Intercultural Teaching Competence

Intercultural teaching competence is “the ability of instructors to interact with students in a way that supports the learning of students who are linguistically, culturally, socially or in other ways different from the instructor or from each other, across a very wide definition of perceived difference and group identity” (Dimitrov et. al., 2014, p. 89). Intercultural teaching competence enables instructors to bridge cultural, linguistic or other differences in the classroom, communicate successfully across disciplinary cultures (Dimitrov, 2012), and to establish meaningful relationships with and among students in order to facilitate learning and promote student engagement.

In addition, intercultural teaching competence also includes the ability to model intercultural competence for students in the classroom and to facilitate dialogue about global issues using respectful, inclusive, and culturally relevant teaching strategies. Interculturally competent instructors are open to diverse ways of knowing (Archibald, 2008; Haig-Brown, 2008), are reflective in their approaches to assessment and curriculum design (Paige, 1996) and promote multiple perspectives when they select content, readings, and learning activities (Deardorff, 2011). View source


Supporting International Students Academically

You may be asking yourself about how to support the international students in your classes. The following resources will provide you with actions to take.

Transactional Distance Theory
Michael Moore came up with the concept of Transactional Distance. Transactional distance includes both physical and psychological separation between the learner (international or domestic students), the content, and the instructor/facilitator.

How To Minimize Transactional Distance In eLearning
This article, 8 Tips To Minimize Transactional Distance In eLearning, by Christopher Pappas, shares what you need to know about ways to minimize transactional distance in online learning.

Culture Shock

Some of your students may go through culture shock. How long it lasts varies from one individual to another.

Here is the definition of culture shock from the International Student Advising and Programs, Student Services, Simon Fraser University:

This is a normal reaction to a new environment where you are no longer in control as you have been at home. You may experience a range of emotions when adapting to a foreign culture, from excitement and interest to frustration, depression and fear of the unknown. Culture shock is a term used to describe what happens to people when they encounter unfamiliar surroundings and conditions. View source.

Anxiety and stress play major roles in culture shock and as a result, students’ executive functioning can be impaired. Executive functioning is crucial to academic success.

Academic Integrity

The way we view academic integrity, plagiarism, and cheating is deeply framed by the culture of North America. It is important to know that you may have students in your classes that come from cultures that do not take these issues so seriously or even not at all. You may have to spend time explaining these topics in great detail to ensure your students understand the concepts and are gaining the needed skills. You may also have to explain very explicitly why we take these topics so seriously.

The following articles point to other reasons for violating academic integrity.

Resources on Plagiarism


Language Learning

Supporting students in your classroom who have diverse cultural and educational backgrounds is not difficult or time consuming, but faculty need to recognize that ESL learners are not alike e.g. an international student may be able to read a textbook very easily, but cannot explain clearly what they have read. This is due to the international student having very little experience in conversational English. A student who has immigrated to Canada and lived here for a few years can have very different challenges in the classroom. This student’s conversational style may resemble a 1st language speaker, so the instructor will assume that content is being understood, but this may not be the case.

To adequately assist ELs in learning both content concepts and English simultaneously, all educators need to view themselves as language teachers. Here are 10 tips for supporting ELs in general education classrooms.

  1. Know your students
    Increase your understanding of who your students are and their backgrounds and educational experiences. If your students have been in US schools for several years; were educated in their country of origin; or are (il)literate in their native language, it may provide you with a better understanding of their educational needs and ways to support them.
  2. Be aware of their social and emotional needs
    Understanding more about the students’ families and their needs is key. When ELs have siblings to care for afterschool, possibly live with extended family members or have jobs to help support their families, completing homework assignments will not take priority.
  3. Increase your understanding of first and second language acquisition
    Although courses about second language acquisition are not required as part of teacher education programs, understanding the theories about language acquisition and the variables that contribute to language learning may help you reach your ELs more effectively.
  4. Student need to SWRL every day in every class
    The domains of language acquisition, Speaking, Writing, Reading and Listening need to be equally exercised across content areas daily. Assuring that students are using all domains of language acquisition to support their English language development is essential.
  5. Increase your understanding of English language proficiency
    Social English language proficiency and academic English language proficiency are very different. A student may be more proficient in one vs. the other. A student’s level of academic English may be masked by a higher level of Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) compared to their Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). For example, a student may be able to orally recall the main events from their favorite movie but struggle to recall the main events that led up to the Civil War.
  6. Know the language of your content
    English has a number of polysemous words. Once a student learns and understands one meaning of a word, other meanings may not be apparent. Review the vocabulary of your content area often and check in with ELs to assure they know the words and possibly the multiple meanings associated with the words. For example, a “plot” of land in geography class versus the “plot” in a literature class. A “table” we sit at versus a multiplication “table.”
  7. Understand language assessments
    Language proficiency assessments in your district may vary. Find out when and how a student’s English language proficiency is assessed and the results of those assessments. Using the results of formal and informal assessments can provide a wealth of information to aid in planning lessons that support language acquisition and content knowledge simultaneously.
  8. Use authentic visuals and manipulatives
    These can be over- or under-utilized. Implement the use of authentic resources. For example: menus, bus schedules, post-cards, photographs and video clips can enhance student comprehension of complex content concepts.
  9. Strategies that match language proficiency
    Knowing the level of English language proficiency at which your students are functioning academically is vital in order to be able to scaffold appropriately. Not all strategies are appropriate for all levels of language learners. Knowing which scaffolds are most appropriate takes time but will support language learning more effectively.
  10. Collaborate to celebrate
    Seek support from other teachers who may teach ELs. Other educators, novice and veteran, may have suggestions and resources that support English language development and content concepts. Creating and sustaining professional learning communities that support ELs are vital for student success.

Source: 10 Tips for Teaching English-Language Learners

Writing Resource: Teaching Multilingual Students, The Writing Centre, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Idiomatic Language

English is a highly idiomatic language. We use idioms without a second thought and don’t realize how often we are using them and how meaningless or confusing they can be to a second language learner. Becoming aware of your own idiom use when teaching or providing instructions will assist your international students. You can continue to use the idioms, but offer a simple clear explanation about their meanings. You will be supporting your students’ language learning this way.

The definition of idiom is a phrase that has a meaning greater than its constituent parts might suggest.

In summary, an idiom is:

  • a figure of speech
  • a phrase that should not be taken literally
  • used to express a particular sentiment
  • specific to a particular language, group, or region

Idiom Example: The grass is always greener on the other side.

This idiom does not literally mean that the “other side” will always have greener grass. There may not even be a literal “other side” to the subject at hand—or grass for that matter. The meaning of this idiom is that people think the other person, or someone in a different situation, has it better, or easier, than they do.

Since idioms are born out of popular usage, they aren’t always logical, and they don’t always follow traditional grammar patterns.

This is because the phrase itself carries the meaning of the idiom, and not the individual words in the phrase, regardless of each word’s grammatical function.

For example: This is a life-and-death situation.

Something that is life-and-death is extremely important, but that phrase itself is illogical. A situation can’t be life and death.

Similarly, a phrase like it’s not you, it’s me is technically ungrammatical.

As with any phrase, an idiom itself doesn’t create a complete sentence. They require additional context to give them meaning.

For example: Beat around the bush

This idiom is not a complete sentence. It’s the idea itself that is the idiom. One might make it into a complete sentence by saying: Don’t beat around the bush. OR He’s beating around the bush.
View source.

Common Acronyms for Language Use and Purpose

For a full list of acronyms, visit the TESL Kingston web page.

CLB: The Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks is the centre of expertise in support of the national standards in English and French for describing, measuring and recognizing second language proficiency of adult immigrants and prospective immigrants for living and working in Canada. The Centre promotes their recognition and use as practical, fair and reliable national standards of second language proficiency throughout Canada in educational, training, community and workplace settings.

EAP: English for Academic Purposes

EFL: English as a Foreign Language (Studying English in non-English-speaking countries)

ESL: English as a Second Language (Studying English as a non-native speaker in a country where English is spoken. Depending on where you are from, the term ESL may be more inclusive and includes EFL. For some people the reverse seems to be true.)

IELTS: is a test developed by the world’s leading experts in language assessment on four key English language skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking. It is designed to assess the language ability of people who aim to study, work, immigrate and integrate an English-speaking environment.

L1: “Language 1” = the student’s native (primary or first acquired) language.

L2: “Language 2” = the language being learned or studied

TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (It is also the name of an association, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.)

TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language

Red Deer College Resources

ESL Writing tutor, Writing Centre, RDC Library

Jodi Clovechuk,

It is important that you contact the tutor to explain the learning activities that are currently happening in your classes, so the ESL tutor has the context to support your student(s) the best way possible. | 403.356.4989 | Room 913C | Find us on theLoop | Find us on Twitter and Facebook @ctlrdc

Updated May 6, 2020

Print This Page Print This Page