TRIO Tutor Training Class 8: Cultural Differences

What is culture? Culture refers to the sum total of acquired values, beliefs, customs, and traditions experienced by a group as familiar and normal. It includes language, religion, customs, and a history of the people. Students today come from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

During the 1980's, immigrants accounted for 1/3 of the total U.S. population growth. In 1984, approximately one in four schoolchildren were minority students. By 2020, that figure likely will increase to nearly one in two. During the next 20 years the U.S. population will grow by 42 million. It has also been predicted that Hispanics will account for 47% of the growth, Blacks 22%, Asians 18%, and Whites 13%.

As a tutor, you will be working with students from other cultures. You will gain an appreciation for different cultures by providing the student with an atmosphere of trust and acceptance. Encourage the student to talk about his/her family and country. If you are asked about American customs, be sensitive to the tutee's viewpoints. What is socially acceptable in the U.S. might be unthinkable in the student's culture. Most foreign students are eager to talk about their country and traditions. This interaction might be a valuable learning experience for you.

Some questions you might want to ask a foreign student

  • Tell me about your travels in other countries and the U.S.
  • What are your impressions of life in the U.S.?
  • Why did you decide to come to American River College?
  • Have American customs been a problem for you?
  • What do you miss most about your country?

When you begin tutoring a foreign student, be aware that sometimes the student will become dependent on you for more than just tutoring. The student might see you as a much needed new friend, or as a source of information about not only, scholarly interests, but social interests. Student dependence can become an obstacle to bridging the cultural gap.

Tips for working with English as a Second Language (ESL) students

  • Speak clearly, naturally and avoid using slang.
  • Use repetition.
  • Frequently ask the student if what you are saying makes sense.
  • Ask students to become the tutor and explain the concept to you.
  • Use restatement to clarify the student's response--I think you said...
  • If the student does not understand you, write down what you are saying.
  • If you do not understand the student, ask them to write what they are saying.
  • Encourage students to read and to use their dictionaries.