120% Font Size Sharper Font Color
VOCABULARY LEVEL 1 – Package 9 – Similarities and Differences

Learning Outcomes

By the end of VOCABULARY LEVEL 1 you should be able to
✔ study vocabulary independently
✔ use different strategies to expand and record vocabulary

Introduction to Independent Learning

Independent learning gives you more choice about what, when and how fast to study. It also prepares you to learn after complete full time education.

In order to study independently you need to be able to set your own aims, choose how you want to study and reflect on the usefulness of studying that you do and on your overall progress.

Since you have chosen to study VOCABULARY LEVEL 1, we can assume that you want to learn more about how to expand and remember words more effectively. The online activities are designed to help you to develop and build the bank of words and expressions that you have at your disposal.

To begin with, there is a vocabulary quiz which will give you some idea of where you strengths and weaknesses lie.

Package 9 Rating Form

Package 9 - Similarities and Differences

Similarities and Differences

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this unit, you should be able to
✔ use a range of vocabulary to make comparisons and contrasts
✔ plan and write a short essay, discussing similarities and differences.


You will often need to discuss or show how alike or different two or more persons, places, events, objects, methods or ideas are. Making comparisons and contrasts is a fundamental process by which we explore and evaluate unfamiliar things and circumstances in the light of those we already know. This section is designed to help you present or write about similarities and differences in a variety of ways.

Activity 1 

Cultural differences may lead to misunderstandings. When the assumptions or behaviour of one party do not accord with those of another party, the result may be communication breakdown. The activities below give you a chance to explore differences in patterns of cultural behaviour between Chinese and Americans which might lead to misunderstanding.

You are going to read an essay which discusses different aspects of North American and Chinese cultures. It refers to Chinese society as collectivist and North American society as individualist.

It also contains a variety of expressions relating to similarity and difference. Read the text for content and then underline the words and patterns that show or express similarity and difference and transfer them to the appropriate boxes after the passage.

Text 1:  Collectivist Vs. individualist

The values held by one culture are apt to differ from those of another. Generally speaking, individualism is characteristic of Western cultures, while collectivism is a feature of Eastern cultures.  Individualism is the belief that each person is distinct and ought to achieve independence from others. Individualists believe that society is only the means for an individual to reach his personal goals. In a society based on individualism, self-reliance and self-affirmation are encouraged. People can freely express their feelings without outside interference and can state different views publicly. An individual has the right to protect his privacy, to make his own choice and to lead his life in his own way. The individual is permitted to pursue his self-interest on the condition that he does not violate other people's rights or the laws and social moralities which protect the equal rights of all the people.

The society which most clearly exemplifies individualism is that of North America. For the average American, an individual's most important concern is his self-interest and in this respect he is concerned much more about his own career and his personal success than about group interests. American individualism cannot be separated from freedom. By freedom, Americans mean the ability of all individuals to control their own destiny without outside interference. Americans expect freedom of choice in almost everything. They are free to choose a college and what to study there. They are free to choose a job which they are interested in, and free to marry the person of their own choice without interference from their parents. Americans believe that children should be encouraged to make decisions for themselves, develop their own opinions, solve their own problems, and have their own points of view on different topics. Independence is seen as a product or result of freedom.  Their independence in turn makes American people self-reliant and they regard relying on other people as rather shameful.

Collectivism emphasizes the welfare of the organization or group. Individuals are not encouraged to pursue self-interest since this may be considered a threat to the conformity and harmony of the social group. Individuals are viewed only as members of a group and are expected to sacrifice their own interests and meet the demands of the group whenever there is a conflict. Collectivists are reluctant to attract other people's attention and they do not state views which conflict with accepted social values.

Chinese culture is based on collectivism and a great deal of social behaviour centres on the need for properly ordered social relationships. It is assumed that if every person plays his designated role properly, then society will be well run, and happiness and harmony will be achieved and sustained. Consequently, a uniform set of values is required and self-discipline, restraint and moderation are the basic ways of dealing with other people in the group.  With such an emphasis on social order and consensus, the notions of individualism and inalienable rights never flourished in China.  Of course, striving for individual achievement and excellence is highly valued, but success is seen as the result of the support of one's family or other influential groups.

Privacy is perhaps one of the most distinctive features deriving from the individualism of American culture. In contrast, close proximity from an early age means that Chinese people have less need for privacy and personal space than Americans, who tend to avoid close physical contact and keep at least an arm's distance when they talk with each other.  Differing concepts of privacy can cause problems in intercultural interaction.  For example, many Americans living in China complain that they are too often asked by Chinese about their personal matters.  Questions such as "Are you married?" or "How old are you?" are common.  It is not, of course, the intention of Chinese to be offensive.  The Chinese inquisitiveness about other people's private lives is usually motivated by their desire to establish a more intimate personal relationship or closer friendship and this is possible because the concept of privacy is not strong in China. In Chinese culture, an individual is a member of a group within which he is exposed to constant concern or enquiry. Privacy, then, is often ignored because Chinese tend to be interested in others and are used to living in close proximity.

Patterns of family behaviour and interpersonal relationships also reflect the enormous differences between American individualism and Chinese collectivism.  Chinese people respect groups and are inclined to reserve their greatest respect for their families. Chinese families are based on mutual help. Parents bring up their children and in return the children when mature will support their aged parents. This is a never-ending cycle of security and sacrifice.  Although the Chinese family pattern has been changing in recent years and there is a trend towards the nuclear family system, it is, nonetheless, the children's responsibility to take care of their aged parents. For an individual, the family is actually a refuge for life, albeit a rather inquisitive one. The Chinese believe that "East or West, home is best." Each member of a family will try very hard to maintain the ongoing stability of the family and increase its prosperity. The status of the family is always the greatest concern and in return, the individual gets all the basic necessities of life from his family.

The American family pattern is quite different because of Americans' desire for independence and freedom. American society is competitive and as a result, independence is the prerequisite for success. Children cannot live with their parents all their lives. When they get married and have their own family, the treasure their privacy so much that they cannot tolerate the idea of living with their parents.  Similarly, older Americans generally prefer to live independently of their children and grandchildren. Some of them even prefer to live alone in retirement houses or "old folk's homes" rather than relying on their children. They love their independence so much that they think it shameful to depend on others.

Age seems to be viewed as a negative asset in Western societies and, generally speaking, older people are shown little respect. In comparison, Chinese people believe that people age just like wine: the older they are, the more mature and revered because they have experienced a great deal which, by itself, is a great fortune. The belief holds that a great deal of time and energy can be saved if younger people accept the guidance of older people.  This respect, or filial piety, is the basis upon which other traditional values rest.  It ensures a stable family, harmonious relationships between generations and a sense of security for the old. It is of special meaning at present when people tend to be increasingly self-centered and more and more apathetic to the old and weak.

Words expressing similarity and differences

Activity 2

To widen the range of words you can use to express the concepts of similarity and difference, you will need to go beyond basic terms such as similar, different and comparative adjective phrases like greater than. The following table contains some of the most common words in this area.

Learn the words in the table below. If you do not know the meaning of some words, you should look them up in a dictionary. Then complete the exercise by dragging a word from the table and dropping it into the gap in the sentences below.

Click the tabs to show contents.
Copyright© 2012-2015 UGC ICOSA Project, Hong Kong. All rights reserved.