Cultural dissonance in ESL dialogue: A study of two college classrooms
This naturalistic study examined the ways ESL teachers and students struggle and cope with dissonant cultural beliefs, values, and norms. Data from interviews, classroom observations, journals, classroom work and a student questionnaire were collected in two college-level ESL classrooms with two teachers and 26 Japanese students identified as beginning or intermediate English speakers. The data were analyzed and interpreted from a sociocognitive perspective rooted in the work of Vygotsky and Bakhtin.
Findings suggest that (1) students and teachers perceived cultural beliefs, values, and norms as important in second language teaching and learning, but held vague and ill-defined notions around the relationship of culture and language, (2) in this context, teachers and students struggle with what cultural beliefs, values, and norms get expressed in the classroom and how to dialogue around them, (3) some students consciously and unconsciously ventriloquate the cultural beliefs, values, and norms presented to them in their ESL classrooms, while other students consciously and unconsciously resist the cultural beliefs, values, and norms presented to them in their ESL classrooms, and finally (4) as teachers are uncertain of their roles in dialoguing around culture in their language classrooms they consciously and unconsciously avoid or assert their specific views around culture which in turn leaves out or tunes out both teachers and students.
One implication of this study is that teachers and students need to acknowledge cultural beliefs, values, and norms as providing a “chain” to meaning-making across languages. This means that researchers and practitioners need to focus attention on how to describe the characteristics of culture and how culture functions in the processing of language and thinking in a more explicit and comprehensible way. Doing so requires moving beyond the common-sensical vision of culture as products and processes to a non-standard view in which culture is dynamic, heteroglossic, and dialogic.