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Be a Culturally-Aware TEFL Teacher

Want to know how to be a culturally responsive TEFL teacher? This article will provide you with an easy to follow five point guide to help you connect with all your students. Keep reading to learn more.

Connecting with your students can be hard enough when you come from the same culture. Yet, in today's globalized world, whether you decide to teach outside of your hometown or not, you need to be able to learn about and adapt to other cultures. Doing so will help you and your students as you build a better relationship with them.

1. Start with empathy

If you have ever felt misunderstood because of a different perspective, you know how important it is to start with empathy. Before you establish that your student is being intentionally rude, consider if perhaps it is something else. The issue might be cultural. For example, in many Asian cultures it is not common for teachers to ask students to express their opinion which may cause them to hesitate when you ask what they think about something. Of course their may be something else, such as a learning disability, something affecting them outside of the classroom, etc.. Whatever the issue, always start with empathy when communicating with your students. Doing so is very helpful for all teachers, but essential for ESL TEFL Teachers.

2. Study their culture

When communicating with someone it is always helpful to learn about them. This includes their culture. Learning about your student can help you better understand what they need from you and what challenges they face. For example, when I first started to teach French students, I always felt that they were defensive in my regard. I, of course, made sure to use empathy to avoid dismissing their behavior and instead understand it.

As I continued to have French students I started to learn more about their culture and, more importantly, their academic culture. Many students explained to me that they had been raised in a system in which teachers were always very authoritative. As a result, French students generally had a distrust of teachers. Once I understood this, I used that knowledge to bond even more with my French students.

Doing your homework beforehand and letting your students tell you about their culture will go a very long way in making you more culturally responsive. If their English skills are limited, consider learning the basics of their language, as this will inspire them and help you understand their grammar and pronunciation challenges.

3. Explain your culture

In the same way that it can help you to understand your student and their culture, it will help them to understand yours. Of course, if they see that you value their culture, this will help them be more receptive towards yours. Yet, some students may be shy about asking you questions about your culture. Therefore incorporate it into your lessons.

As a Foreign Language Teacher, when you share elements of your culture, be open to your students' questions and after giving an explanation ask them to provide information surrounding their culture. For example, if you are speaking about cultural traditions, make sure to ask about what their traditions are and if they can find similarities between your traditions and theirs. When possible go into detail about your culture's expectations around specific settings. You may wish to start with school behavior and norms. This will give them insight into what you are accustomed to and also help you understand their behavior in the classroom.

4. Don't assume your culture is right

You may find yourself falling for the idea that your culture is somehow superior to that of your students. Doing so will result in your students feeling negative emotions towards you and your lessons. As a teacher you should lead by understanding, not by judging. As someone who is not part of a culture, it can be very difficult to judge it fairly. Thus your goal should be to seek to understand as much as possible.

You may have gone through the unpleasant experience of having someone from outside your culture judge it by making an uninformed generalization. I know I have had that experience and the feeling was not pleasant. Needless to say I was not inspired to continue communicating with that person as I felt they did not respect my culture and therefore they did not respect me. Be open to understanding your students' cultures and learn from them.

I remember that after living in Japan for close to 6 months, I returned to Rome, Italy (where I was born and raised). Upon my return, I experienced culture shock. As I had seen the cleanliness and order of Japanese culture, I was taken aback from the, shall I say, not so clean and orderly Italian culture. This is not to discredit Italy or my heritage. Instead, my experience allowed me to look at my culture differently and to apply the lessons I had learned abroad to my own culture and life. Essentially, share your culture with your students as a way to learn from each other--not as a way to discredit them.

5. Think about how your culture is perceived

Remember that even though you want your student to be open minded, they are your student and it is your goal to show leadership. Therefore, consider how your students can see your culture and react to some of the things you do. You may have all the best intentions, but they may misunderstand you, which will not help either of you. Therefore, use the tips above to think about how some aspects of your culture may be threatening to them.


If you want to connect with your students and overcome cultural barriers. Follow the steps above. This will get you on your way to becoming more culturally aware and responsive. Like anything in life, the more you practice it, the easier it becomes. As you accumulate more knowledge you will notice it compounds itself, and soon you will be a cultural responsiveness expert.

Did you like this article? If so please share with friends and family. Want to get started on becoming a culturally aware TEFL Teacher? Then consider completing our eletefl 60 Hour online TEFL Course Here.

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