TSLP 833: Intercultural Communication

"Culture Cap" Classroom Observations

Our goal was to wear our "Culture Caps" (to assume the role of careful culture observers) while observing several hours in a multicultural classroom with learners of English. Then we each wrote brief summarie, including a description of the class observed, a highlight/insight or two, and some cultural hypotheses that came from the observation and analysis. For a complete description of our assignment, please see our syllabus.


Julia Leaphart Observation of an Adult ESL at Technical Institute
Masanori Nakamura Observation of an Undergraduate Information Science Class at a University
May Hsiang
Observation of a Level III Intermediate Reading at University ESL Program
Frances Parker Observation of a High School ESL Class for Students with Interrupted Education
Angela Wofford Observation of a Level IV ESL Reading in University ESL Program
Katrien Vanassche
Observation of an Adult ESL Class at aTechnical Institute
Carina J. Rock
Observation of a Level V Reading class in a University ESL Program
Jill A. Burns
Observation of a Kindergarten/ESL Classroom in an Urban Public School
Kelly Joy Garman
Observation of an ESL Tutorial Program at Strip Mall
Dean Williams:
Observation of an ESL Afternoon/Evening Tutorial for Children/Young Adults
Tammy Dobrzynski
Observation of an Intermediate Reading Class at a University ESL Program
Jesse Hayden
Observation of an Intermediate ESL Adult Conversation Class.
Masako Hiraki
Observation of a Level III Reading Class in a University ESL Program
Tonna J. Harris Observation of a Level IV Reading Class in a University ESL Program

Julia Leaphart: Observation of an Adult ESL Class at a Technical Institute

I observed an adult ESL class at a Technical Institute, where I also teach part time. The class meets from 9 to 1, every weekday. I observed in two sessions for 1 and a half hours each. The class was evenly divided between Somalis and Vietnamese, with a few Bosnians, Iraqi Kurds and two Indians. I was not able to observe my target culture (India) specifically as there tend to be few Indians in adult education, most Indians tend to speak English quite well. There were approxiametely 25 people in the class, although this varies from day to day. The class was a level 2, so it was quite a low level, but a bit higher than beginners.
The first thing that struck me, and also as I was soon to find out from teaching, was that there is a very high level of interaction amongst the students, in other words they did not seemed to be carrying on their own conversations a lot of the time. This is especially true of the Somalis who seem to be a very vocal, and cheerful bunch. My cultural hypothesis on this would be that they come from a primarily oral background, with a great storytelling tradition, and they have had little contact with the written word. Thus every little event seems to make for a long conversation. They also have had little formal education, and so the concept of reading and writing seems to be an alien one. This is proving to be problematic for the programme as a whole, as the teachers there are finding out, because most of the Somalian woman never develop their reading and writing skills, and so never get out of the beginning levels.

The Vietnamese for some reason struck me as an easier group to teach, especially for the purposes of the programme, which emphasizes reading and writing in the lower levels, so that the students will be able to get a job, and fill out an application form. They typically find reading and writing much easier, and catch on to problem solving activities much quicker. However, they are not as visual as the Somalis, who have a very developed memory, and can soom develop good conversational skills. I think a lot of the Vietnamese have had some formal education, and very diligent in taking notes and referring to their electronic dictionaries. On the whole there is minimal interaction between different nationalities, most people stick with there own people, the one Indian girl in the class stuck to herself, since there was noone else who could speak her language, except another man who she probably did not know. Another thing I noticed is the importance of the age differential. Age makes a tremendous difference, I hypothesize, in second language acquistion. The younger ones catch on so much quicker, and also tended to be the most prepared. They are the most eager to adapt, and make a go of it. For the older ones writing and speaking is still a painfully slow process. I think the pressure on them to become literate in English should be reduced, and conversational ability should be introduced instead, after all, alot of them have no intention of working. I don't think it is benefitting them, and it is preventing other people who have to take this programme before they can find work, from getting in.( there is a long waiting list)

Being able to observe a class enables you to notice a lot of things one would not ordinarily notice. I notice how everyone, despite all the non English talk going on, seems so motivated and desirous to learn. They all seem to have grasped the reality that they need English to survive, and are very anxious to learn. Most of them are refugees and come from very traumatic backgrounds, many of them have left family behind, and have lost loved ones, but there seems no evidence of this in the class, everyone is happy and smiling. How different from our culture of victimisation and self absorption, our superficial problems which we solve through "therapy" and anti depressants just fade into the insignificant hole from which they came from.

Masanori Nakamura: Observation of an Undergraduate Information Science Class at an Urban University

The classroom which I observed was an undergraduate class in Computer Information Science. There were 26-32 students in a big classroom. The reason why the number of the students varied was that some students came late and others left early. There were five international students: one from India, two from Korea, one from China, and one from Thailand. The atmosphere of this class was quite different from our TSLP 833. It was noisy.

My informant from Thailand took a seat on the center of fourth row out of five rows of seat. Most of the time, he sat through the lecture and took notes. He rarely talked to his neighbors or spoke up to his professor while the others did often. However, when the professor had trouble with computer programming, my informant gave the solution in a low voice, which the professor did not hear. Next, he spoke up to his professor. After that, he became quite and passive. He continued to take notes, again.

One thing which I had expected him to do was "nod", which seems to me common to people in Asia, but he did not nod so often as I had expected. My hypothesis of this is that....1) The Thai culture does not require her people to nod a lot like the Japanese. 2) He learnt and got used to not nodding often in the U.S.

May Hsiang: Observation of a Level III Intermediate Reading Class in a University ESL Program

The class I observed was the Level III Intermediate Reading class at an urban state university.
The class is taught by an American male from Mid-West.
The students in the class are from: Syria (1) - female, Korea (1) - female, Japan (2) - male and female, Hong Kong (1) - male, Ivory Coast (1) - female, Ethiopia (1) - female, Mongolia (1) - female, Pakistan (1) - male, Somalia(1) - male, Ukraine (2) - male, Russia (1) - male, Taiwan (1) - male, and Uzbekistan (1) - male. I wonder if a class could get any more multcultural than this?!?!

The lesson began with the teacher inquiring if all the students had gotten their e-mail accounts. He repeatedly stressed the importance of getting one as soon as possible as they will soon have an assignment that requires them to use their e-mail accounts. The teacher asked those who have one now to put it on the board if they haven't done so in the last class. The Korean girl and the Pakistan boy who had just received theirs put their e-mail addresses on the board. The girl from Hong Kong chose to give it to the teacher on a 3 by 5 index card. The teacher later put her e-mail address on the board when the class was working on an exercise. He encourages the students to communicate with each other via e-mail.

Once the e-mail business was taken care of, some of the students asked about their tests which they took the week before. The teacher reassured them that he would hand them out at the end of class with plenty of time for them to look it over. The first activity required the students to work in pairs. The teacher allowed the students to choose their own partners. The exercise involved topics of cultural shock and adjustment. I was interested in seeing how the pairs were formed. My assumption was that students would more likely to work with people next to them. This would mean that they would work with people of or close to their culture since they were already sitting that way. My assumption was pretty much right with the exception of some students from Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Of the four male students from the former Soviet Republic, three of them ended up together in one group as there are 13 students in the class. These three students did not have partners right away like the rest of the class and the teacher had to ask them to be together. However, it did not seem like they disliked the idea of working with each other. On the other hand, it almost seemed like they didn't choose to work with other people on purpose just so that they could end up together. The majority of the pairs were in the same sex. Only one group had a boy and a girl working together (male from Taiwan and female from Hong Kong). While the students worked together, the teacher walked around the classroom to make sure there was progress in their work and to answer any questions they might have. This is when I did most of my observation. I decided to focus my attention on the three males from the former Soviet Republic states as they appeared to be the most interesting. One of the guy from Ukraine appeared to be the leader not only of the class earlier, but of the group as well. He is very vocal and speaks with lots of hand gestures. He also gave me the impression of being the class clown. While the other groups of students spoke in English to work on their activity, these three students spoke in Russian. It also didn't seem like they were really working on the assignment either. They appeared to be conversing about other things that seemed to be very funny as they laughed a lot throughout the exercise. One of the Ukrainian kept looking over his shoulder to see what the group next to them is doing. Was he trying to copy answers? I don't know for sure. This group also sat very far away from the rest of the class. I don't know if the segregation is so that the teacher doesn't hear them conversing in Russian or if it's for some other reason. They appeared to do their exercise alone as they conversed about other things rather than discussing together.

Once they finished working in groups, the teacher asked the students to share their answers. The class clown immediately responded by saying: "Cheating!" The teacher commented by saying that this is not cheating. This is a very animated and close group of students. They were joking and teasing with each other at the beginning of the class. However, during this period, only the males voluntereed to share their answers. The teacher had to aske the females to share their answers. Even then, they were kind of reluctant to talk. Throughout the discussion, the three Russians kept taking amongst themselves and the teacher keeps having to ask them to be quiet.

For the last portion of the class, the teacher handed back the exams. There were groans and exclaims. The class mingled and shared their grades and answers with eacher other very openly with the exception of the Korean and the Mongolian girls. As the class mingled with each other, the three Russians kept going up to the teacher to ask for more points on certain problems. Only one other Pakistani student had done the same.

After observing this class, I don't know if it's safe to simply conclude that Russians are likely to segregate themselves and are often disrruptive in class since there was one boy from Ukraine who was very quiet throughout the class and did not mingle with the other Russians. However, I think it's safe to say that these students have been in the U.S. long enough to criticize different cultures and accept each other's cultures for what they are. (This came through in the classroom discussion about cultural adjustment and cultural shock.) I think it's very important to note that as teacher, we need to be aware that there are individual differences even within students of the same culture. And it is very important not to walk into the classroom with preconceived notions of how students from a particular culture is supposed to behave.

Frances Parker: Observation of a High School ESL Class for Students with Interrupted Education

The class I observed is an ESL class at a metro High School which meets in a satellite trailer. The class consists of 9 Somali girls (2 of whom were absent on the day I observed), 2 Eritrean boys, and one Bosnian girl, all of them between the ages of 14 and 17. The first thing I noticed about the students was their clothing. Whereas the boys and the Bosnian girl wore generic high school outfits, the Somali girls dressed in some version of traditional Somali feminine clothing, along with American elements like an NFL jacket. One initial hypothesis was that the students who dressed in a more "Western" way would behave more like American high school students, while the more "traditionally" dressed ones would behave more , well, "traditionally", more like students in their home country. Another was that students would have strong identification with members of their own ethnic or cultural group and would support one another in a "collectivist" style of learning, rather than competing with each other.

When I entered the classroom,it was noisy and active; one of the aides was asking the students what country they lived in, and students were shouting answers out right and left in English, repeating themselves again and again,("America!" "Georgia!" "North America!") while the aide kept saying, "No, no," and trying to elicit an answer in the form he was expecting--"The United States of America." Elements of this interaction were repeated again and again during the time I observed the class--the students really seemed to want to use English, any English they knew, to communicate, while the teacher would try to focus on form; students were eager to get the right answer, or to get it first; they were very interested in saying things which had a direct bearing on their lives and situations.

The math lesson commanded alot of energy; some students, like S1, shouted out the right answer in English before the teacher had time to write the problem on the board, and volunteered loudly to do the next problem, and acted very competitive. Others helped each other with doing problems; even if only one student had been assigned a problem, a group of three or four would gather around her and discuss it, make suggestions, or even take the chalk and explain what she was doing wrong. They showed both charactericstics of communalist societies (helping each other out, prompting), alongside characteristics of individualist societies (strong emphasis on competition).

Contrary to my initial expectations,it was the more "traditionally" dressed S1 who behaved competitively (shouting "#7 me, teacher!") while S2 showed more of a desire to work with other students as part of a group. Part of this may have been due to their relative command of English: S1 would constantly throw in English phrases she knew, to the teacher ("Time for math!") and to other students (while standing in line at the blackboard,"wait!" and "Its' wrong!"), while S2 used very little English and seemed to understand the teacher's gestures and nonverbal communication more than her words. S1 also behaved more aggresivley and forthrightly toward other students and the teacher.

Conclusion: Many of the students in this class had lived in refugee camps,where they recieved no formal education, for five or six years before coming to the United States. Since they arrived in the U.S., however, their families have invested heavily in education as the path to success. According to the teacher, one girl who didn't know the alphabet when she started the class has since learned to read thanks to tutoring from her brother and sister. The two boys, brothers, had been schooled at home by their mother.The teacher herself has a background in elementary education, and indeed some aspects of the class interaction resembled an elementary school gifted class rather than a roomful of blase American high school students. Perhaps in the absence of a strong classroom tradition in their native cultures, their classroom behavior is influenced more by the expectations of others around them or by some other schema for group interaction with adults and with people their own age, such as the family.

Katrien Vanassche: Observation of an Adult ESL Class at a Technical Institute

Introduction I've observed a beginning level adult ESL class a total of two times for five hours at a Technical Institute. This class meets every day from 9:00-13:00. In Beginning 2, the class I observed, students already had a basic knowledge of English; they could understand and produce simple questions and statements. This class of forty-one students was a very mixed group; some people were relatively new arrivals who desperately needed some basic survival skills, others had been in the United States for over twenty years but had never felt the need or desire to learn English until this time. Fifty percent of students were of Asian descent - Korean, Chinese, Japanese - about 25% were Latin and South American, mainly Mexican, and the remaining 25% were French or from the former Soviet-Union. Some came to the United States with the intention to stay permanently, others were planning to go back to their home countries. There was also a great diversity in ages ranging from 18 years old to 68 years old. Although these students came from very different backgrounds, spoke different native languages, and had different purposes for learning English, they all came to class with one intention, which is to learn English.

The following is a description of 1,5 hours of class.


As the teacher and I entered the classroom, the first thing I noticed was that the students were all quietly waiting for the teacher to come in and start class. The teacher introduced me and told the students to practice their interview techniques and ask me some questions. The students were genuinely interested and asked questions such as: Where do you come from? Why are you in the United States? Do you have a family? What are your hobbies? When there were no more questions, I retired to a bench in the back of the classroom.

The teacher began the class with some small talk, commenting on the weather, and on some news headlines while introducing new vocabulary. I noticed that all students were listening attentively, but that only a few were brave enough to participate actively. Initially, I thought I would just observe and see what emerged, but after 10 minutes I decided it would be more useful to observe the verbal and non-verbal behaviors of just two students. I picked two people with apparently opposite personalities as the objects of my observation: an enthusiastic woman from Ukraine in her fifties (hereafter S1) and a quiet Vietnamese young adult (hereafter S2).

Next, the teacher started reviewing the past tense and the use of adverbs and/or adverbials with the past tense. Neither S1 nor S2 asked or answered any questions. S1 discussed something with her neighbor, judging from their facial expressions and gestures, probably in their native language. S2 listened attentively, looked at the teacher and took notes. This review took about ten minutes.

Next the teacher introduced a game in which the present tense and past tense were practiced. She broke the class in groups of five students, and students started working. The teacher asked me to circulate and listen in too. First, I listened in on the group of which S1 was a member.

As I had expected, S1 took a leadership role and directed the other students. It's amazing how some people who have such limited knowledge of the language can still be very forceful. Her non-verbal behavior - gestures, facial expressions, the tone and volume of her voice - left no doubt as to who the leader of the group was. Although her English skills were limited, she didn't seem to suffer from any language ego effects(Brown, 1994). She was the prototype of a good language learner (Brown, 1994): a risk taker and not afraid to make mistakes. Unfortunately, she sometimes interrupted other students and did not listen very well to what others had to say.

I had a feeling that S2 was comfortable in his group. Although he was not the most talkative student, he participated whenever he had a chance. It was very hard for him to express what he really wanted to say, but he was determined to get his message across. Unlike S1, he did not interrupt other students while they were speaking; on the contrary, he listened attentively to what they had to say. His facial expression was one of intense concentration; I could almost see him thinking. His whole demeanor was that of a very motivated person, anxious to learn English as fast as he could.

When the group work was finished, it was time for a break.

Cultural Hypotheses

1)Especially at the beginning level, there is a danger that ESL teachers treat ESL students as if they were children. Although this is probably a natural reaction, ESL teachers should realize that these people are not what they speak. 2)Teaching ESL students must be the most rewarding job on earth. All students in class, regardless of their background, were very motivated to learn English. This is a wonderful position for a teacher to be in.

Angela Wofford: Observation of a Level IV ESL Reading in University ESL program

I chose to observe a level four reading class at GSU. This class was mostly Asian and mostly male. The majority of the students were Vietnamese. I chose to concentrate on the Vietnamese population in the class. Some of them were obviously American high school graduates while others exhibited what I would have expected from recent arrivals. This fact was borne out in their student information sheets. In this observation I would like to share what I observed in the different behavior of the two groups.

The students I determined were more recent arrivals were very respectful in their listening to the teacher;however, they asked no questions the several times I observed. Many times they clarified what the teacher had said by communicating in Vietnamese rather than asking the teacher to explain. While their recurrent smiles indicated their possible openness and friendliness, they sat at the back of the room even though their listening might improve if they sat closer to the front. They depended a lot on dictionaries to do class work and seemed very anxious about their performance in class especially when called on to answer individually for the rest of the class.

Some of these recent arrivals had a strategy for dealing with answering in this way. After the teacher had given them a comprehension check, she asked students to share their answers. When one Vietnamese girl was called on to give her answer, she had memorized her response. I realized it was memorized because when the teacher asked her to say it again and louder (both the male and female students were very soft-spoken), the student said the very same thing, even though it was several sentences, without looking at her paper.

The more recent arrivals dealt with regular routines differently. For instance, they handed a paper to the teacher with two hands instead of one. Also, when the teacher passed a stack of papers around for everyone to take one, one Vietnamese boy took the stack and passed out the papers to the people in his area. He also took copies for students who had not arrived yet. He did this several times so I hypothesized that he might be doing this because of the collectivist attitude in his previous educational experience.

The Vietnamese students who graduated from American high schools exhibited behavior similar to American high school students; however, they were more respectful than the average American high school student. When corrected for being too talkative or making less than appropriate comments, they responedd positively, apologized, etc. I think this comes from the fact that no matter how much they've acculturated to the American educational system, they still have that high regard for their teachers that has been instilled in them by their native culture.

Even though they seem and want to appear to be very American in their attitude toward their studies, many reactions in the class revealed to me their Vietnamese roots. For example, at one point in a lecture, the teacher said, "Let's talk about what XXXX said." The student looked at the rest of the class when the teacher's back was turned and mimed, "Why did she say my name? What did I do?" Besides learning from his former American classmates how to be "cute" about a situation like this, I think he is showing his Vietnamese culture by not wanting to be singled out by the teacher. His identity is more group oriented. In fact, both groups demonstrated a preference in their learning style for group work as opposed to individual work.

In conclusion, while all the Vietnamese students seemed to get along, those with similar experiences seemed to stay together. The American high school graduates sat toward the front but at the sides of the room even though there were more seats at the back of the room. They spoke Vietnamese to each other for conversation but not to clarify what the teacher said. Their demeanor was very American. Even with all the Americanisms they've learned, they still exhibit Vietnamese traits.

Carina J. Rock: Observation of a Level V Reading class in a University ESL Program.

The instructor was one of the graduate students from the department. She is an American. The thirteen students came from a range of backgrounds. There were no students from my target culture group--the Republic of Georgia, but there were three students from the former Soviet states including one from Moscow and two from Uzbekistan.

I decided to focus on the students interaction with each other and with their instructor. I was surprised and pleased to notice how well they all seemed to get along. From the moment I walked into their classroom they were teasing each other and laughing. Not just with people from their own cultural background. In fact I expected to see the students from Vietnam sitting with the students from Vietnam, and the students from the former Soviet states sitting together but that didn't turn out to be the case. There seemed to be no particular order to the seating arrangements. The students visited with everyone in the class, both the students next to them and the students who sat across the room. As a result the language of choice was English. It was clear that these students felt very comfortable with each other. Their comfort with their instructor was also apparent in the way they joked with her when she announced that they would have a substitute comming in for the next class. They were very curious about what she was going to be doing instead of being in class with them. Another surprise I had was how comfortable they were with me. It was apparent they had gotten used to observers sitting in their classroom because they did not seem at all shy in my presence.

The classroom was a very vocal one. While the instructor explained ideas and principles the students freely spoke and asked questions. I have to say that it was the males in the class who seemed most comfortable speaking up. Especially the males from the former Soviet states. The girls interacted much more when the instructor assigned small group activities. For example, the students were asked to design a transparency of notes for the rest of the class to learn from. In each group where there was a female she invariably became the one who drew the transparency and when they were asked to present it to the class the girls were chosen as the presenters. In fact the guys in the class seemed to be teasing the girls about their shyness by volunteering them for this task.

When the teacher passed back a test they had taken the previous week the class continued to be very vocal--this time in their disappointment. There were a number of groans. But again they acted as a community as they seemed to be sharing their disappointment with each other. Going over the test they worked together and with the teacher to understand the questions that had posed a problem.

I was also interested to notice that the students did not seem uncomfortable addressing questions on the test that included sexual and reproductive issues. The guys in the class spoke up readily when they came to questions involving menstration and menopause.

During one session the students were taken to join another ESL classroom where they were to listen to a panel of speakers. The atmosphere cooled considerably. The vocal comments and the teasing stopped. There was almost no participation on the part of either ESL class. When they were asked to participate a few did, but with much more restraint. The most vocal of the students from the class I visited rather cautiously raised his hand and asked one question.

Tonna J. Harris: Level IV Reading in Higher Education Program

I observed a Level 4 Reading class at an urban university, which meets MWF from 12:30-2:00. The teacher is in the university's Applied Linguistics/ESL graduate program, was very gracious about my visiting her class, and also provided me with some background information and insight into the students' lives. The class composition is as follows: 7 Vietnamese males, 3 Vietnamese females, 2 Chinese females (1 Taiwanese), 1 Chinese male, 1 Japanese male and 1 Turkish male. I mention the gender of each student because I am interested in how gender roles as well as cultural roles play out in the classroom.

Before I observed the class I talked with the teacher a little about her students. I asked her which students excelled on tests and in overall performance. She told me that the Turkish male, "Sarif," and the Taiwanese female, "Rae," (not their real names) both made excellent grades and seeemed to be the most advanced with their English acquisition. I chose to focus my attention on these two. (Note: I am writing my P.E. on the German culture and unfortunately there were no German students in this classroom. However, Serif has lived and studied in Germany, where he received a "Diplom" in Business. I felt sure he would have adopted some of the German manners of interaction.)

In every class I have ever been in, taught, or observed there have always been one or two students who serve as leaders. In my ESL teaching experience this leader is often Western and/or male. I hypothesized that of the two strongest students in the Reading class I would observe, Serif would be more likely to dominate and lead than Rae would. This proved to be the case.

The classes that I observed were quite interesting. The teacher worked diligently to keep the students' attention and to make the class lively and fun. The students reacted well to her, and seemed genuinely fond of her. While this is a reading class, students are encouraged to integrate all skills, i.e., reading, writing, speaking and listening. During classroom discussions, the teacher was careful not to dominate the conversation herself, but patiently waited for students to speak and practice their oral communication skills. She seemed quite comfortable with moments of silence (proof of her experience!), allowing students to reflect and respond to her prompts and questions when they were ready.

One classroom activity that I was able to observe went as follows: The students had been working on reading skills/strategies, and had been practicing taking reading notes. In class, the teacher put students in small groups of three and asked them to compare their reading notes from the previous reading assignment. Each group was to come up with a composite system for note taking. Groups used transparencies to show how they organized notes, used charts or diagrams, etc. When each group was finished the teacher asked for a volunteer to present to the whole class what his/her group had done. No one said anything at first, and then after several seconds, Serif said "I'll do it." I was impressed by the way he led, but not after hesitating to give other students the opportunity to go first. He took his presentation very seriously and seemed to set the standard for the groups which followed. In fact, he did such a good job that the other students clapped for him afterwards.

In other situations of class interaction, Serif often took the lead, but always proceeded after a few moments of politely waiting and giving his classmates the chance to respond first. His classmate, Rae, who demonstrated confidence and a good command of English, would only speak when directly called upon by the teacher. I found out that she had only been in the States for a little less than a year and was probably not used to the American way of expressing opinion and boldly speaking up. She therefore exhibited what we consider to be the more "feminine" and Asian form of classroom behavior. Serif, whose native country is situated both in the East and West, seemed to have reconciled some of the apparently contradictory ways of behavior.

Jill A. Burns: Kindergarten/ESL Classroom

For my classroom observation, I varied from the type of classroom most of us have experience with, and chose to observe a mulitcultural kindergarten class.

I spent the morning observing this class at Woodward Elementary School near Buford Highway.

Of the 28 children in the class, 20 were Hispanic, 1 was Vietnamese, 1 was Russian, 1 was Chinese, 1 was Italian, and 4 were African American. Through speaking with the teacher, I learned that aside from the 4 African Americans in the class, most of the children did not know any English at the beginning of the school year. The children speak their native tongues at home, and until this point, have not yet had an opportunity to learn or use English. I was informed that many of the children's parents do not speak English, and therefore have a difficult time helping their children learn, and meeting with the teacher.

I went in not knowing what to expect with children of this age, and therefore did not have a particular focus in mind. After observing, however, I was able to draw many similarities to experiences I have had in Adult ESL classes.

The first observation I made was that the children who were from the same cultural background, or who spoke the same language sat next to each other during the morning exercises. This familiar, "something in common" bond is also seen among adult students. There was one student in particular, who was Latina, and had joined the class 2 weeks ago. She clearly made it a point to situate herself next to 2 other Latina girls.

When the children sat at their assigned tables, I paid close attention to see if the Spanish speakers spoke with each other in Spanish or in English. I was very surprised to see that the language of choice at most tables was English. I focused on 2 students in particular when listening for Spanish or English. One was D---, who is, as I was told by the teacher,a very bright student who is learning English faster than most of the other children. The other was A---, who joined the class at the beginning of the year, but then left for 2 months to go back to Mexico. His English was understandable, but not at the level of the other children. While working on a coloring activity that needed to be cut out and pasted, Angel asked Diego in English what he was supposed to do with the tie when he was done. D--- replied in English. A--- didn't understand the answer, and asked again in English. D--- responded a second time in English. A--- understood the second time.

After speaking with the teacher, I learned that the children spoke a lot of Spanish at the beginning of the year, but now clearly prefer to speak to each other in English. Spanish is used by other children, and the teacher, only when it is clear that someone is not catching on to an activity or a word. Because this school has such a large Latin population, the morning excercises were done in both Spanish and English. In my experience with adults, I find that adults tend to help each other out much more in their native tongues.

A hypothesis I went into this classroom with was that children of this age are not shy and will yell out anything they wanted to. I was surprised to see, however, that the children whose English skills were the weakest, didn't raise their hands, and didn't want to answer when the teacher called on them. With these students, the teacher usually asked the questions in Spanish.

Group work was used often in this class, and I did not notice anything particularly interesting in the way the children all worked together. In the group with D---- and Angel, I did notice that if I asked Angel something that he did not understand, D---- would be the one to tell me that Angel didn't understand.

I asked one of the Latino boys what his name was. He told me it was A----l G----. One of the African American girls next to him told me, "I always tell him he doesn't need to say his last name when people ask, but he doesn't listen to me." C----, another Latina sitting at the table explained to me and F---- that where they are from people have two names and this is why A---- answers as he does. She wanted to be sure we knew that he wasn't making a mistake.

These children were very eager to learn new letters and words in English. In addition to learning English, they are also fortunate to be learning about diverse cultures at such a young age.

Kelly Garmon: ESL Class in a Private Learning Center

Date of Observations: Feb. 4, 1997 and Feb. 7, 1997

Time: 7:00-8:30 PM

The center is located in a shopping strip off a main road, in a neighborhood heavily populated by hispanics. Inside the building is a long hallway with many rooms alongside. The ESL classes are held in only two of the rooms, which are partitioned in order to create a total of four learning quarters. In each of the quarters is a long table shared by two groups of students. Each group consists of about four or five students and a teacher.

The purpose of the Learning Center is to teach survival English to refugees using individualized instruction. Each student is placed in a group of one of the five levels offered, where they can work at their own pace. One disadvantage is that the students do not have their own books, due to funding. In order to practice the lessons at home, the students must always copy everything onto paper. However, the students seem eager to learn and not to mind it too much.

My observation was of a second-level beginning English class, consisting of two Mexicans and two Colombians. The focus of the first lesson was on illness and body parts. Consequently, the second lesson covered making appointments at the doctor and insurance cards. Both lessons involved vocabulary identification from pictures, reading comprehension, dialogue, and role playing. The teacher constantly had to call on the students to participate. They all seemed too shy about speaking English. A few times, the students would interact with one another in Spanish, which the teacher had to stop. The two Mexicans seeemed a bit behind in vocabulary and pronunciation in comparison to the two Colombians. In addition, the Colombians were constantly taking notes on new vocabulary to practice at home, while the Mexicans did not take personal notes. The Colombians dominated the conversations. After class, It became known that the Colombians were both highly educated professionals, while the Mexicans were both manual laborers. Perhaps the ESL teacher should hold a lesson on how to be an effective learner for those who do not come from a background of formal education.

Dean Williams: ESL Afternoon/Evening Tutorial for children and young adults

I observed an ESL classroom in a metro County that functions under the auspices of the state and several nonprofit organizations. These agencies are attempting to keep children and young adults from Southeast Asian nations such as Vietnam and Laos from joining gangs by offering them educational and social incentives that give them other choices. This has evidently become quite a problem among certain populations of immigrant youth. The students are with two exceptions the children of political refugees from Vietnam and Laos.

The class meets twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday from 6 to 8. The student population consists of 6 Laotians,(1 male and 5 females), 1 Thai female, 2 Vietnamese females, 1 Vietnamese male and 1 Mexican female who was given special permission to take the course. Since my ethnography project concerns the Vietnamese and how they fare in ESL classrooms, I chose this class. The class size of only 11 students also was conducive to my observations. I visited 2 sessions for a total of 4 hours. The spoken proficiency of the students clusters around the High Beginner stage. Only the Vietnamese male has gone to school in this country.

It was very interesting to watch the interactions among the students as well as the interactions between the students and the teacher. Something that immediately stood out was the degree to which the students worked together and helped each other, especially the Vietnamese. The teacher told me that she had made a concious decision to use the collectivist spirit that Asian students she had had before had exhibited in her class this time, and judging from the positive atmosphere I witnessed, she seems to have made a good decision. Much of the energy that Western students put into individual effort seemed to be spent on maintaining an almost constant flow of communication; there appeared to be no such thing as "individual work." Interestingly enough, the sole non-Asian in the group, a young Mexican woman, seemed to have fully bought into this style of group-learning and participated in the many exchanges and asides that occurred as the lesson progressed. One difference between this female and her Asian classmates was observed, however: she did not let them correct her; only the teacher was allowed to do this. For their part, the Asian students corrected each other with glee and appeared to enjoy the feedback their classmates provided. Whether the Mexican student's behavior represents some cultural attitude or just her own feelings is difficult to determine.

Another fact readily apparent is the respect with which these students treat their teacher. Although some of these youths are among the "at-risk" population, and despite the fact they were not always psychologically or culturally ready for the creative communicative exercises the teacher had for them, they were always very deferential with her. The respect for educators seems deeply ingrained in Asian cultural attitudes.

One final observation concerns a map exercise in which the class was given maps of their native countries and asked to compile a list of sights that they would recommend that a visiting friend see. The students became quite animated and showed a lot of pride and enthusiasm in describing how important it was that this or that attraction not be missed. The teacher told me that she had never seen them so interested in an assignment. The comparision here is with students who are able to complete their educations in their own countries without being uprooted and forced to undergo the trauma of acculturation in another, alien land. The wonder is not that immigrants sometimes have problems learning here, it is that they learn as well as they do.

Hypothesis: Asian students who have not gone to school in this country may attempt to form a support network in classroom environments which are conducive. Much cognitive/psychological energy is spent maintaining this network.

Note: Asian students who have grown up here don't show this tendency; indeed, they are the kings/queens of individual effort and outperform all other ethnic groups on the standardized tests (SAT, etc.) which are so important in this country.

Tammy Dobrzynski: Intermediate Reading at Higher Education Institute

Course and level: Intermediate Reading in University ESL Program.
Cultural background of the teacher: U.S.
Cultural background of the students: Syria (1), Korea (1), Japan (2), Hong Kong (1), Ivory Coast (1), Ethiopia (1), Mongolia (1), Pakistan (1), Somalia (1), Ukraine (2), Russia (1), Taiwan (1), Uzbekistan (1). This is a truly multicultrual class!!!


Lesson 1-- The main topic of the lesson was strategies for learning vocabulary in context. The teacher started the lesson by going over the homework. Each student went to the board and wrote an answer in a complete sentence. The Japanese students helped each other. One of them was confused. The other Japanese student explained to him in Japanese what the was supposed to do, and he was able to write his answer ont he board. I thought this was an interesting interaction. I realized that they used the L1 to help each other.

After this activity, the etacher asked the students to complete an exercise in the course packet. Students worked in pairs. They spoke in English during this activity. The teacher was careful about assigning the groups. He did not want to have two students who spoke the same language in the same group. Students completed the exercise successfully. During the last 30 minutes of the lesson, the tecaher discussed different strategies for learning vocabulary. The teacher mentioned flashcards and post-it notes. Some students did not know what these things were, so the teacher showed them some flashcards and a pack of post it notes. The teacher asked the students what strategies they would like to use to learn vocabulary, and most of them said that they like to memorize lists. I noticed that the students from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mongolia, and the Ivory Coast raised their hands when the teacher mentioned learning vocabulary by memorizing lists. I think that most of these students are used to memorizing as a learning strategy. The teacher concluded the class by discussing the homework for the next lesson. Students departed as soon as the class was over. Cultural observations from lesson 1 1. Students use their native language to communicate with each other about things that they don't understand. This clarifies misunderstood information and may avoid embarassment in front of the teacher and peers. 2. Students may be reluctant to use new methods to learn vocabulary if they are not familiar with them. The teacher should introduce the methods slowly and provide practice exericses to help students get used to new ways of learning. Lesson 2-- The focus of this lesson was on lectures and note-taking. The teacher started the lesson by going over the homework. Students read their answers. No one had problems with the homework. A student mentioned that he likes to go over the homework at the beginning of each class. The teacher was pleased to hear that.

After discussing the homework, the teacher conducted a lecture about living in a different culture. The students had already read information about the topic in their textbook. The goal of the lecture wa to provide students with practice in listening to lectures and taking notes. The teacher talked with no interruptions from tehstudents for almost 30 minutes. The students were taking notes quietly.

When the lecture was over, the teacher asked the students if they had taken good notes. Most of them said that they did. One of the students from Ukraine said that it has hard to keep up. The Korean student and the Japanese students said that they are used to taking notes. However, one of the students said that taking notes in English is hard. The student from Somalia said that she takes notes in her native language. Two other students said that they do the same thing. The tecahe rresponded by saying that they will take more notes in English as they become more fluent. I thought this was interesting because I thought thatit would be difficult to translate during a lecture. Maybe the students were translating some words so that they could remember them better.

The last 20 minutes of the lesson were spent discussing strategies for taking notes. He mentioned outlines, headings, underlining. A student said that outlines are good to memorize information for a test.

The teacher concluded the lesson by explaining the homework for the next class. Cultural observations from lesson 2

1. The students were familiar with lecturing and taking notes as instructional methods. These methods are probably used by teachers in many countries.

2. Writing notes in the L1 during a lecture conducted in teh L2 is probably a process of interlanguage that students experience as they become more proficient in listening and processing information in the L2.


During my observations, I focused my attention on a student from Ukraine. He is 19 years old and has been in the U.S. for almost 11 months. He came to GSU to learn English and to pursue a degree in CIS.

I decided to focus my attention on this student because he was the most talkative and active. He always wanted to answer questions that the teacher and other students asked. He also made positive comments about the responses of other students and their pronunciation. This behavior was interesting to observe. I have never taught or observed a student who praised his peers constantly. The teacher did not seem to pay much attention to his behavior, but the Korean and the Japanese student did not seem to like this behavior. The student from Korea rolled his eyes when the student from Ukraine said "very good job!!" You had the right answer". The student from Korea seemed to feel uncomfortable with this behavior. He probably felt that only the tecaher has the right to praise students.

From my observation and the short interview with the student, I found out that he is trying to make friends and to socialize. He told me that he wants everybody to like him.From his reponse, I concluded that this behavior is not necessarily related to his own culture since the other student from Ukraine did not behave the same way. This was an individual behavior. As a teacher, I learned that it is important to distinguish cultural behavior from individual behavior.

Jessie Hayden: Intermediate Level adult ESL Conversation Class

I chose to observe an intermediate level adult ESL conversation class for my "culture cap" classroom observation assignment. This class meets every Wednesday from 10:30-12:30 a.m. at a nonprofit organization that serves the Latin American community in metro Atlanta. I observed this class a total of three times for approximately 4 hours. Specifically, I attended one full session and two half sessions of the class. I chose this class for two reasons: 1) the class met at a time that was conducive to my schedule, and 2) the class is taught by a volunteer, untrained instructor [a typical scenario in adult education]. The class attendance fluctuated for all three classes that I observed [four female learners attended the first class, four females and one male learner attended the second class, and three female learners attended the third class], but two female learners attended all three sessions. I have chosen to focus my observational insights upon these two students, and I will pseudonymously refer to them as Florelia (from Mexico) and Margarita (from Venezuela) throughout this summary. I will give the instructor the pseudonym of Madeline.

I chose to focus my attention on verbal behaviors during my observations. I was particularly interested in analyzing the content and the function of talk in this conversation class, and several aspects of the classroom verbal behavior captured my attention. In terms of verbal content, I was most struck by the numerous instances in which learners made comments that I would classify as "cross-cultural analyses". For instance, during the second class I observed, the students engaged in a heated discussion concerning social problems in the United States. This discussion was prompted by an activity that had the students fill out a form to list problems they would like to see the mayor of our city resolve. Margarita was the predominant contributor to this discussion, and in most of her comments she made comparisons between her native country (Venezuela) and the U.S. For example, Margarita wrote "safer schools" on her worksheet. When Florelia asked her "What does safer schools mean?", Margarita responded with-- "M---- High School is terrible--Latin people, black people, white people. Always is the attack. I don't' want to go to the high school without the police. I don't want dangerous. The people they can attack me. I stay friend with everyone. In Atlanta, one person kill the teacher. 'I got a stupid teacher--BOOM!!!' Always the police, he stay in the school." Madeline- "So you don't want to be in that environment?" Margarita-" I go to school because I want to learn something, be with people. But I don't want to make someone mad. Some gangs---always smoke drugs. In Venezuela is very different." Madeline- "How is school different in Venezuela?" Margarita- "Here public/private school is different. In Venezuela is no different."

In analyzing my field notes, I also noticed that certain students had taken on specific roles in the class, and thereby utilize language to perform certain functions. For instance, Florelia had taken on the role of classroom manager and used language in accordance with this role. This role manifested itself in her tendency to "police" the language used in the classroom (I recorded several instances of her saying "In English" to other class members who had switched over to Spanish), and in her general encouragement of the other members when they stalled out while explaining something in English. When this occurred, Florelia would cheer her classmates on by saying "jou can, jou can!" Once when I had an opportunity to question the instructor about this, she responded enthusiastically by telling me how grateful she was for Florelia's presence in the class because "she tends to keep everybody speaking English..." Some cultural hypotheses that came from my observations and analysis are that 1) ESL learners utilize the classroom as a forum for cross-cultural analysis 2) Hispanic learners value group integration, support, and cohesion in the classroom 3) Instructors make value judgements about students based upon their verbal behaviors

What do you think?

Masako Hiraki: Level III Reading class in University ESL Program

Jan. 28, 1997, 7:45 - 10:00 am

Teacher: U.S. Female

Students: 1 African female, 4 Russian female, 1 Russian male, 2 Korean female, 5 Vietnamese female, and 3 Vietnamese male

I'd like to write a report about this class particularly even though I observed 4 other ESL classes.

Let me mention one thing before I move on to the report of the class mentioned above. I didn't observe one class several times because I wanted to see as many students as I could and to focus on Asian students' non-verbal behavior in general. Based on what I observed and my experiences in Japan, my cultural hypothethis could have been: 1) Asian students usually don't sit in front. If they do, it's mostly by the wall. 2) Asian students don't make a lot of eye contact (in general they're looking down during the class). 3) Asian students don't speak up unless they're called on. I suppose all these three stem from the cultural background (being passive) and basically Asian students don't want to lead or dominate the class. In the reading class mentioned above, however, it seemed somewhat different.

What I noticed first was that 5 students (4 of them were Asian students) came late, but they didn't seem to be sorry for being late and they seemed quite comfortable sitting down wherever they want. Actually 2 Vietnamese students sat in front. When they had a group discussion for the textbook, I focused on observing one group. The group consisted of 1 Russian female, 1 Korean female, 1 Vietnamese female, and 1 Vietnamese male. I assumed that the Russian female student would be a discussion leader since she was the most talkative, but the fact was that she was talking all the time yet never led the group. When everyone was talking different things at the same time, the Korean female student tried to organize everyone's thoughts and 2 Vietnamese students followed and helped her. I also assumed that 2 Vietnamese students would talk in their language, but it didn't happened.

What I learned from this class made me re-think about cultural hypothesis. Even if you have a certain expectation in a certain culture, you cannot really judge the students' behavior if it's cultural or individual. It may depend on how confident they are.

Finally I'd like to mention another thing I noticed in this class: ESL students can learn different cultures through other studetns. For example, the second activity in the same group was notetaking --- one student talks and others take notes.

The Korean female student talked about her experience in the States and that was about cultural difference! Her story was as follows: When she visited her American friend, that American friend's family and she had dinner together. After dinner her American friend was kind of upset and asked her what was wrong because she was eating silently and slowly. Nothing was wrong, really. In her country, traditionally it's not good to talk while eating, also it's rude to eat faster than elder people.

While other students were taking notes, they asked this Korean student some questions such as " Does younger generation still think the same way?", "Did you just want to be polite?", and so forth. I found this activity really interesting. I think multicultural classroom have such enrichment to enable students to learn about one another.