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