3 Important Problems Facing Students of Different Nationalities
Nowadays we live in a multicultural world and interact with people from different cultures, of different races, nationalities, and religion. More and more people look for employment or acquire education abroad, co-operate with their foreign partners and colleagues which motivates them to learn English as an international communication tool. That is why teachers should be aware of potential problems that students might face depending on their cultural and educational background as not taking into account this important factor might affect a whole studying process.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Julia G.
Problems common to all nationalities
On the one hand, most foreign language learners face similar problems. Learning foreign languages is itself quite challenging. There are many factors that make learning so complicated: misunderstanding grammar, difficult spelling, issues with pronunciation, etc. If that is a group of adults, they also might have some bad previous experience of learning languages which is not a contributing factor affecting your students. Another problem some students might face is self-doubt and lack of confidence in their intellectual abilities. But as long as all of these problems are common there are a lot of materials and information we might find on how to deal with them. Besides, most textbooks are designed to help learners to overcome all the possible obstacles. Nevertheless, there are other factors that teachers need to take into consideration, for instance, students’ native languages and cultural background.
Problems associated with cultural background
Students’ cultural background together with the peculiarities and structure of their native language are the basic things we need to keep in mind. For instance, British and American people use polite words ‘sorry’, ‘please’, ‘excuse me’ much more often than speakers of some of the Slavic languages that’s why it’s essential for a teacher to explain it to his/her students for them to sound polite and not to avoid cultural misunderstandings. An interesting feature of English language which some foreigners find strange is a big number of weather words as British love to talk about the weather. Another important nuance is greetings in English. Some people from other cultures can’t understand why ‘How are you?’ is a greeting but not a question and can’t pick an appropriate answer. Therefore, students should be aware of these cultural differences to be prepared for successful communication.
Pronunciation problems vary across nationalities
As for the native language of learners we also need to consider what language family it belongs to, its structure, pronunciation and vocabulary. Considering pronunciation problems we can see that English learners face very different issues depending on how different their native language sounds. Teaching a group of Italians we would have to pay more attention to the sound /l/ as it’s particularly soft in Italian which affects the way they pronounce it in English. Similarly, students from Russia, Belarus or Ukraine have difficulties with the sound /r/ because of the peculiarities of the way native speakers create it. On the other hand, from my own experience I can say that students from Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands known for the highest proficiency of English as a second language have a very decent pronunciation. We can assume that one of the factors making language acquisition easier for these people is the fact that their native languages belong to the West and North Germanic languages share a great deal of similarity with English language.
Problems with vocabulary and syntax
Vocabulary acquisition likewise depends greatly on the origin of learners’ native language. For instance, English adjective ‘cold’ is translated into Norwegian and German as ‘kalt’ but in Spanish it sounds completely different, it’s ‘fria’. Another issue students normally face is fixed word order in English language. Many languages exhibit flexible word order and that’s why it’s challenging for students to get used to it. But if students’ aim is to reach a high level of fluency the usage of direct word order is essential.
In conclusion, I want to point out that cultural background and learners’ native languages are very important factors that should not be ignored. A teacher should consider not only the traditions and customs of students he/she teaches but also the peculiarities of students’ native language as it can make language acquisition much more effective.
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