Bridging the Cultural Gap

By Wiener, Judith | Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Bridging the Cultural Gap


Wiener, Judith, Perspectives on Language and Literacy


Educators frequently are required to communicate with parents about the academic achievement of their children. In some cases, the nature of the communication is that their children are struggling academically and may have a learning disability involving language and literacy. Some of these children also have social, behavioral, and emotional difficulties that are commonly associated with learning disabilities (LD) such as a negative academic self-concept and low self-esteem, being rejected or bullied by peers, difficulty developing close friendships, anxiety, and depression (see Wiener&Tlmmermanis, 2012, for a review of this literature). The goals of the communication might be to discuss ways that the school and parents can work together to support the student, acquire parental consent for a psychological assessment, or to discuss options for special education. This task is often more challenging with parents of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) children and adolescents (Geva & Wiener, 2014). The purpose of this article is to discuss the cultural, immigration, and language factors that might affect this communication, and to provide educators with specific strategies that might aid them when communicating with parents of CLD students.

Cultural Differences and Acculturation

Cross-cultural psychologists identify several dimensions on which cultures differ, some of which are germane to the Issue of communication about learning difficulties. These differences include the extent to which academic achievement is valued and parental role in fostering achievement, communication style, and perspectives on learning difficulties and mental health challenges (Dana, 2005; Geva & Wiener, 2014). Although immigrant parents may be influenced by the culture of their country of origin, some are more heavily influenced by the culture of their adoptive country. This phenomenon is called acculturation (Berry, 2003). The article begins with a discussion of key cultural differences that may affect parental support for their children's learning and participation in partnerships with educators, and is followed by a discussion of four different acculturation patterns.

Value of Academic Achievement and Parental Role in Fostering Achievement

Cultures differ In parental expectations for their children's achievement and the relative value of other aspects of children's functioning such as emotional and social well-being (e.g., Costigan, Hua & Su, 2010; Turcios-Cotto & Milan, 2013). For example, In Canada, students whose families recently immigrated from China often have better academic outcomes than other students, possibly because of parental values involving deferring gratification and discipline (Costigan et al., 2010). Their parents often believe that they have a major role in supporting their children's achievement, and as a result engage in practices such as allocating a specific time for homework, limiting social engagements, hiring private tutors, and assigning homework when none is given at school. They may believe In the model minority stereotype-the notion that Asian immigrants are excellent students. In contrast, some cultural groups value academic achievement but place this goal below that of supporting family members emotionally and financially and peer social Interaction (Turcios-Cotto & Milan, 2013). Adolescent students from some minority groups may also resist studying and engaging in other practices that foster their achievement because they believe that this contravenes the values of their youth subculture (Turcios-Cotto & Milan, 2013).

When parents are informed that their children have difficulties with learning, they may attribute the problem to different reasons, some of which are based on cultural beliefs. As shown In Figure 1, parents' attributions for their children's learning difficulties may affect their emotions and their actions. They may, for example, believe that the learning difficulties are due to insufficient effort on the part of the child, even when this is not the case, the child being an English Language Learner, or that there are inadequacies in the way their children are being taught (Yagoub Zadeh, Geva, & Fagan, 2008; YokotaAdachi & Geva, 1999). …

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