skip to main content


Vol.4, Issue 1, 2018, pp.5-18 Full text

Crossmark logo

Web of Science: 000447603600001

Jason Blake

Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Cultural misunderstandings often arise because of the unstated assumptions or "background books" that each of us has. In the classroom, such misunderstandings can make for uncomfortable moments, but they can also lead to fruitful teaching experiences for teacher and student alike. Using a variety of examples that arose while teaching a module called "Canadian Culture" at a Slovenian university, I argue that such moments - such as when students seem not to have heard what I think was a clear message or bit of information - the resulting cultural misunderstanding can be educationally rewarding. They force us to break out of the question-and-answer routine that is often a part of the teaching process.

Keywords: Canadian culture, classroom misunderstandings, cultural misunderstandings, mistranslation

Article history:
Submitted: 21 February 2018;
Reviewed: 15 April 2018;
Revised: 31 May 2018;
Accepted: 1 June 2018;
Published: 30 June 2018

Citation (APA6):
Blake, J. (2018). Bridging difference through classroom misunderstandings. English Studies at NBU, 4(1), 5-18.

Copyright © 2018 Jason Blake

This open access article is published and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0), which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. If you want to use the work commercially, you must first get the authors' permission.

Blake, Jason. (2011). Slovenia: Culture smart!. Kuperard.

Canada's great classical actor William Hutt dies at 87 (2007, June 27). Retrieved from

Brinton, Laurel J. and Margery Fee. (2001). Canadian English. In John Algeo (Ed.) The Cambridge history of the English language, Volume 6: English in North America (pp. 422–455). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Eco, Umberto. (1998). Serendipities: Language and lunacy. (William Weaver, trans.). Columbia University Press.

Garebian, Keith. (1988). William Hutt: A theatre portrait. Mosaic Press.

Hempkin, Kirsten. (2008). Exploring stereotypes: Scottish and Slovene jokes in the classroom. ELOPE: English English language overseas perspectives and enquiries, 5(1/2), 171–183.

Johnson, Keith. (2017). An introduction to foreign language learning and teaching (3rd ed.). Routledge.

Lemieux, Diana. (2016). Canada: Culture smart!. Kuperard.

Lingenfelter, Judith and Lingenfelter, Sherwood. (2003). Teaching cross-culturally: An incarnational model for learning and teaching. Baker Academic.

McKay, Lee Sandra. (2002). Teaching English as an international language: Rethinking Goals and approaches. Oxford University Press.

Phillipson, Robert. (2013). Linguistic imperialism continued. Routledge.

Reindl, Donald. (2008). Language Contact, German and Slovenian. Brockmeyer Verlag.

Shaw, George Bernard. (n.d.). Saint Joan. Retrieved from

Slethaug, Gordon E. (2007). Teaching abroad: International education and the cross-cultural classroom. Hong Kong University Press

Tzvetkova, Juliana. (2015). Bulgaria: Culture Smart!. Kuperard.

Woods, E.G. (1994). British studies in English language teaching. In Michael Byram (Ed.), Culture and language learning in higher education, (pp. 79-90). Multilingual Matters.

Open Review

1. Reviewer's name: James Beddington, University of Winchester
Publons Reviewer Profile
Review Verified on Publons:
Review content:
While all of us that work in the fields of teaching language, culture, and translation will recognize that moments when everything do not quite go as planned this article serves as a useful and entertaining reminder that when communication is in danger of breaking down one needs to take a step towards your interlocutor, to bridge the divide, rather than away from them.

I am sure I won't be the only reader to think of the aphorism often attributed to Shaw, "the U.S. and U.K. are two nations divided by a common language". This is perhaps even truer when both sides are armed with a set of expectations of what each other will do, (and how they will do it). Especially as observed here when, a person from a less direct culture compensates to accommodate a more direct culture, whose representative is especially sensitized because they are themselves expecting indirect behavior. Sometimes expecting the unexpected is better than a faulty paradigm based on a handful of abstractions. We must all be ready for the unexpected, and if that means being less bound by predictions of the expected then so be it.

My first reaction to the question of where are the hooligans in hockey was – "in the sin bin (penalty box) but normally only for a couple of minutes at a time" – perhaps only appropriate if there was time to add the perhaps esoteric topic of sporting misdemeanors to the session. And a response that perhaps shows my age as Canadian hockey is no longer as in thrall to "the goon" as it once was.

These personal observations triggered by this article, are further indications of how personal language and culture can be. If we accept that no two people speak or write a language exactly the same way; then perhaps we need to be more consistently considerate of others' understanding of us whether or not there is a cultural and/or linguistic divide between us. The fact that we are all individual users of language is evidenced by the widespread use of software such as Turnitin to find instances of plagiarism; even within large cohorts of students, writing very similar papers, to identical topics, from the same pool of resources, with the same conditions and support.

The article while rooted in applied linguistics, specifically translation & culture, brings to mind the concerns of a more theoretical nature as well. Specifically I thought of Freire's problem posing model of education this time including the instructor in solving the inter-cultural problems the class discovered. This should be contrasted with what Freire calls banking education, where knowledge is transmitted from a knower to a student, without consideration as to how the knowledge was constructed in the first place.

Carefully considering these issues can perhaps help us to become more critically reflective of our own practices, as well as help our students become more effective at cultural accommodation within their own translation activities.

2. Reviewer's name: Svetlana Dimitrova-Gjuzeleva, PhD, New Bulgarian University
Publons Reviewer Profile
Review Verified on Publons:
Review content:
This is an original article emphasizing the need to develop learners' intercultural competence along with their foreign language communicative competence. And do that in a way which is much more enjoyable and beneficial for the students than the fact-based question-and-answer drill.

The aim of the article is well defined, pertinent to the education of philology students (but not only) and the claims are well supported through anecdotal evidence.

The inferences and conclusions are clearly drawn from the findings, though sometimes the author displays a bias in his/her interpretation and sees a culture clash / misunderstanding where there might not necessarily be one. Still, such potential pitfalls shouldn't be left unexplored and teachers are encouraged to find their own examples to discuss with their students.

No specialised knowledge is required - the article may be found beneficial by lecturers in other fields (not only philologists).

Handling Editor: Stan Bogdanov
Verified Editor Record on Publons:

Article Metrics