By Giselle Dash
Special to CSMS MagazineCulture is a basic part of every individual’s upbringing. It’s not only embedded in our society but is also an integral part of our home life. After all, culture begins with family. Culture is a group endeavor and therefore, whenever there are groups, dominant culture becomes significant. A child’s first learning starts within the home. All the traditions, norms and values within the home re informally passed on and this type of grooming is important as it is the primary factor that shapes the child into the unique individual that he or she will become, with respect to the family ties. However, as the child makes his first entrance into the community and school, which is usually the second group to be introduced into his or her life, he or she quickly realizes that although there are basic norms to everyone, individuals may differ based on several factors, such as ethnicity or location. The idea that the same skill can be acquired in a different way could easily embarrass one and potentially amuse another.Although the United States has a cross section of cultures, the American culture (white male Anglo-Saxon) has continued to be dominant, and has practically shaped the behavior of every individual who has made the United States their home. ESOL students are therefore left with little or no option most of the time, except to adapt to a lot of the traditions as being practiced by the United States.Although there is a level of freedom as to what an individual does and no one is forced to comply with another culture, an ESOL student might be faced with not trying to adapt to certain traditions at school or to stand out as being completely different. One very outstanding factor that could be noticeable and also a hindrance to ESOL students is understanding the language at school, and in the community. At home, everything is fine as everyone communicates in the same way silently or verbally. However, in the community and at school there may be different codes, and definitely in the classroom the dominant culture will be the master. ESOL students could find themselves left behind if they refuse to adapt or comply with this behavioral norm. Being an ESOL student means that the dominant culture of the environment in which you have been placed will far outweigh the home cultural habits. The dominant culture will have to take precedence to an extent so as to make the student comfortable. Sometimes, being suddenly thrust into the culture of the community there is a lot of discomfort, but most of the times the alternative might mean losing out on some desired or well sought goal.ESOL students are therefore faced with the challenge of acquiring the concepts as related to the knowledge needed, so that they can effectively function within the particular environment that they happen to be a part of at any given time—whether it be verbal or nonverbal communication, structure of conversation, interactive methods or acquired skills, as this is going to be the required passport to success. Lustic & Koester (2006) rightly postulates:Knowledge refers to the cognitive information needed about the people, the context, and the norms of appropriateness that operate in a specific culture. Without such knowledge, correct interpretations of the meanings of other people’s messages, are unlikely; nor is it likely that a person that a person may be able to select behaviors that are appropriate and effective. The kinds of knowledge that are important include culture-general and culture-specific information (p. 79).They are absolutely right, because knowledge is power.
Lustic, M. W. & Koester, J. (2006). Among Us: Essays on IdentityBelonging and Intercultural Competence. Pearson Education, Inc. Boston MA.Also see What we need to teach our ESOL students about Nonverbal communicationNote: Giselle Dash is a multicultural specialist who lives in Alexandria, Virginia. She wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine.