A culture is the system of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that constitute the distinctive way of life of a people. Although sometimes the term is also used to refer specifically to the artistic, intellectual and other “high-brow” aspects of life, it is used here more broadly to refer to everything that characterises a way of life: football games as well as symphony concerts, and McDonald’s as well as expensive restaurants.
In this broad sense culture is nearly synonymous with ethnicity, which refers to the common language, history, and future experienced by a group within society. Culture has elements that are obvious, like unique holidays or customs, but also features that are subtle or easy for outsiders to overlook, like beliefs about the nature of intelligence or about the proper way to tell a story.
When a classroom draws students from many cultures or ethnic groups, therefore, the students bring to it considerable diversity.
Teachers need to understand diversity and how students’ habitual attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours differ from each other, and especially how they differ from the teacher’s. But this kind of understanding can get complicated.
To organise the topic, therefore, aspects of cultural diversity will be outlined according to how directly they relate to language differences compared to differences in other social and psychological features of culture. The distinction is convenient, but it is also a bit arbitrary because the features of a culture overlap and influence each other.