Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Teaching/Learning Social Norms

The English as a second language (ESL) teacher, or the foreign language teacher, has the task of teaching culture as well as language.  Language and culture are intrinsically linked.  In order to understand the language of a new country, one must also begin to learn the culture.

 Many different languages, religions, cultural beliefs and cultural practices all come together in the English as a second language classroom.  The teacher sometimes feels as if she is working at the United Nations because these beliefs and practices can clash and cause problems if one is not vigilant and knowledgeable about cultural differences.  This keeps the ESL classroom teacher on her toes.  The day is never boring.

Yesterday, I was teaching a lesson about just a few cultural practices that may be different in the United States.  Early in the semester, we try to talk about being sensitive to differences.  We discussed some things that the students have seen or experienced in the United States that they might not experience in their home countries.

I taught the concept of social norms.  I talked about the fact that even in the United States, some people don't always understand our own social norms.  I told the students that sometimes teachers must establish social norms for the classroom.  They also must sometimes teach social norms for settings other than the classroom.  In other words, it seems that many students, even those born in the United States, don't know acceptable social norms.

Ok.  At least I explained to my students that Americans don't always get social norms.   We see people everywhere who just don't seem to know what acceptable social norms are.

#1 Nana at Benchmark60 sometimes has a special topic on Wednesdays where she recounts things she has observed that make her go "What the f###?"  She always makes me laugh when she posts her observations that make her ask this question, "What the f###?"

I thought of her and also about my lesson on social norms when I was at lunch today.  When I left work, I decided to go to Dillards for lunch.  Our Dillards has a wonderful cafe where my husband and I love to go for lunch.  They have delicious soups.  We usually see many of our friends there.  We go so often that the friendly and efficient wait staff know us.  It is always an enjoyable place to go for a quick and tasty lunch.

Today, I sat down ready to relax and enjoy a late lunch.  Soon, I heard a very loud male voice coming from behind me.  It sounded like it was coming from a television, or a radio.  Dillards does not have a television, nor do they play radio broadcasts.  The male voice was quite loud, but not loud enough for me to understand exactly what was being said.  I would hear the male voice talking, then I would hear a soft female voice.  I thought to myself, "Does someone actually have a cell phone on the speaker option while they are eating in a public place?"

Finally, I was sure that was what was happening.  I couldn't believe it.  Really, who would think that it was ok to put a cell phone on speaker in a restaurant?  Finally, I could stand it no longer.  It wasn't my classroom.  I wasn't responsible for teaching social norms at the restaurant at Dillards, but I am a teacher.  I have a hard time not acting like one sometimes.  I turned around and gave my best teacher look to the woman behind me who had her phone on speaker.  Then I turned back to my sandwich.  Immediately the place was quiet except for the quiet female voice.  I guess she got the message.  Maybe she even knew that social norms do not allow for one talking on a cell phone using the speaker phone option while one is in a restaurant.  Maybe all she needed was for a teacher to remind her.
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