret Mead
“Once you are aware of your own mental models and cultural predispositions, and once you can respect and understand that those of another culture are legitimately different, then it becomes possible to reconcile these differences.” Trompenaars
“Culture is the ensemble of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.” Clifford Geetz
“What we can do is to raise awareness of cultural factors. In so doing we shall aim to sharpen observation, encourage critical thinking about cultural stereotypes, and develop tolerance. These are educational issues which reach out beyond mere language teaching. Cultural awareness raising is an aspect of values education… transcending the often narrow limits of language teaching.” Alan Maley