The Cultural Iceberg

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cultural icebergWelcome to our free lesson the cultural iceberg to give you practise for the IB English Language B exam. This is just one of the many lessons available to reinforce your learning so you feel confident when the IB English Language B exam day arrives. Our lessons are centred around five prescribed themes; identities, experiences, human ingenuity, social organization and sharing the planet. These themes are featured in the reading, writing, speaking and listening parts of the exam.

The Cultural Iceberg: Listening Practice

listeningIn this lesson, we will practice mainly our listening skills by learning about the cultural iceberg. Watch our video that will guide you through the lesson. You will be asked to pause the video to complete the activities in the tabs below.

Exercise 1Exercise 2Exercise 3Word List

You are going to watch a video explaining the theory and model of the cultural iceberg.

Click here to view transcript

In his book beyond culture Edward T Hall developed the iceberg analogy of culture. The cultural iceberg theory suggests that like an iceberg there are only some aspects of culture which are visible or which in other words lie above the surface of the water.

These can include language, food, greetings, art, music and many others. These are the explicit manifestations of culture, they are easy to see taste or hear, but according to Hall’s theory, these are only the tip of the iceberg.

The majority of culture like an iceberg lies beneath the surface. These aspects are not immediately visible they can include worldview, religion, spiritual beliefs, decision-making models, power relationships, respect for authority, concepts of time and many others.

These are the implicit manifestations of culture. They can exert an important influence over behaviour values feelings and thoughts. The more immersed we become in a cultural environment the more these hidden aspects are revealed to us.

Listen to Abidemi talking about how being from Nigeria made her different and interesting at the same time. Answer the questions below.

This activitiy was adapted from a resource from

Click here to view the transcript.

Jeremy: So you were 12 when you came to Canada.

Abidemi: That’s right.

Jeremy: Do you remember anything that was either really similar or really different from how teachers taught or from the classroom experience? Were they more or less the same or were they shockingly different?

Abidemi: Actually, I think they were different in a lot of ways. For some reason, I had finished my grade 6, which is like primary 6; they called it in Nigeria, which is the end of high school—no, sorry. The end of an elementary school in Nigeria.

So when I came to Canada, they put me into grade 7 thinking it’s the next level. But my level was higher so they put me into grade 8 after that. So I got to skip a grade, which was really great. But I remember in terms of the way of thinking; in my English literature class, we had a conversation and we had to finish a story. And it was like, “Suddenly, something appeared in the sky. What is it?”

And all my classmates were, “It’s a UFO.” For me, I’d never heard of a UFO. So they were like it’s a UFO. It makes somebody disappear, it picks up somebody, and one of their classmate and another person disappears.

But in my essay, I’m like—it was just weird. I had a totally different way of thinking and processing things. And that really surprised my teachers because when they wrote my composition, they compared it to the rest of the class, to my classmates and they were like, “Wow, this is interesting that you’re the same age and we’re all speaking the same language, but the way we view things is very different.”

And I guess, to me as well, it was my first exposure to cultural differences. And then after that, many years later, coming to Japan and being different again, in a different setting, it made me think back to that time thinking, wow, you can’t always expect the same things. Differences come in weird places sometimes.

Jeremy: I see.

Abidemi: So yeah, that’s one thing I remember. But a lot of things were the same. We are the same, and yeah, different.

Jeremy: So Abidemi, just in terms of sort of the simple things in life, when you came to Canada, were there any foods or drinks that you were particularly fond of right away or thought were particularly strange?

Abidemi: Hmm, very good question. Food, a lot of food was all right, right off the bat, like we didn’t have any difficulties with that. But one thing I do remember was nacho chips. We were not used to cheese, the taste of cheese. So my sisters and I, what we would do is we would buy nacho chips, like, Doritos—I don’t know if everyone knows that—and we would wash it because the cheesy taste was strange. So we would wash it before eating it and then we would eat it. And I have some friends who will just stare at us, like, “What’s the point? Why would you buy that flavour of chips? That’s the whole point, to taste that.” But we were like, “No, we can’t eat this.”

But eventually, now, I love Doritos. I have grown accustomed to the taste.

Jeremy: You probably made it healthier though.

Abidemi: That’s true.

Every language has a few words or phrases that may be misunderstood. Here are a few that you may find useful to add to your vocabulary.

boot – the “boot” is the compartment at the back of the car known as the “trunk” in American English

budge up – an informal way of asking someone to make room where they are sitting for you to sit down, too, would be asking them to “budge up.”

miffed – slightly irritated or annoyed.

splash out – to “splash out” means spending significant amounts of money on a particular item or event

take the mickey – to “take the Mickey” means to take liberties at the expense of others — and can be used in both a lighthearted and an irritated fashion.

You can find more British phrases here.

Here are the keywords and phrases covered in this lesson:

  • the analogy of culture
  • classroom experience
  • concepts of time
  • cultural differences
  • cultural iceberg
  • explicit manifestations
  • grown accustomed
  • immersed
  • implicit manifestations
  • the tip of the iceberg
  • visible
We add activities and exercises regularly on various themes, so why not bookmark our site, so you can come back to practice anywhere or at any time of the day.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to discover their interests, values, belief and culture.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to consider how events which take place impact an individual's life.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to explore the sciences, technology and creativity.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to explore the way in which groups of people organise themselves through common systems or interests.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to look at the challenges and opportunities faced by individuals and communities in the modern world.

Here you will find exercise to practice for the different sections of IB English B examination for either the Standard (SL) or Higher Level (HL) papers.
Learning English requires not just a good vocabulary, but a strong foundation of English grammar to communicate effectively.

Word puzzles require not just a good vocabulary and a knack for spelling, but the ability to think logically and strategically.
Levels Links:
 This free material is for students at an advanced level of English. This will probably be suitable for students in their fifth or sixth year of English studies. We add exercises on grammar and vocabulary as well as whole text activities on a regular basis. In addirion, we provide test practice activity for students who are preparing for the C1 Advanced which is part of the Cambridge Assessment English Main Suite as well as the English Language B for the IB Diploma. The material will also support students studying for the Cambridge Advanced courses.

We also provide free resources across the full range of levels to provide the tools to communicate in English well.

Elementary | Pre-Intermediate | Intermediate | Upper Intermediate | Advanced

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