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Cultural Features in an ESL Classroom in the UAE

Cultural Features in an ESL Classroom in the UAE | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Coming from the UK and only working with British students, when I arrived in the UAE which is an Arab country following a strong Islamic faith, most of my new work colleagues and students were Arabs and followers of Islam. The last six years of working in the UAE have taught me a valuable lesson about why cultural sensitivity is so important, especially when working with the future generation of a nation, not only am I building rapport as a teacher, but also as a representative of my own country.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Chloe M.

Learning Environment

Respecting both the culture and faith of your students is the foundations of building a successful learning environment, where the students respect their teacher and feel comfortable in class. Students who feel uncomfortable or potentially offended by their teacher or lesson content will be unable to learn to their full potential.

For example, what a teacher wears to their lessons must not only be practical for the subject they are teaching but also appropriate for whom they are teaching and the country they are in. Many cultures have different customs and traditions, knowing and understanding what is appropriate for the culture you’re in will help you in the introduction stages, reading up on this before you enter a new country is essential. Traditionally in the Arab culture, especially those following the Islamic faith, it’s respectful to have your arms and legs covered at all time in a professional environment.

Working as a PE teacher I understand that sports clothes that would show my legs i.e. shorts, or tops that show my shoulders i.e. vest tops, would be unacceptable and would make some students feel very uncomfortable or distracted from learning. Therefore, I know that loosely fitted jogging bottoms and long sleeves sports tops are the most appropriate to wear, both for my job role and for cultural sensitivity.

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Lesson Content

Culture sensitively also needs to be applied to lesson content, when showing videos or pictures to demonstrate skills and to aid further understanding, the teacher must ensure that these materials do not contain anything that might be deemed inappropriate or offensive to the students they are teaching. It’s also important to remember what you might not find inappropriate or offensive, might be for others of a different culture. If you take coaching volleyball as an example, with our current focus being on the Olympics, you would not use beach volleyball videos for skill examples based on the limited amount of clothing worn by the players. Using examples from the same gender as being taught is also strongly advisable, as in the local culture does not encourage males and females to play a sport in a mixed environment beyond a certain age.

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Appropriate questions

These are only some examples very specific to teaching sports in schools in the UAE, in general, classroom settings it can be impolite to ask individuals personal questions about their families or lives during the introduction stages. Therefore, during your first lessons with students its important to be mindful of this when playing ‘getting to know each other’ games. Questions about a student’s favorite subject, sport, video game, movie, etc work best. Once the teacher has built rapport with their class, and the students have become comfortable and begin to ask these family related and personal questions to you, is a good indication of when it would be deemed appropriate for you to ask these kinds of questions.

Also Read: Great Ideas for Teaching Listening Skills in the ESL Classroom

Will you consider UAE as a destination to start your teaching career?

In summary, culture sensitivity plays a vital role in a teacher’s day to day life, and especially in the early stages of building rapport with a new group of students. It will affect the way you teach, the materials you use and how you present yourself. A successful teacher will make sure they understand the needs of the students they are teaching, to ensure they do all that they can to help their students reach their full potential.

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