Vol. 8. No. 2 R-5 September 2004
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Understanding Your International Students: An Educational, Cultural, and Linguistic Guide

Jeffra Flaitz (Ed.) (2003)
Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press
Pp. viii + 211
ISBN 0-472-08866-1 (paper)

The growing number of culturally and linguistically diverse students in the English speaking countries, especially North America, has always incited educators and researchers to investigate the role that the culture and native language of the students play in the acquisition of knowledge. Understanding such a role was found to be essential to the teaching/learning of international students. Understanding Your International Students provides readers with brief yet rich information about the educational, cultural and linguistic backgrounds of international students from sixteen countries.

The book is divided into two main parts. The first one occupies almost two thirds of the book and focuses on the educational and cultural backgrounds of Brazil, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Cuba, Egypt, Haiti, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, People's Republic of China, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The second part provides some detail about the linguistic features of the languages adopted in these countries. Information provided about each country or language is presented in a separate chapter or section. Each section is divided into smaller subsections or segments; however, the titles of these subsections are not listed in the contents page. There are only two main titles in the content page: (1) countries and (2) language.

Each country section starts with a brief profile: Information is provided about the capital, population, location, climate, monetary unit, urban/rural life, religion, language, ethnicity and government. No doubt, this information serves as an "ice breaker" and paves the way for a deeper understanding of the educational, cultural and linguistic aspects of the selected countries.

The "Personal Snapshot" segment, which comes next, reports some stories of stereotyping against international students and their countries in the English speaking countries. Such experiences are reported by the authors themselves or from "individuals who were interviewed during the preparation of the book." Such reports reveal to a great extent the amount of cultural bias prevailing among people who interact with international students, especially their classmates and teachers. This sends a clear message about the need to know more about the cultural and educational systems of international students to avoid any misconceptions or prejudice against them. [-1-]

In the "Cultural Closeup" segment, information is provided about the people, habits, social life, folklore, traditions, customs, architecture, literature, and history of the country. The "Protocol" segment falls under the same category and provides information about the nonverbal behavior, images, forms of address, dress, polite/impolite topics and behaviors, and gift giving. Both segments are a good source of information about the other cultures; however, because of the brevity of the available data, readers are encouraged to read and research more to reach a profound understanding of the other cultures.

The "Educational Panorama" segment provides general information about the educational picture in general: public universities, public and private schools, vacations, and the role of English in the Curriculum.

The "Closer Look" segment provides detailed information about the educational policy, teaching style, learning style, instructional setting, activities, discipline and class management, teacher-student relationship and student-student relationship. There are also tables that provide information related to school calendars, exams, and grades. This information helps teachers avoid the biased assessment and intervention procedures that are used to evaluate culturally and linguistically diverse students, a problem which occupies a larger space in the works of educators and researchers.

The "Problem/Solution" segment concludes each section by presenting some classroom problems that stem from cultural biases and discrepancies. Describing these problems, investigating their causes, and providing advice on possible ways to approach them provide teachers and educators with effective strategies and techniques to deal with problems pertaining to cultural differences.

The language section provides the readers with brief information about the "Sound System," "Writing System," "Grammar," and "Rhetorical Organization" of the students' native languages. This section concludes with a table that includes "Useful Expressions for the Classroom" in the native language of the students.

The "Sound System" segment provides essential information to teachers by shedding light on some of the sound and language aspects that might hinder international students' acquisition of a native-like proficiency in pronunciation. Such information can help teachers invest suitable techniques to overcome these problems.

The "Writing System," "Grammar," and "Rhetorical Organization" segments provide readers with information that are essential to comprehend how the writing system of the native language functions. This would allow more space for resolving the problems that might result from the translation or transfer of rules from one native language to another.

As to the tables of useful expressions, there is no doubt that the expressions presented in this segment are very few. However, they form a good starting point for teachers of international students to seek more knowledge about the native language of the students, an aspect that serves breaking down cultural barrier. This seems to fall in harmony with today's research and experts' call for the need to have bilingual teachers when it comes to teaching international or immigrant students. [-2-]

Though the authors themselves state in their preface that Understanding Your International Students "does not attempt to attain any other goal than to introduce the reader to the countries selected," this book is a good educational resource in the hands of those involved in the educational process in countries with a large number of international students. This book helps teachers, principals, educators, social and psychological counselors or therapists gain some insight into students' behaviors that are culture-based. Based on such understanding, teachers and educators can gear their efforts towards providing students of "unique" needs and backgrounds with the necessary and required instructional and intervention tools. However, for the results to be satisfactory, educators or people interested are advised to do more readings on their own so that a deeper understanding of the abovementioned educational, linguistic and cultural factors is reached.

Salah Zogheib
University of Windsor

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