- perspectives from around the globe -
presented by the Webheads Community
at Networking 2002
spoken introduction (Windows Media file) OR Real Audio HERE

live chat times:

Wednesday, August 21, 10.30 pm AEST (GMT 12.30 pm) - log HERE
Thursday, August 22, 10.30 am AEST(GMT 12.30 am) - log HERE

Please join us for these live events, and bring your questions along. Learn what an international community thinks on this issue. As many of the co-presenters as possible will try and be there.

Michael Coghlan

eLearning Coordinator
Douglas Mawson Institute of Technology

English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers are engaged in cross cultural communication everyday of their working lives. Good ESL/EFL teachers inevitably pick up skills to make them effective communicators with the people they work with. But what are these skills? Ask ESL/EFL teachers and many will have difficulty telling you exactly what constitutes effective cross cultural communication. You might get more generic answers like sensitivity, or being a good listener. Is that it? Perhaps it is. Those not closely connected with people from other cultures outside their own tend to see the prospect of communicating with people from other cultures as daunting, and seek advice from experts. "What do I need to know if I am going to be working with a group pf Koreans for a week?"

Well personally I wouldn't have a clue, and I probably would not seek any advice on the matter. I would go into the experience knowing I'm Australian and they're Korean and there were going to be substantial differences in the way we view the world, and plan on enjoying the discovery of the differences. I don't want an instant recipe for how to deal with Koreans, because I'd rather find out myself. And I believe that such an instant recipe would have limited value anyway.

A problem with this 'what do I need to know about Koreans, Chileans, Jordanians, etc approach' is that it is based on an assumption that all persons of a certain nationality share the same beliefs and ways of behaving. That kind of attitude is not only politically incorrect, it is also wrong. There are some characteristics that you can assume to be true for the majority. For example, generally speaking people from Asian cultures see identity as more group oriented; Westerners see identity generally more in terms of the individual. But within any Asian group, e.g. Japanese, there are those that will be more individual than others. Some too, if they are working with foreigners, will be quicker and more willing to see the world from the point of view of the foreigner than others.

Cross Cultural communication too has an inherent cringe factor. It goes something like this: "I'm going to be working with a group of Egyptian people so I'd better work out what I need to know so that I don't offend them." There is an assumption that I am the one who is somehow deficient and needs to top up my skills to be able to cope with working with Egyptian people. In these situations again, I prefer to acknowledge our differences and enjoy analyzing them. And I think it is important in these situations too that you see it as an opportunity to let the Egyptian people know about Australians (in my case). Don't try and be something you're not. Be unashamedly Australian and show people how you, as an Australian (or any other person from a non-Egyptian cultural background) think and behave.

There is no formula on how to be an effective communicator across cultures. There are handbooks on how to do business in China, or how not to offend people if you are travelling in Fiji, and these how to guides no doubt do contain useful information about these cultures. To assume however that they, or any workshop you may take (or conference presentation you may attend!) will give all the skills and knowledge you need to communicate effectively with them is erroneous. People the world over, whatever culture they belong to, are, fortunately, individuals, and they are probably just as keen to know more about your culture as you may want to know about theirs. So let them teach you; and you teach them. And yes perhaps this is best done by simply being sensitive and a good listener!

Cross cultural communication consultants have become increasingly popular with expansion into global markets. Increasing mobility of many employees across international borders has resulted in companies desiring workers who were able to function competently in international arenas beyond home borders, and cross cultural training was seen as part of the necessary induction for an international workforce.

With the advent of the Internet the opportunities for communication across cultures has simply exploded. As Ismail Fayed writes below in his presentation, Internet based discourse across the planet has presented an unprecedented level of communication across cultures, and therefore an unprecedented potential for misunderstanding and/or learning.

What follows are contributions from 10 members of a truly international community. Webheads are a virtual community of people from approximately 25 countries that has arisen from the teaching and learning of English. Many Webheads are from non-English speaking environments and have daily experience of interaction with the dominant language and culture of the Internet - English (which currently represents 40% of the world's online population).. As representatives of the dominant culture on the Net, native English speakers can well take heed of our non-native speakers views of us.

It will be clear after reading the short presentations below that any one of the perspectives presented are worth detailed analysis. This collective presentation however serves to highlight the complexity of views around this issue. You are invited to attend the live chat sessions and forum discussions to further explore the issues with individual presenters.

Cross Cultural Issues in Email Exchanges
Chris Jones

Professor of ESL
Arizona Western College

For several years, my upper-intermediate level ESL students have done an email exchange. My students are predominantly Spanish-speaking, and we've done our exchange with partner classes in Japan, Dubai, and French-speaking Canada. Consequently, both groups of students are struggling to learn English as well as deal with the cultural differences.

It's interesting to write back and forth about climate, hobbies, educational system, etc. However, some topics are more polemic than that. For example, almost all of my students are strongly against abortion. If the partner has a different view, one or two students may try to tell him he is wrong! My students were also appalled that men and women are in separate classes at universities in Dubai, and I had to teach them to tone down their questions to their partners, so that they came across as neutral rather than negative. A third example is from an exchange with students in Quebec. Some of them were quite unhappy that my students were not more similar in age to them. They were mostly around 18-20, but my students vary from about 20 to 45. A couple of them mentioned this to my students.

From a teaching prospective, there are a couple of good approaches. If my own students are writing the questions or comments, I ask them to make suggestions and write them on the board as examples. I usually also give examples of ways not to ask some questions and then draw a line through them. Furthermore, I encourage them to write about how their ideas are "different" from the partner's and why their ideas are different. Thus, they can express their beliefs without being negative. In some ways, I feel like I'm just teaching them good manners in conversing with anyone who has different ideas from their own.

Teachers learning to achieve successful Online Communication

Rita Zeinstejer TEFL; Area Manager for Kids and Advanced Classes; Self Access, Laboratory and Multimedia Coordinator; Cambridge Oral Examiner for FCE and CAE
Asociacion Rosarina de Cultura Inglesa (ARCI)
Rosario - Argentina

The advent of Internet has opened up an unlimited array of information as well as a new medium of communication -both fundamental tools for EFL and ESL teachers in the world. Undoubtedly, the combination of cultures resulting from the massive use of this rapidly spreading tool affects human relationships. It is definitely up to all second language teachers to have the knowledge, develop the sensitivity and appreciate the importance of understanding the diversity in communication styles, to be able to become a more insightful observer of other cultures, and a more successful communicator.

It is a fact that knowledge of other cultures is better acquired by experience than by study. Thus, teachers should experience cultures different from their own, mainly those teachers who find it difficult to be in direct contact with native speakers of the language for long periods of time. Students will be at risk if their teachers ignore some basic rules or principles which they will need, to communicate safely and effectively via the cyberspace.

It is teachers' primary aim to seek to remove cross cultural communication barriers from the school environment. In the same way, teachers sharing a virtual community in cyberspace should develop certain tactics that they will then need to pass on to their students so that they achieve successful communication.

What do these tactics involve?

First of all, removing language which appears to stereotype people; and then, reducing violations of cultural rules during discussions and conversations.

With respect to removing stereotypical language, online communication brings awareness of the need to choose words, images and situations which avoid using qualifiers reinforcing racial and ethnic stereotypes, racial identification, or language that has questionable racial or ethnic connotations. Body language being absent, we should respect rules for attentiveness and distance, understanding that characters and symbols may reflect different beliefs or values for different groups. We should also become conscious of the fact that cultures will vary in what they consider humour or taboo, which might give rise to misinterpretation and resentment. Speed of delivery, as well as silence and turn taking should also be respected, as much as rules for entering into conversations in progress.

It is only by becoming aware of difficulties leading to possible misunderstandings in online communication practice that teachers will be able to create a similar atmosphere of awareness and respect both in their face-to-face and in their cyber classrooms, and teach students how to communicate more effectively across cultural lines and how to address and negotiate differences.

Webheads in Action is an online community of practice whose members regularly meet, generously share, and respectfully learn from each other. It provides ESL and EFL teachers with the appropriate, stimulating atmosphere to develop these skills and use these tactics most successfully.

Cultural Inclinations in Learning Styles
Shunichiro Ito

Bunkyo Gakuin College
Tokyo, Japan


I believe one of the most important factors in second language acquisition is the need for understanding of cultural inclinations of students with different racial background. My experience is limited to teaching EFL to Japanese girl students. I've listed more noticeable differences existing between Japanese and Euro-American students. Of course, this is a bold generalization. So I use the word "inclinations."

Japanese EFL students with these inclinations should benefit greatly from web-based exploration into English language world as it offers more visual/audio assets than textbooks.

Unfortunately, however, despite government policy shift from stress on accuracy to communicative competence as educational goal, majority of our EFL teachers are entrenched in the traditional approach based on four skills, grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary drills. And native speaker teachers in Japanese colleges appear to be hampered by the lack of understanding of the cultural factors.

Global Learning Style
Analytical Learning Style
(Euro-American, Australia and NZ)
learn by experience learn by reasoning
image oriented text oriented
depends on insight, intuition depends on logic, reasoning
cooperate compete
subjective, poetic objective, rational
avoid standing out assert self
prefers indirect expressions prefers direct expressions

Cross Cultural Communication for English Language Teaching in the age of Globalization
Ismail Fayed

Program Specialist - Integrated English Language Program - II, (Educational Technology & Resources Unit), Cairo, Egypt,

Cross Cultural Communication is the "gift" that any language could give. It is not the sovereignty of a language over the others or the uniqueness of the grammar or linguistics of one language. It is all about the culture of a nation and about identity. Human beings used to live on one sole world, which could be their homes, cities, neighborhood, or even their own country. These were all local environments where there were those people who were thinking the same language, but this is not the case any more. After the recent media and information revolutions, people are more concerned with the whole globe around them. It has become a matter of "identity" for everyone, and for every nation to be smartly "intercultural" or "successful cross-cultural communicators" in order to live and stay in this world.

It is an age of rapid change where everything is changing every single moment. People and complete nations are melting now into one another. Others fully vanish into other cultures. This is a natural outcome of globalization. On this point, the importance of Cross Cultural Communication is signifiicant. It became crucial, especially after September 11th, when many nations with their great cultures were quarrelling with each other. There is no more a place where one culture or nation could hide, close their eyes and neglect the rest of the world. Everyone now has to find the suitable language that needs to learned to present his own culture, thoughts, and understand others as well. Without this process, all what we can find will be more wars and more conflicts around the world.

All of us should be good culture communicators not only to be receivers to listeners, but to share and present what we have as well, in other words, be positive participants. Otherwise, people will never realize our existence. As mentioned earlier, language teachers and students should be aware of all these facts and they should be aware of their, individual and group, roles as representatives to a whole, different or new culture for that other while communicating with.

Generally, Cross Cultural Communication is the most important and vital issue for all online communication. This is because Cross Cultural Communication is and will be the only "gate" to life, the only way to keep nations' identity and to be "there" in a seat around that global round table. From my previous experience, I have seen how native speakers could dominate and succeed by obtaining this "password" of Cross Cultural Communication. Those native speakers, that I know, gave the best models of culture interaction, language exchange, and ethical respect. Cross Cultural Communication is not just about being a good listener, it is more how to "UNDERSTAND" and respect the other as well. A third and final step is to present yourself with little agony and such more modesty and simple way, and this is the secret of life.

Student Centred Learning - a source of conflict?
Dr. Elizabeth Hanson-Smith

Computers for Education
Sacramento, California

Global communications online tend to reflect the same kinds of cross-cultural breakdowns as those that occur in a live classroom. Most teachers have experienced students who appear disrespectful because the teacher doesn't "take charge" or who are often late in turning in assignments because their cultures have a more flexible definition of "on time." Classroom routines typical of Western Europe, Australian, or Northern American schools, such as hand-raising, turn-taking, respectful listening, may have to be taught by direct instruction to newcomers to these educational situations.

Cross-cultural conflicts such as these may be exacerbated online, where teachers find themselves playing an even less authoritarian role. Students from a culture that expects the teacher to speak often and authoritatively will be disappointed in one who remains silent on a bulletin board, or who allows students to comment extensively during a synchronous chat. Other areas that will present problems online are turn-taking routines, the use of humor, the conventions of courtesy and the time of replies. It might be appropriate for the online teacher to investigate these areas further using sociolinguistic research, and to express ground rules for online behavioral expectations at the beginning of an online course or session.

Crossing Cultures of Education
Susanne Nyrop
Graduate student of the Danish University of Education, Copenhagen; doing a cyber ethnographic study about ways of understanding and developing informal networking. With more than nine years of online community building experiences, I am presently an active participant in the Global Educator's Network discussion seminars, the Tapped In virtual conferencing centre (as an occasional helpdesk and discussion leader.)

Being a non native speaker of English, I had barely no active use for the language in the many years from my secondary sschool exam and up to the time when I started to make internet research and communicating with people from all over the world, using English as a common cultural convention. This means that I have become a self initiated learner, not because of a need for the language as part of a curriculum, but as a bare necessity to get in touch with people not spekaing my oown mother tongue, Danish, but having similar interests in learning how to explore the internet based communication tools for community building.

Expanding upon my active vocabulary and expressive communication literacy, as a graduate student of education theories, I realize that once we begin to exchange concerns about our locally biased educational viewpoints and communicate the differences, it becomes natural for us to get involved in metareflections on how the student and teacher roles are currently changing. From being understood as a provider of definite knowledge in a stringent curriculum, today's teacher role could be changing towards a catalyst and inspirer of learning, mostly because of the easily acccesible internet as a source for information. I do feel strongly that the communicative habits and activities that we are developing in a small scale online community like the Webheads in Action, are making way for new aspects of collaborative knowledge building.

With more than nine years of online community building experiences, I am presently an active participant in the Global Educator's Network discussion seminars, the Tapped In virtual conferencing centre, as an occasional helpdesk and discussion leader - read about my Tapped In perspective a year ago here: . To know more about my current research ideas on the Sociotechnical aspects of online community building in education, you might like to take a look at the homepage I prepared for a recent online session at Tapped In.

Post September 11th
Dave Singer

Teacher of E.S.L
DeVry Institute of Technology, Chicago scampus

The world is indeed getting smaller. Though Marxists and radical Muslims may not like it, the U.S. and its allies are drawing all national and local economic systems into a global system with the U.S. as its chairman. The American people themselves are becoming more aware of the many cultures and peoples in this world of ours. We cannot retreat into the isolationist thinking that dominated American life in the past. I grew up in a homogenous religious and "racial" community. Even when I was an undergrad at the university, we were taught that the only really meaningful civilization in the world is Western civilization. But now high school students learn about the many cultures and peoples in the world. We all have to get on board, so to speak, and try to understand each better. This is especially true of teachers of E.S.L. I know that I have learned a great deal from my students as well as their learning from me.

What's all the fuss about?
Vance Stevens

CALL Coordinator, Amideast UAE/MLI Project, Abu Dhabi

I wasn't much aware of the cultural issues in what we do till we got to talking about it in sessions last year. I remember one session we had which seemed to me to be a non-starter on cultural issues, with participants grasping at examples of linguistic items that would appear in any cross-cultural context, with not much particular to the online environment. Also, most of these examples were focused on MIScommunications, implication being that cultural issues were a potential source of impediment in online environments. This got me thinking, and my reaction after long reflection can be summed in a single word: NOT.

Webheads is rich in examples of cultural sharing, of scenes ranging from beaches in Brazil, universities in China, to carnivals throughout the world, of sharing of experiences and cultures all brought to the common denominator of the human nature that is distilled into all we see of each participant in each chat. So I'd like to focus more on unicultural influences as opposed to cross-cultural impediments in the online environment, and show examples of how CMC can bring cultures together and broaden our understanding of the world and the peoples just like you and me who inhabit this planet and blend almost seamlessly together in the vitual spaces we create here -- all this despite cultural background, which we share more as an afterthought online, whereas culture tends to be fronted more f2f. Maybe I'm hitting on a great advantage of an online environment here, the fact that avatars initially appear stripped of their culture which only gradually emerges, and then as a matter of interest. Meanwhile, the human element with its bonds of commonality has already predominated.

Dafne Gonzalez

Associate Professor, Language Department
Universidad Simón Bolivar (USB), Caracas, Venezuela.

I am from Venezuela and I have been involved in EFL and English for Specific Purposes (ESP) teaching for many years. At the moment, I am teaching an online course on English for Architecture to students from a university in Venezuela, while being in Spain pursuing my doctoral studies. In January this year it would have seemed impossible to think that I was going to be teaching this online course because I knew nothing about teaching or learning online. I was interested in the use of electronic support for teaching, but I had not had the opportunity to get involved in the topic. On January 25, I joined the Webheads community as a newbie, with many fears and great expectations. In less than two days, I had met people from all over the world, people with lots of experience managing web tools and a great desire to share their expertise. In a week or so, I was participating in collaborative group projects, with my eyes and mind open to the ongoing learning experiences I was immersed in, and not only regarding the technological aspects, but we were experiencing how people from different cultures and backgrounds face the inclusion of this new technology in the educational field, not to mention the discussions about the use of the English language around the world.

Even though some people consider this a crucial and difficult issue, I have found myself like a fish in the water. Learning the World Englishes and the different cultural background of the people who speak it as a native or second/foreign language has been part of the fun, of the growing experience, but it has never been an obstacle for communication, because for communication to take place there needs to be negotiation of meaning, and it is this kind of interaction, in a pleasant and friendly atmosphere, that makes this cross-cultural issue an invisible and botherless companion.

Culturally Speaking- Online: How daunting can it be for EFL Students in Taiwan?
Aiden Yeh

Instructor, Shir Chien University, Taiwan; EFL Teacher

Aiden's presentation can be found HERE.


An Internet search for resources on cross cultural communication online yields surprisingly few useful results. Many of the resources are for a more business focused audience, or deal with cross cultural communication in the face to face arena. Some of the more useful are:

  1. a selection of articles by Karen Murphy
  2. - website globalization consultants; targets the business audience
  3. - one example of the many school based international projects that are proving that collaboration across cultures is a powerful motivator
  4. - data on what languages are represented in the Internet community
  5. - one of the how to guides referred to above; a list of gestures and body language used in the more dominant cultures
  6. - dedicated to cross cultural communication with a tutorial on coming to terms with the relevant issues
  7.; Intercultural Challenges in Networked Learning: Hard Technologies Meet Soft Skills; Authors: Mackie Chase, Leah Macfadyen, Kenneth Reeder and Jörg Roche; August 2002; posits the theory that the existence of a cyberculture increases the potential for miscommunication between people of different cultures
  8.; The role of tasks in promoting intercultural learning in electronic learning networks; Language Learning & Technology Vol. 4, No. 2, September 2000, pp. 129-147; Andreas Müller-Hartmann
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URL of this presentation:
page created 10th July, 2002