Using Cultural Awareness in Education: Benefits & Strategies
Classrooms are becoming more accepting of diversity. Teachers and administrators are increasingly aware that no two students are the same. In addition to individual differences, they may have diverse ethnicities, languages, religions, and sexual orientations.
So how do you cultivate a welcoming and nurturing learning environment?
This is a serious dilemma faced by educators not just in the United States, but the world at large. School administrators and teachers find themselves walking on eggshells, afraid of accidentally neglecting their students’ identities, interests, and outlooks.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
With culturally responsive English teaching, you can create an environment where differences are accepted and celebrated. The key is to build cultural awareness and prepare students for a future in an increasingly multicultural society.
What Is Cultural Awareness in Education? Why Is It So Important?
Collins Dictionary defines cultural awareness as:
An individual’s “understanding of the differences between themselves and people from other countries or other backgrounds, especially differences in attitudes and values.”
Also referred to as “cultural sensitivity” or “cultural competence,” it calls for displaying openness when communicating with people from different cultures. And no, it doesn’t mean disregarding the nuances and differences that set them apart. Instead, it recognizes their uniqueness.
As we move towards a more globalized world, it has become more important than ever to learn from one another, become less homogenous, and use our differences to enrich our lives.
It’s an essential skill to inculcate in students. This can be accomplished by embracing diversity in the classroom and making sure that every student is equitably represented.
The Significance of Cultural Awareness in English Teaching
Learning a new language often gets reduced to linguistics, style, and the art of stringing words in a specific order to make them coherent for others.
But it’s so much more than that!
Language is a part of culture, and vice versa. So, when you’re teaching a foreign language, particularly a lingua franca like English, it’s important to blur the divide between the two as the world becomes increasingly interconnected every day.
Take time to learn about your students, their beliefs, attitudes, and value systems. Then, work at raising cultural awareness with a framework that combines the best of practical and theoretical insights that take individuality into account while keeping generalizations at bay. By doing so, you can help your students learn a new language without disregarding their backgrounds.
Looking for a head start? Here are the top places to teach English in Asia.
Benefits of Cultural Awareness in Language Learning
Beyond creating a more inclusive world, cultural awareness offers impactful benefits on an individual level. Take a look at how this tool can increase the learner’s proficiency and set them up for success.
Promoting cultural awareness in language learning won’t just give your students command over a second language. It will also help create a personal connection with the cultural norms and ideas of different cultures.
At the same time, it enhances students’ interpersonal skills. It makes them better listeners and considerate global citizens who can effectively interact with people from different backgrounds and successfully navigate foreign countries.
Enhanced Language Comprehension
Culturally responsive teaching helps learners get up close and personal with the sociocultural and sociolinguistic differences between their first language and a new language. By encouraging them to make comparisons between the two, educators can give students a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter.
Hence, they’ll get better at giving the right meaning to words, phrases, and sentences. They’ll learn the use of words in situationally appropriate contexts, effectively helping them use the language with the same proficiency as native speakers.
Language learning programs entertain people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Students should thus have the opportunity to better understand a multitude of ways to view the world. They should be able to appreciate the nuances of different cultures in varying contexts to the point where they can evaluate their implicit bias and communicate with greater empathy.
Cultural awareness can fire up students’ motivation to learn a new language. It awes, amazes, and intrigues them with a study plan and coursework that’s designed to initiate, direct, and sustain learning experiences.
And since motivation is linked with language achievement, cultivating confidence with constant constructive feedback improves the relationship between the educator and the student, making them even more motivated to keep learning.
Effective Cross-Cultural Communication
Cultural awareness makes you more competent in interpreting intercultural communication, a game changer in today’s diverse landscape. It does so by sharpening students’ active listening skills, allowing them to make sense of the words and take control of the conversation by repeating a summary of what the other person said to prevent miscommunication.
When students are exposed to different cultural groups, they become more adept at understanding their unique experiences and perspectives, learn how to communicate effectively, and make more informed decisions. This ability is a significant advantage in the fast-paced and often incredibly competitive career landscape.
They don’t just make good employees, but also great supervisors who can create an inclusive work environment where everyone is treated with respect. In a way, they thrive where others may have trouble surviving.
Increased Tolerance and Open-Mindedness
Cultural awareness makes students self-aware, effectively keeping them from projecting their opinions and beliefs onto others. Since they can stand back and examine themselves with a critical eye, they understand what’s appropriate and what’s not and how to empathize with people without judgment, prejudice, or preconceived notions.
This gives learners broader views into diverse opinions. They have an appreciation of how culture informs their lives, making them more observant and tolerant.
Strategies for Integrating Cultural Awareness in English Education
Educators can encourage their students’ cultural awareness during English language education in different ways.
Incorporate Cultural Content
To incorporate cultural content, it’s important to first become familiar with the cultural backgrounds of your learners. Once you’ve acknowledged the differences, you can bring diversity into your lesson plan by using cultural examples and references. This technique will help them see the relevance of what they’re studying, reduce barriers to their academic success, and connect with it better.
Diverse Literature Selection
Reflect inclusive goals and practices with readings, books, videos, analogies, movies, and other forms of literature that represent diversity.
Here’s the thing: while an often-cited book shows children process content better when their identity markers (aka culture and languages) are discussed in the curriculum, you have to pick options that are written by natives. Otherwise, the characterization will be bland, and the opinion may be biased or stereotypical.
Cultural Projects and Presentations
Assess students’ understanding of cultural awareness during lessons with projects, assignments, and activities. For example, incorporate presentations that help them demonstrate their knowledge about your culturally responsive curriculum.
Allow them to accumulate points for it, encouraging them to put in the work.
If they excel, you’ll have successfully ingrained them with new perspectives. If they don’t, you’ll know what changes you need to ensure diversity of thought.
Guest speakers who share diverse experiences will allow students to reflect on their own cultures, understand the content better, and stimulate critical thinking.
Welcoming other voices in the classroom can add variety to your lessons. Giving students access to other perspectives that capture their interest and attention will enhance and complement their education.
Interactive and collaborative learning can help students understand and appreciate diverse viewpoints. So, instead of taking the traditional route in teaching, bring hands-on learning experiences to your curriculum by holding culture-specific workshops.
This will open doors for minorities and the issues they face, allowing their friends to see the world differently and breed an environment where everyone feels seen and heard.
Cultural Competence Training
If you want to ensure your students can understand and respond well to cultural differences and gain the skills to work with people across cultures, add cultural competence training as an instruction method in your lesson plan. It will encourage self-awareness and address biases that they unknowingly carry around.
You can do this by introducing books and documentaries that truly represent a culture.
Field Trips and Cultural Experiences
Learning doesn’t have to be limited to the four walls of your classroom.
Embarking on cultural field trips and experiences—such as going to the theater, embarking on multicultural walking tours, and visiting the museum—can be enriching experiences that broaden your students’ worldview. Not just that, it can also contribute to improved student performance according to an experimental evaluation.
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As an English language teacher, there are a lot of things you need to focus on such as gaining hard and soft teaching skills, getting the right credentials, finding legitimate jobs, and connecting with your students.
But since you’ll be working with students from different backgrounds, fostering a culturally aware classroom that welcomes diversity is also an important skill to learn. With these tips, you can re-evaluate your lessons and teaching methodologies to match the needs of different learners.
At the end of the day, our cultural identities influence how we learn. Acknowledging and respecting them in the classroom will make learning more inclusive and effective. It will also help students become great ambassadors for the groups that they represent.
Thanks for stopping by my blog. I hope you find what you are looking for and return for more.
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