The role of language in multicultural classroom

There are many different ethnic groups speaking many different languages, hence it is good to have a common language to bridge the differences. Here, in Malaysia, the official language is the Malay language and used as the medium of instruction for the National Primary School and Secondary Schools, whereas the national type primary schools (Chinese and Tamil) will continue to use pupils’ own language to learn the same curriculum content.

What could be the best way to communicate with students from diverse cultural background? It had has some thing that is related to sociolinguistic, i.e. the study of relationship between language and society, “how we speak in different social context… to convey social meaning.” (Holmes, 2013)

Language provides many different ways to convey the same meaning in situation of greeting others, explain or describing something, to argue or try to persuade, etc.The choice of words, intonation, accents is based on social factors such as the relationship and social ranking (range from the intimate relationship between family members, friends, teacher-pupils, to more distance and formal relationship like superordinates-subordinates, colleague, etc.), the speaker’s social status (gender, age, race, ethnicity, social class, etc.) (MLC, n.d.), feelings towards the other parties, the social context or function of interaction such as private conversation, formal occasion, public address, group discussion, and so on and so forth.

There are noticeable differences in the rules governing discourse (Taylor, 1990):

  • Opening or closing conversations;
  • Taking turns during conversations;
  • Interrupting;
  • Using silence as a communicative device;
  • Knowing appropriate topics of conversation;
  • Interjecting humor at appropriate times;
  • Using nonverbal behavior;
  • Expressing laughter as a communicative device;
  • Knowing the appropriate amount of speech to be used by participants; and
  • Sequencing of elements during discourse.

With this understanding, the teacher will understand the communicative behavior of students varied is due to different cultural background instead of blaming the students from different ethnic groups for responding differently to the classroom experience (Taylor, 1990; Smart & Byrne, n.d.).

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