Published 6th December 2018
Writing is a skill not everyone is good at. In the classroom, EFL or other, teaching writing is necessary to ensure our students are prepared for the world outside the school environment, which is usually academic. Many of our EFL students find writing in English difficult, but many teachers don’t realise that this is not only a grammar and vocabulary issue. In fact, culture can affect a student’s ability to write in English. This is especially true when it comes to academic writing, but it applies to all forms of writing.
Writing and culture
Writing is more than stringing words together into a sentence. Writing, especially academic writing, is a reflection of the way we think, which is moulded by our culture. English writing is logical and rational. The writer is expected to clarify their ideas and make their argument clear to the reader. The general impression of good English writing is that it’s easy to follow and understand. This is why it’s important for our learners to write clearly and follow the expected argument structure of a thesis statement, logical points with explanations and examples, and a conclusion.
Other cultures view writing differently. In Eastern cultures, for example, writing is not as straightforward. Arguments may follow a more circular pattern, be vague or lack supporting evidence and it is up to the reader to make sense of the argument.
How culture can affect writing in the EFL classroom
There are two main consequences of these cultural differences. Firstly, students from a non-Western and non-English background may have difficulty reading and understanding academic texts written from an English-speaking point of view. It will take them longer to fully understand a text. Then, when it comes to their writing their arguments may be interpreted as confusing, unclear and illogical. As a consequence, readers may view their writing in a negative light.
To counter these effects it is important to address culture when dealing with writing tasks and texts. Draw your students’ attention to the differences in culture when it comes to arguments. Help them analyse appropriate texts in order to identify the characteristics that make them successful. Then show them how to achieve the same level of success in their own writing.
Make sure you spend time not only on the vocabulary and grammar necessary for writing, but also on the structure of an argument. Guide your students through the planning process of writing so that they see the steps that need to be taken from ideas to written product.
Collaborative writing between students of different linguistic backgrounds is a good idea to illustrate how your linguistic background can affect your writing style. Working with people from other cultures will help your students understand how culture affects more than language, it affects thought too.