Cross-Cultural Contact Assignments
This instructional task can be adapted for any discipline; an arrangement
between an ESL class and a non-ESL class is one alternative that I have
- To collect facts or opinions on a topic
- To practice a particular mode of communication (individual oral
- To observe verbal and or nonverbal behavior
- To gain insight into the customs, attitudes or values of another cultural
- To gain an appreciation of the cultural diversity in society
In addition, for non-native English speakers:
- To use, outside of class, the functional language that has been studied
and practiced in class
- To learn more about the English-speaking culture and society from an
- To learn new sentence structures, words and idioms
Minimally: Asking questions, listening to replies, responding with comments
and further questions, taking notes, sharing findings. Additionally: writing
analyses, giving oral presentations, transcribing speech.
The contact assignment gives students license to ask questions that they
may not otherwise bring themselves to ask an acquaintance, much less a stranger.
This permits students to learn about the views of an individual on at least
one topic of interest. If conducted with someone from another culture,
the contact assignment gives students insight into their own culture as
well as others'. It thus provides grounds for a comparison of cross-cultural
behavior and values. Furthermore, because some topics are universal (such
as the topic of family and relationships, friendship), the contact assignment
can promote an understanding of the commonality of human needs and the diverse
practices by which these needs are met. In a culturally diverse environment,
this task can promote culturally pluralistic perspectives rather than ethnocentric
For contact assignments conducted outside of class:
- Choose a suitable topic and develop a set of questions for students
to ask contact persons.
- Demonstrate and have students practice interview techniques in class.
- Instruct students to conduct an interview with one or more contact
persons or survey a given number of people. When possible, have students
tape record the interview.
- Give students adequate time to make the contact and complete their
- Instruct students to take notes after the interview (from the tape
recording or from memory) and, from their notes, to discuss their findings
in small groups in class.
- If interaction and/or language skills are important, collect the tape
recorded interviews and evaluate them for fluency, accuracy and appropriateness.
Alternatively, have them transcribe the interview.
- Have students follow informal report with a written report and/or a
prepared speech to the whole class, for example, a summary of the interview,
an analysis of similarities and differences, a personal reaction.
For contact assignments conducted during class time:
- Contact another instructor at your college, preferably from a different
discipline, whose class meets as the same time as yours. Arrange a meeting
date, time and place. I've done this successfully with students from each
class being responsible for half of the interview time on a topic assigned
by their own instructors.
- Proceed with any of the steps 2-7 above as appropriate.
Marsha Chan's Presentations