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March 1995 - Issue No. #18 (p.18)

This article is a summary of a talk given at the 1994 JALT Hokkaido Spring Conference and Book Fair. It argues for the promotion of intercultural tolerance through valuing diversity.

Cultural Diversity in English Language Teaching

by Lavette Coney

In Japan, American English is usually seen as the preferred "model", yet Japanese students of English are not exposed to the diversity that American English brings. The images presented to them leave them with the impression that English isn't spoken by a variety of culture groups. It might be a shock to many students when they meet people not represented in their English teaching, because their textbooks usually don't portray diverse cultures. Most students are starving for information about other cultures. Cultural diversity is about inclusions and would give English the validity it rightly deserves in this present day of internationalism. As is so often said, "English is an international language." Many other traditional and non-traditional English speaking countries have diverse culture groups that speak English as their first language.

I always try to create a comfortable culturally diverse atmosphere for my classes by putting posters on the walls, using video, music and photographs from specific cultures. One example is the well-known song "One little, two little, three little Indians..." This has been criticized by Native American groups due to the song's suggestion that Native Americans are objects to be counted rather than human beings. In response, some publishers have removed Native Americans from this song in their children's books and used animals instead. To provide an alternative to this traditional song, teachers can introduce the song "Birth" produced by the Native American rock band XIT. This song displays much deeper emotions while using simple words and can also be used for language teaching. Vocabulary cards can be made from the song lyrics to review comprehension and pronunciation in class. The cards can then be shuffled and spread out on the floor for students to put in the correct order. In this way, listening, reading and speaking skills can be used.

At all levels, students should be taught that there are many people who speak English throughout the world and, no matter what kind of English teaching approach is used, cultural diversity can be utilized. It is not difficult to add to the textbook, like the many teachers who use supplementary materials to give students their best, in order to expose students to a world of English-speaking culture much wider than the European mold that they have been imprinted with.


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Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
E-mail: Work Tel/Fax: 0857-31-5650