These are just random observations of a computing teacher, teaching English as a second language in a Thai school.

I work in an office with Thai, Australian, American and Chinese teachers. I have often wondered why understanding the Chinese staff with lesser English skills is easier than understanding some of the Thai staff. There is also occasionally a lack of understanding due to accent and language use between the Americans and the Australians, but this is an obvious issue.

 Language use. Concepts v/s specifics.
Some people tend to speak in big picture ideas and conceptualizations within their speech.
Others tend do speak more on the specific details and individual steps.
To accommodate these differences people just have to be aware of the differences in the beginning and ask themselves what is the normal style in which this person communicates.
----- Implications.
Persons who tend to speak in concepts are often talking more about big picture ideas and how they all mesh with the specifics. People who talk in specifics tend to not understand a conceptualizing speaker unless they know them or can be made aware that this is their normal mode of conversation. People who talk in concepts as their first impulse at communication, need to try and talk in specifics more if they want others to understand them. The exception is when they are talking about topics such as overall management structure and community (group) type conversations and how specifics all fit together in concepts. One of the most intelligent Doctors in Language I have known spoke in concepts all the time.


'Communication - different culture - different language - different understanding
Some cultures communicate by only giving the information that they think the recipient needs to know. This self-censoring raises issues for the recipient particulary if the recipient has a different language and cultural expectations. My experience in living and working in one of these cultures for an extended time is that the context is generally missing. The context makes the communication understandable and it often forms from a discussion. However, another cultures can take the opposite approach and actively involve group discussions so that all members of the group understand.

----- Implications

When learning English it is important to teach students to communicate effectively. This means that the context of the communication must be clearly communicated so that it is understood .


I have compared the differences in how my Thai and Chinese colleagues communicate in English with native-English speakers. The Chinese create a context when they communicate as their language is used and structured in a similar way to English as compared to Thai. This explains my observations that Chinese staff (with poorer English skills than the Thais) generally communicate more clearly with the native-English speakers'.
Language use. Grammar.
Grammar from some languages is the reverse of others. For example the subject and predicate are reversed in English when compared to Thai. Most language teachers will know this but many fail to allow for it when communicating with students. Often the students will understand the words in a sentence but then leave them in the order they would understand them as if they were Thai grammar. This often leaves the students slow to respond or in some cases doing the opposite of what is expected.
----- Implications.
For teaching this means the teacher needs to give the students time to understand. The teacher can get relevant feedback by asking the students to put their hand up if they have opened their books (done a task). Then say to the students, 'put your hand up if you  have not opened your book (not done the same task). The responses indicate how much the student is understanding and often if they are mixing the order of a sentence by confusing the grammar.

Eg. Words in common use, in different countries, with slightly different meanings.
The different words in common use can often lead to confusion. A simple example example of this is when I was talking to an American colleague and they started talking about 'bangs'. I had to ask her what she was talking about. In Australia the common word is fringe not bangs when talking about hair. I am not saying that Aussies don't know what bangs are, just that this is not the common word to use when referring to a fringe and in some circles the word can have a degenerate meaning. Thong is another good example in that Australians wear them on their feet as a sandal and in America they are very brief underwear or swimsuit.
----- Implications.
For teaching this is not normally a major issue for students, all they need to be made aware of is that misunderstanding can happen due to word use. This becomes irrelevant if the context of the conversation is made clear. The listener can 'cloze' the words when  the context is clearly understood.
To "cloze" a word means to make an educated guess at the meaning and if the context of the conversation is clearly implied clozing the word is a common method of understanding words that are not necessarily known.    

Brett Wilkin Jan 2008

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