Task and Culture

At our college, we have a lot of international students – around half the students are from (East, South-East, Central & South) Asian countries other than Japan – which, of course, creates its own challenges of navigating a multi-cultural classroom. One of the biggest problems has to do with tasks and ‘games’ or speaking activities.

From talking to many students it’s clear that there are a lot of cultural differences that do affect activities in the classroom. The common Pelmanism, or card matching game, for instance. In Japan there is a similar game (called カルタ karuta) which is a traditional game played at New Year. However, students from sub-continent Nepal or Bangladesh have never seen it and consequently, of course, don’t know how to play, the rules or goals. Additionally, many Vietnamese students know of the game but for them games are not played in an educational setting so they do not see the activity as a ‘learning’ one. As such, they do not take the task seriously and often either fail to complete the task or complete it perfunctorily.

I am interested, however, as to how this affects task-based language learning (TBLL) and assessment. One of the key criteria by which TBLL is assessed is by task completion (see Ellis, 2003). Yet, if the very nature of the task itself is culturally-biased then these students are not, in fact, being assessed on their language abilities but on how well they have been acculturated to the demands of that particular task or how well they can perform as if they have been for the assessor. Either way, they would naturally be at a disadvantage compared to a candidate already familiar with the cultural expectations of the task.

 

References:

Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press

 

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