One of the wonderful things about teaching in the ESL trenches is that there are always little surprises, caused by dealing with different cultures. I currently have 10 students in Austin, who speak three different languages. They are from Mexico, Colombia, Morocco and Haiti.

Somehow they found out last month that May 22nd was my birthday. They threw a surprise birthday party for me, although there weren't enough candles in Travis County, and not enough room on any cake, for the proper number of candles.

There are several sources of cultural input which an ESL teacher can use to better know our students. We can go to the library and read about such things or get some of the same information on line. The best source can be information received directly from the target culture. I actually believed my students from Mexico, when they insisted that the custom in their country was for the celebratee (yours truly) to take the first bite out of a birthday cake and to NOT use a fork. I thought that I knew a lot about Mexico, but this one was new on me. I followed their instructions and gingerly nibbled a small piece from the cake. ¡ZAP!



The astounding thing was that this was NOT a cultural imperative.
They wanted to get me and they DID! Behold the four photos showing the results.

The moral to this story is to be more skeptical when receiving cultural information from your students.
It was fun though, and in my ESL workshops I've always pushed enjoying one's students, in order to get results!
This time they got the results....


Ted