Knowledge of How Language Works in Context
Children’s use of language to communicate is influenced
by their cultural context, social conventions of expression,
proxemics (gestures and body language), and style of address,
all of which can differ between cultures. Therefore, children
who are learning English as a second language may exhibit
communication behaviors that are different from those of children
raised in a single culture.
Certain rules that apply in school may be different for children
who are from homes where English is not spoken. Six differences
in communication behavior (based on differences in culture)
are listed below.
Some of the more common variances in pragmatic aspects of
communication between people who are exposed to Hispanic culture
and those who only have experience with the culture in the
United States are outlined below. For more details, refer
to cultural differences.
Comparison of Culturally
Appropriate Spanish Behavior and the Possible Implications
in U.S. Majority Cultural Context.
|Culturally Appropriate Pragmatic
||Possible Implications or Misinterpretations
in Majority-Cultural Context
|Spanish people often
initiate a conversation on a personal note. When they
ask a personal question, it does not mean they want to
pry; it is instead a sign of consideration and caring.
This is important information to better establish
a culturally responsive relationship with Latino/Hispanic
|Child may use gestures
more often when communicating than children raised in
the U.S. majority culture.
Child may seem to behave in an odd or overly dramatic
|Child may interact
verbally more with peers than with adults.
Child may seem to be shy or unengaged when adults are
|When adults are talking,
children usually do not interrupt.
Child may be viewed as passive and unengaged.
|Children show respect
by avoiding eye contact thus looking down or away when
talking to parents, teachers or other adults.
Teachers or administrators viewing this through
the eyes of the U.S. majority-cultural perspective may
assume that such behavior demonstrates something other
than respect. It is possible to cause unintentional shame
or a feeling of humiliation by pointing it out. For the
unknown observer this may also be misinterpreted as a
sign of a disability such as ADHD, pervasive developmental
disorder or autism.
|Children will stand
closer to one another when communicating than children
raised in the U.S. majority culture.
Children may not understand the “personal
space bubble” requirements of U.S. majority culture
and, therefore, be misperceived.
|Children often learn
through observation and hands-on participation rather
than through verbal interaction with adults.
Children may have difficulty learning through
listening and may appear to be unfocused or hyperactive.
|Children from the
Caribbean or Central America may not focus on details
or sequence of events in storytelling. Narration is usually
Teachers and other educators may perceive this as disorganized,
but it is appropriate according to Spanish rhetorical
logic and must be understood in that context. Linear organization
is a skill that is easily acquired as the student progresses
through the stages of second language learning.