Friday, June 15, 2012


Cultural Bias on Tests

When I worked one of my high school/college jobs at the gym
We did some TOEFL questions today with my college students and on one of them some of my students really struggled.

Now let's keep in mind two things.
1. My students are not American students.
2. My students tend to be from an affluent upbringing
(EDITED TO ADD: 3. This school is known as one of the best schools in Mexico. As such, the students are known to have an especially high workload.)

The problem was that the in audio the man mentioned "work" and the answer was about "school." My students instantly ruled out anyone who worked being in school (other than a teacher perhaps) because students don't work. The conversation went something like this.

Student A: "Teacher it can't be B"
Me: "OK, why not?"
Student A: "Because students don't work"
Me: "Well, don't some students work? I mean it is possible right?"
Student B: "RARELY*"   
*I am very proud of him using rarely as we JUST learned that!

Teacher: "OK, this is a cultural thing. In America, most students have jobs. I had three."
Students: *blank stares*
Student C: "Really?"

Times like this I remember that we really aren't just teaching a language we are teaching a whole new culture!

I am trying to remember any time when something like this happened to me learning Spanish, but I just can't think of any? Can you?


  1. Maybe with the whole living-with-mom-forever thing?

    1. Could be...I hadn't thought about that, because a lot of my friends live on their own, but you're right there still is a big number living at home (but they all have jobs!)

      My friend has also pointed out that Tec tends to have its own culture. They expect a lot out of the students and as a result it seems unheard of to work.

      Now, this isn't 100% true, because I have asked my classes before who had used a resume / had an interview or worked a job and I¿ve always had a few hands go up... but it definitely isn't the norm.

    2. I don't know if this is tyensame but (Im Hispanic teaching Spanish in the USA) I was talkig about schools in Puerto Rico not having football teams or cheerleaders and I got the "blank face" from my students.

    3. I'd say it is similar! I remember once a friend told me about a riddle she did in a class. She told the students that a man was on a bus and he saw that someone got off the bus and left their magazine on it. Wanting to return it he showed up at the person's house later that day. How did they know where he lived?

      All of the students explained that he had simply asked the people on the bus. Since they came from a smaller town it made perfect sense that everyone would know him.

      The answer the teacher was looking for was that it was a magazine subscription and had his address on it. To the stduents though this seemed unheard of. Subscriptions hadn't really picked up there yet.

      Always interesting to see how others interpret things!

  2. Your comment about your students shows that they are unfamiliar with other social classes in Mexico, let alone the US! Surely there are plenty of people in Mexico who juggle two or three jobs to make ends meet?

    1. Perhaps. I think this big city is still part of the divide where those who work don't tend to study. I agree however that the culture of the school may be different than the rest of Mexico.


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