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Understanding different cultures is essential for those working with international students.

Studies also demonstrate that understanding the reasons for the behavior of L2 speakers enables learners to accept cultural differences more easily and thus creates a more positive attitude toward the target language (Akhbar, I., Oct. 4, 2017).

Non-native speakers can be a resource for teachers since they provide a window into a new culture. At all levels, contrastive cultures can provide insights into other disciplines such as linguistics, history, economics and political science.

View language and culture as a lens for learning for all students, in particular, English Language Learners. All teachers, regardless of their classroom demographics, should engage in culturally relevant teaching to stimulate getting students tothe deepest levels of thinking and the highest levels of personal achievement It is through culturally-responsive teaching, a proven research-based practice, that teachers can highlight the linguistic and cultural resources of English language learners and use them as a springboard for instruction (Tips from the top, 2012).

Teaching hint No. 1

Use tourism information as an introduction to culture. Tourism sites for major cities are available on line, and often brochures and travel guides are available in destination cities are available as well. The following suggestions are applicable to foreign language teaching and ESL:

Visit the official tourism website of a country whose language you teach for authentic texts—these sites have a lot of resources you can use. You’ll likely find a myriad of short readings in Florida on popular places to visit, typical dishes, and cultural events in the country. Create true/false questions based on a reading or pose simple short answer questions. Use sentence starters or key words to have a whole-class discussion about cultural similarities and differences based on the text (Spathis, E., May 1, 2018).

So, if you are teaching an ESL class in California, you can look at tourism sites for other states or even Canada, the U.K., Australia or New Zealand.

Teaching hintNo. 2

Improved pronunciation will help students fit in to the larger student body. Most native speakers of English have never traveled abroad and are not used to speakers using accented forms of English.

Speaking listening classes in intensive English programs usually include pronunciation work or even “accent reduction” electives. Also, modern language labs often have practice audio files, and some have ways for students to record their speech and later listen to the recordings.

Pronunciation can also be part of ESL reading classes:

Nearly all of our ability to pronounce written words out loud—that is, use the rules of phonics—is a result of what we have subconsciously acquired through reading. Very little of our ability to pronounce what we read comes from our conscious knowledge of the phonics rules we have studied in school (Krashen, S., April 17, 2019).

Teaching hint No. 3

It is helpful for ESL teachers to be aware of cultural shifts occurring in the learners’ countries. Here are a few examples:

Social and cultural change: Saudi Arabia

Cultural changes in the student’s home countries may have an influence on their attitudes. The ultraconservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is undergoing a major cultural shift. There has been an announcement from the KSA that the leadership wants to moderate its harsh interpretation of Islam. The leadership has lifted the ban on women drivers and will allow movie theaters.

On the face of it, the statement fueled hopes that the ultraconservative kingdom would finally give in to critics who have long demanded more liberties and tolerance, but others cautioned that it was not at all clear what a more “moderate Islam” would look like for Saudi Arabia (Noack, R., Oct. 25, 2017).

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke against extremism and seemed to be following in the footsteps of the earlier reformers who claimed the original form of Islam was more open.

“We are simply reverting to what we followed — a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions,” he said (Saudi Arabia wants to return to ‘moderate Islam.’).

The country is facing economic uncertainty in the wake of the decline in oil prices. The younger Saudis are feeling the impact since they can no longer on family revenues from the petroleum industry.

Mohammed, 32, has attempted to position himself as a favorite for the kingdom’s younger citizens, who are less religious than older generations and are facing disproportionately high unemployment rates (Saudi Arabia wants to return to ‘moderate Islam.’).

Saudi reforms have been moving forward under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salmon, but there still is conservative resistance.

Cinemas are open, genders mix more freely, and women are allowed to drive, but there is still an authoritarian side to his leadership (Nereim, V., Martin, M. and Cary, G., June 19, 2018).

Key architects in the kingdom’s modernization plans have been locked up, creating a climate of fear. The enthusiasm created by “Vision 2030” has been replaced by wariness (Crackdown cracks a crafted Saudi image).

Saudi Arabia is continuing to slowly liberalize the strict laws governing women. They are now allowed to get passports and travel freely as the former guardianship policy had restricted these freedoms. Women are also allowed to be legal guardians of their children (Batrawi, A., Aug. 6, 2019). The government is also encouraging women to enter the workforce.

A number of sweeping changes have been promoted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he drives an ambitious economic reform plan that encourages more women to enter the workforce (Batrawi).


Cultural shifts occur in L1 as well. Here is an example from Lebanon.

Often, English and French words become so ingrained in Lebanese Arabic that they take on Arabic characteristics. An example: “If I wanted to be very jock-like and greet my friends, I would say, ‘Hi, broite.’” Yes, that's “Hi, bro,” with a Lebanese Arabic possessive ending.


Like other Islamic countries, Turkey has a moderate Islamic movement that calls for education and a more moderate form of Islam.

Supporters regard the Hizmet movement inspired by U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen as the benign, modern face of Islam, but critics question its motives (BBC News, Dec. 18, 2013).

The movement’s name, “Hizmet,” is derived from Arabic, “Khidmah,” and means “service.”

Its name means "service" and it promotes work for the common good, with advocates saying they simply work together in a loosely affiliated alliance inspired by the message of Mr. Gulen. The imam promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasizes altruism, hard work and education (Profile: Fethullah Gulen's Hizmet movement).

The schools involved in the movement are secular and support hard work, morality, and student success.

Although the schools are secular, teachers are expected to act as role models. Smoking, drinking and divorce are frowned upon (Profile: Fethullah Gulen's Hizmet movement).

The Gulen movement claims that it is not connected to the various Islamic revivalist movements common in the Middle East.

He urges his followers to build schools instead of mosques and encourages interaction with people of other faiths through dialogue societies, including one in the U.K. (Profile: Fethullah Gulen's Hizmet movement).

The movement is not faith-based and is inclusive working with diverse groups to improve society.

The Gülen Movement has paved an exemplary way of working together to overcome the problems of humankind, regardless of religious, ethnic or cultural differences (, March 23, 2018).


Chinese students may have trouble with “academic literacy” as they progress through their ESL and EAP courses.

Due to the lack of systematic training in academic writing as well as unfamiliarity with certain writing techniques, most Chinese students come to college with various form of “broken” or “fractured” English, affecting their English writing ability (Sun, L., May 2, 2019).

The writing that is acceptable in EFL courses in China is not right for the academic writing in the U.S.

The author states that “… it’s extremely important for international students to seek help and feedback from competent native language consultants who also know something about the specific topic (Acquiring Academic Literacy from the Inside). Linguistic competence is crucial, but academic literacy is also important.

For students, linguistic competence is just one of the key contributors to academic literacy; other factors such as being able to manipulate the conventions of research genres, positioning oneself appropriately in the context of existing knowledge and research, consciousness of audience and communicative purpose, persistence in writing, and reliance on multiple feedback sources are no less important (Acquiring Academic Literacy from the Inside).