Thanks to the Saarbruechen teacher's day in Germany last week for a useful activity called cultural brainstorm. It's simple. Each student has to prepare a question about British culture. NOTE: Never ask 'Have you any questions?' Always, 'What questions do you want to ask?' (Teachers/students think they ought to have questions so they think of some. Thanks to Matthew George for that insight. It's a great way of motivating students and also of running a class if you're on standby or have had no tme to prepare.
1 Pose the question. 'What questions ...?'
2 Students discuss in small groups and prepare in English one or two questions per group.
3 Elicit the questions and write them on the board or flipchart.
4 Ask students in thir groups to select a question (not theirs) and try and answer it. As they talk, note down a few key errors.
5 Elicit the answers.
6 Add your own opinion and if necessary promise to research (or get them to research) on the Internet.
7 Correct the errors you noted down and practise with the class.
Just out of interest, here are the questions the Saarbruechen teachers raised and my opinions.
1 What gifts do you take to someone's home in Britain?
A: Since we don't have a strongwine tradition always take a bottle of wine and, if you want, flowers or candy for female patners.
2 Why aren't houses painted in Britain?
A: Not sure Many house are, sometimes destroying the architectural harmony of terraced houses. Recently, Boris Johnson, Mayor of london, said,' I hate bloody brick.' I like it. Brick can be very artistic and some of our greatest houses in Tudor times and Georgian times are of brick.
3 What knd of fish is used in fish and chips?
A Traditionally, cod but it's overfished so there is a move towrads coley. Haddock and skate are quite popular.
4 Why do houses sometimes have names not numbers.?
A Snobbishness mainly. Stately homes have names but never numbers so calling my house 'Mon repos' gves it a special cahet even if it is really No 5 in my street.
5 Why no integrated water taps, why is the toilet flush so straight why is water pressure in showers so low?
A Search me. I'll ask a plumber. Interesting as someone in the session said, 'Why does no textboook ever tell how to ask where the loo is in English?' But see a book called, 'Dangerous English'.
6 Why do people ignore you in pubs?
A Privacy. People don't like to impose and they like to protect their privacy. In Britain people don't easily extend friendship to foreigners but if you take the first step they will often respond very pleasantly. There's an awful stereotypical joke about the foreigner who introduces himself in a pub to receive the answer. 'Did you come in here to talk or to drink?'
7 Is Britain really multicultural?
A It's a big PC slogan but I suspect we are more of a salad bowl. However, in big cities like London or Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow there are a lot of different nationalities and cultures mixed together. The overwhelming population of Britain is white Caucasian and about 6% of the population comes from Afro-Caribbean, Indian and Pakistani and other roots.
8 Are the British still Royalists?
A The British like the Queen because she does a good job. Many are quite ambivalent about the other members of the Royal family, although the young princes William and Harry are very popular. If you look at British history you will see that the popularity of the Royal family has always ebbed and flowed bt the nation does tend tocome together around major occasions, such as Royal births, deaths and mariages.
9 What else can you 'small talk' about apart from the weather?
A Good idea to find out what are the icebreakers and icemakers in any nationality's conversation patterns. Sport,what's on TV, celebrities, holidays and weekend activities are all popular although the weather is still a good introduction. Remember, the function of'small talk' is to get an insight into the other's mood and to see what might be worth talking about. Or maybe it's just passing the time of day.
10 Is kissing on the cheeks done in Britain?
A More and more common when people know each other, usually by men to women. Never on first contact but quite possibly at the end of a first meeting if you've got on really well. Difficult to know what to do. If the woman leans forward to be kissed then a kiss is expected. If not, maybe just wave. The real problem is how many kisses? Usually a peck on each cheek is the limit although some people offer only one cheek. What a cheek! Sorry. English bad jokes, again.
Interesting that all the questions were knowledge-based and none were skills-based. i.e. how do you teach or raise awareness of intercultural skills? What, if anything, does that say about teacher's concerns?