“Culturally and linguistically diverse” is a term used to refer to persons possessing varied cultural identities who speak different languages based on their ethnicities or national identities (Lindsay & Dempsey, 2009). Working with people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities normally comes with many challenges. Cultures vary greatly across different communities, thus posing significant challenges to professionals who come from different cultural backgrounds. In that case, for the workers to be able to meet the needs of everyone in their work places they should strive to gain relevant cultural competencies and skills.
The main purpose of this paper is to highlight the major issues associated with working in a culturally and linguistically diverse society, and how professionals can apply social competences and skills to go about the challenges. In order to address this issue appropriately, this paper uses the example of a high school teacher serving in a culturally and linguistically diverse environment in Britain. Scott is an American undertaking his postgraduate studies in the UK and who has recently landed a part-time job as a high school teacher in Cardiff.
Britain is a multicultural country comprising of people of many national identities who possess different characteristics in terms of culture, language, religion or ethnicities. British people who are said to be culturally or linguistically diverse include migrants who have just sneaked into the country, immigrants who have been there for a while, and descendants of former slaves (Ohtake, Santos & Fowler, 2000).
Based on recent Census reports for the UK, there are rapid changes in students’ demographics across the country because of the multicultural aspect, and for that reason, learners needs have already indicated diverse challenges to the various service-delivery approaches applied in learning institutions (Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999). In fact, a range of cultures in class is likely to bring many challenges to educators, especially those who come from foreign countries such as Scott.
Scott works as an English teacher at Cardiff High school, where he works alongside other local educators who, unlike him, have a better understanding of the diverse cultures in the school. This is a mixed-gender institution located at the Cyncoed region, about only four miles from the capital of Wales. The institution sits on a wide area of flat land surrounded by rich natural vegetation. It is well equipped with all kind of facilities and projects to cater for the learning needs of its culturally diverse population.
Currently, the institution has a population of approximately 1500 students. Even though the students are drawn from allover the country, most of them come from the culturally and linguistically diverse families in the neighbourhoods. The school is multicultural, meaning it attracts learners from all cultures. Most of the students here are between 13 and 18 years old, which is the normal age group for high school students in the country. However, even though majority of the school’s population are British, there is a wide range of other nationalities who include Blacks, Asians, Americans, Muslims, Russians, Afghans, and Romans, just to mention but a few.
All these groups will display different characteristics and family policies, probably owing to their varied cultural identities. In this regard, there will be vast misunderstandings among the students due to intersections of key socio-cultural aspects such as race, religion, gender, class, and caste, among others. Obviously, the cultures will tend to differ greatly in terms of their perceptions about the above aspects. Generally, culture is an element of what forms a person, and it features aspects such as people’s attitudes about resources, the manner in which people of a particular ethnicity live, child rearing practices, and definition of concepts (Colombo, 2006).
Cultural identification is an integral part of human life, since it influences our behaviours, values and beliefs. This explains why people of different cultural identities will tend to have varied perceptions about some key aspects of life. For example, members of a particular culture may view an activity considered morally right by another culture as immoral or unethical.
Some of the common differences in this would be in terms of family backgrounds, spoken language, personality, skin colour, dressing code, cultural expectations and roles, physical appearance, and family structures. In most cases, foreign teachers like Scott will tend to feel unprepared for these contrasting cultural habits, thus finding it hard to cope in the diverse environment. Multilingualism is a very common trend in a culturally diverse community, and this remains a big challenge to Scott who is faced by the responsibility of ensuring that foreign students learn English as a second language.
The main reason why this is a challenge to the educator is because of the fact that, many foreigners do not speak other languages apart from their primary languages. More importantly, persons from different national identities portray varied forms of communication, and this could be a source of constant misunderstandings and misinterpretations among the diverse groups (Kim & Omizo, 2003). Apart from the differences in language and communication, there is also a variety of other interrelated issues arising from personal characteristics of the learners. All these issues suggest a heightening need for cultural competency and other relevant skills for Mr. Scott. In that respect, it would be necessary for him to adopt new working strategies that will enable him execute his roles effectively in the school.
Being familiar with specific cultural values and behaviours puts one in a better position to understand and appreciate differences arising from diversity. This is one of the many benefits enjoyed by local professionals, who have a better understanding of the cultures. Even though modern teacher training institutions have already adopted programs that can help teachers embrace the issue of cultural diversity in schools, there is room for more interventions to ensure that the learning needs of culturally diverse students are fully met (Rogers & Lopez, 2002). There are various models of practice as well as strategies that Mr. Scott can follow to improve his culturally competence.
Suitable models of practice that are likely to help Mr. Scott execute his roles effectively will include attitude, knowledge, awareness, and skills. Attitude, which is a key component of multicultural competence emphasises the need for one to embrace cultural diversity and try to develop positive relationships with persons of diverse cultures. Next is the model of knowledge, which enables an educator to understand that learners in a multicultural school will manifest different behaviours as it is dictated by their varied cultural backgrounds. In that case, educators having such knowledge will find it easy to operate in a diverse environment.
The model of awareness will also be of great significance to Mr. Scott. This simply refers to the consciousness of a person’s reactions towards others who belongs to a culture other than his or her own. Finally, there is the model of skills, which focuses on effective practice of approaches that are likely to make one culturally competent in a diverse society.
One effective approach here is by recognising and respecting the uniqueness of each culture within the school. As we have seen, there are different characteristics for various cultural groups, and for that reason, people of different national identities or ethnicities will tend to present varied behaviours or perceptions in life. For example, Muslims would consider it morally right for their women to cover their heads when in public. However, some other people from different cultures may consider this habit unethical, thus ending up criticising it seriously. Another example here is the issue of dressing code, which varies greatly across different cultural groups.
Dressing code is arguably one of the major aspects that are influenced by culture (Dinnebeil & Rule, 1994). In most cases, we tend to identify other people’s cultural identities based on the manner in which they dress and the type of clothing they wear. This is a clear indication that dress code is greatly influenced by culture, and in that case, there is a need to respect other people’s dressing styles. By understanding the needs of the various cultural groups and according them relevant recognition and respect, educators are likely to enhance their professional effectiveness in their areas of accountability, thus finding it easy to interact with the diverse groups they teach (Tabors, 1998).
As it would be observed, one of the major problems affecting family-professional relationships nowadays is the issue of cross-cultural disparities in communication. Effective communication within a culturally diverse community will require people who are fluent in the primary language of the featured families (Beijaard, Meijer & Verloop, 2004). However, there are other ways can be used to ensure that effective communication between professionals and culturally diverse families is achieved.
Such approaches will include the use of language interpreters or translators, among other interactive ways. Student interpreters do not have to be drawn from outside the school compound, since this is likely to cause inconveniences. However, bilingual students from the school can also serve as translators to their colleagues who are not conversant with some specific languages. In this regard, it will be necessary for Scott to learn how to apply culturally appropriate ways of communication that will be certain to help him execute his responsibilities in an effective way.
Another way of being culturally competent is by becoming familiarised with the home cultures of the learners to understand their interests and attitudes better (Stuart, 2004). It will be important for anyone to consider paying attention to personal aspects such as discomforts and feelings when working with diverse people. One effective way of achieving this goal is by seeking the assistance of cultural leaders who can play a very active role in facilitating communication between service providers and diverse families. Students can also be asked to submit important information about their cultural norms and values, as they understand them. This is likely to give Mr. Scott and others in the same situation a perfect insight of the diverse groups in the school.
According to Sanchez (1999), it will also be important for Scott to demonstrate high expectations for all cultures in the school by ensuring that every student is able to take part in matters of education in the institution. Through this approach, Mr. Scott is likely to promote equality among the students, thus helping them to become tolerant of their cultural diversities. This will not only help him easily execute his roles as a teacher, but will also motivate the learners to engage interactively in classroom affairs, among other school activities.
Mr. Scott can also try to establish learning environments that are culturally compatible as a way of enhancing learning in this culturally and linguistically diverse environment. Acknowledgement of the learners’ varied expectations in regard with their cultural norms and values is likely to enhance their participation in class activities (Cleary, 2009).
This approach can be executed using sociolinguistic and cognitive patterns that would enhance and promote student understanding of their learning needs. One effective way of applying this approach is by dividing students into small groups based on their cultural identities and applying the most appropriate strategy to engage them in learning activities. This way, learners who may find it difficulty to participate in open class matters, probably due to cultural cringes, will be more confident when undertaking class activities in the groups.
As indicated in this paper, culture is a very sensitive aspect of human life, which must be treated in a respectful manner by professionals serving in diverse communities. As it is evident in this paper, educating students from diverse cultures normally presents many challenges for educators. However, application of cultural and linguistic competences as discussed in this paper can be very useful in bridging the big gaps between professionals and culturally diverse families, thus helping Mr. Scott and others in the same situation execute their responsibilities more effectively. There is no doubt that, it is only through development of a perfect understanding of cultures in a particular community that professionals in the education sector can acquire a broader perspective of important cultural aspects.
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