Ethnography in Esl

Ethnography in ESL Review

Ethnography has recently become very popular in English as a Second Language (ESL).   The basic idea behind ethnography is that experimental research cannot give us the same perspective as observations of true learning environments, such as classrooms, social environments, homes, etc.   Ethnography looks at the moment to moment interactions within these environments.   This enables the ethnographer to get a sense for the socioculture of the learning environment.
Watson-Gegeo defines ethnography as “the study of people’s behavior in naturally occurring, ongoing settings, with a focus on the cultural interpretation of behavior.” [Watson-Gegeo 1988, p. 576]   The ethnographer observes a learning environment, noting all the interactions that are taking place.   He then describes the outcome of those interactions and the participants’ understanding of their actions.   Some people mistake ethnography with qualitative and natural research.   While similar, ethnographic research distinguishes itself by focusing on holism and by treating culture as vital to the analysis.
Ethnography puts a large focus on the behavior of people in groups and cultural patterns that come up in that behavior.   It also explains every action or behavior in its relation to the whole system, which it is a part of.   The ethnographic researcher creates a theoretical framework, which he then uses to direct his attention to specific situations within the research.   “If observation is not guided by an explicit theoretical framework, it will be guided only by the observer’s…values, attitudes, and assumptions about ‘what sorts of things make up the world [or universe of study], how they are related, and how they act.” [p. 578]
Emic-Etic analysis is a characteristic of ethnography.   It calls for the ethnographer to see each situation through the eyes of its participants and not through the eyes of the observer.   Emic analysis refers to the cultural perspectives, interpretations...