communicating cross-culture


Being a teacher here involves a lot of improv. I don’t mean just in acting; although we do a fair bit of that as well. Because the kids know so little English, and we know so little Chinese, we have to be pretty darned creative when communicating things like directions, admonitions, etc. There are certain tricks that have been passed on or have become apparent to me over the course of these last few months.

For instance, there are certain tones of voice you can use when you want the students to do something, like repeat or answer. Tones, along with gestures, help communicate my wishes. If I say something just so, I can get the kids to repeat it. If I say something faster and use my hands a certain way, they know it’s a question they need to answer. I couldn’t outline exactly what I do, but you can probably get the idea. It works surprisingly well. We have few mishaps or misunderstandings, and because we keep the directions simple, they always get it in the end.

It’s funny, because now, most of the English teachers talk like we’re addressing our students all the time. Big hand motions, illustrating every word, keeping it slow and simple…it’s embarrassing when you catch yourself doing it. Or you keep thinking and talking in the same manner you would to a Taiwanese person who has some English. The English they use tends to follow a little different logic; I find myself speaking in ways that will be easier for them to follow based on their own logic, not mine.

Learning to adjust, and keeping your natural language habits, is important. I read a lot, I listen to podcasts or audio books, and in this way, I’m able to keep up my understanding and intrinsic use of grammar and articulation. Otherwise, I might find myself coming home and treating everyone around me like a three-year-old.


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