If you are one of the lucky teachers that travel with their job you will be fully aware of the challenges living, working and teaching in a different country, culture and sometime climate!
Teaching abroad is a fantastic way to develop your own communication skills. Our hands and faces seem to unveil a universal language. We can show others how we are feeling and depending on how animated our hands get we can ‘speak’ to others to help them understand. It is said that spoken language only accounts for 7% of communication, that is hard to believe but even if we don’t go as far as 7% body language helps us communicate. This is a bonus in an English language class where the teacher doesn’t even speak the native language, or in multi-national classes where everything must be done in English since that is the common language of the group, however elementary.
Some teachers are afraid to run their class uniquely in English and therefore have never even tried to do it, considering this to be too difficult a feat from the outset. But if you try, you will be surprised at how much you can explain through acting, pictures, tone and simplification. With low level classes the trick is not to explain things but demonstrate them. By showing students what you mean you find ways to get your concept across.
Understanding the culture you are living and teaching in is important. For example if you are explaining tenses with time-lines in Japan then obviously your timelines will have to go backwards for you (if you are used to reading from left to right) and this will be counter-intuitive for you but not for your pupils, and you have to think about them.
You need to know whether it is acceptable to touch your pupils, what hand gestures are rude and how teachers are viewed in the culture. For example if you are in a school where children are strictly disciplined and kept at their seats obediently reciting the lesson in unison then you cannot go in and destroy that discipline. Rather work with it, tweak it to your advantage, and be thankful that you have a class in front of you that is receptive to learning. You’ll be able to teach with games and fun activities but be sure to do it in an orderly and disciplined manner so you are in keeping with the school philosophy.
Likewise if teachers are expected wear suits and are considered the big boss in schools then don’t undermine that by wearing jeans and being over-friendly and familiar with the students, even if that is your way, because you may lose their respect. You are not a friend to your students, you are a mentor and an example.
Respect the culture you are working in rather than waltz in and impose your values before you have even had a chance to understand what goes on in the country you have just moved to.
To sum it up with a quote: Context and Culture in Language Teaching OUP,1993
“If…language is seen as social practice, culture becomes the very core of language teaching. Cultural awareness must then be viewed as enabling language proficiency … Culture in language teaching is not an expendable fifth skill, tacked on, so to speak, to the teaching of speaking, listening, reading and writing.”