We live in a world as vast and rich on differences as it is on regions and countries. Many places have developed their own ways for acting, communicating, and living. The term citizen of the world is more than just being able to talk a second or third language. It means knowing and being aware of cultural differences. For a person to become this kind of citizen, he or she must learn the ways of many cultures as much as possible.
It is so easy to misinterpret a gesture, word, or action from a person with a different cultural background. Sometimes these cultural elements can be opposites in the way they are interpreted. Even if we learned the language of a specific culture, that learning would be incomplete without meanings and interactions proper from the culture that language is part of. If we learn how to say thank you in Spanish it might not be good enough if we don’t add variables like when, how, accompanied by what, to who, under which situations, and so more to express gratitude accurately in that language.
So, where does this richness in cultural diversity might lead?
One possible path is miscommunication. Without the proper learning, situations and intentions between individuals of different cultures can be misinterpreted so easily it can bring even wars. On the conflict of USA and Panama, negotiations took longer than expected because of how one word was being interpreted and translated by the parties involved. It was a language problem, but also a cultural one.
Under this scene, it is easy to imagine this problem on an educational environment with a multi-cultural classroom full of commonly young people having miscommunication problems all the time. This applies to interaction between students and with the teacher.
This possible scenario increases the importance for a teacher to get to know their students including their cultural backgrounds. Some students might get offended by a teacher’s appraisal on their work, others could understand gestures of an expressive teacher as some kind of reprimand, laugh from a student could mean embarrassment rather than disrespect towards his teacher; all kinds of situations can happen.
What can we do to confront this possible issue?
Knowledge and exercises to release ourselves from previous conceptions. If we know our students, we would be able to understand them better from day one. It takes time, but it worth the effort. Also, a teacher’s mind should be one of the most open of minds, and that requires us to get free from judgement and our own patterns, at least to a certain degree. This way we can receive multi-cultural classrooms with a better attitude and more prepared to experience all possible circumstances brought by our wonderful students.
"Everything's fine. It's just their communication styles"
TESOL 103 Class Assignment - BYUI