How does Being Culturally Aware Help to Teach EFL?

How does Being Culturally Aware Help to Teach EFL?

Reflective Diary submitted by Harriet, Valencia.

Culture plays a huge part in the behaviour, opinions, expectations and understanding; all of which contribute greatly in an individual’s ability to learn English as a foreign language. Being culturally aware is one of the most important elements of teaching to take into consideration when based in a foreign country, or when you have foreign students. This diary will reflect on the importance of understanding different cultures and how they may affect your teaching.
Adaptation is crucial for EFL teachers.

Individual students are always going to be different in terms of personality, how they receive praise, how they communicate etc. But some “teaching approaches that work in one cultural context may not necessarily work in another”, therefore EFL teachers must recognise that people from different countries may react differently to things that we may perceive to be normal. For example, I have found that Spanish people generally are more open with their body language and gratification than other cultures in which I have taught (mainly French and British).

I have noticed amongst many students that thanking the teacher at the end of the class, whether that be with a hand shake, or on one particular occasion ‘besos’ (one kiss on each cheek) from an elderly Spanish woman, is not viewed as unusual. However, if you were teaching in a high-context society such as in Japan, this sort of behaviour may be received very badly; as physical contact may be viewed as a breach of personal space.

Similarly, I have found that teaching French or British adolescents is similar to teaching Spanish teens. If they are not receptive or appear interested in the conversation, I tend to change the tone and/or topic to something that will maintain interest. For example, linking a question to a current artist or film, or encouraging the student to expand their answer using their experience (e.g. “is watching La Copa del Rey better on the television or live at a stadium?” instead of “what are the pros and cons of television?”). This may be an effective way to reach out and engage with students of Western European cultures, but may provoke an adverse reaction amongst teenagers from past-orientated countries such as China, where football is not part of their culture.

Although the most important element of teaching is to maintain a professional environment, adapting to your student’s culture, whether that be the way you speak, topic of conversation or your body language, will make them feel more comfortable and therefore more likely to concentrate solely on learning English whilst benefitting as much as possible from the lesson.


  • ‘Teaching Across Cultures: Culture Shock’, Carnegie University
[Accessed 11/04/2017: http://eberly.cmu.edu/teaching-across-cultures]