Andy Gillett looks at ways in which professional English language teachers can help other members of staff communicate better with international students.

In my present job, I am often asked if I can help other members of staff, both academic and non-academic, to communicate with international students better. At the IATEFL conference in Brighton this year, I tried to explore ways in which experienced professional language teachers can use their knowledge and experience to do this. How can intercultural communication be improved? How can we communicate better with a student from another culture, from another education system, of a different age, who speaks a different language?

After looking at problems with some definitions of communication, I suggested that in order to communicate well with someone from a different culture, knowledge of that person’ s culture was necessary. This might be fine for people going to live in another country or for people who deal mainly with people from one or two other countries or cultures. However, this is impossible in a large university like the University of Hertfordshire which could have students from 80 different countries. I felt the most important objective of any training course was to raise people’ s awareness of areas of difference.

There are five broad areas that I had found useful to look at:

1. Cultural behaviour. People from different cultures do things in different ways.

It is important to increase our awareness of and sensitivity to culturally different modes of behaviour. We need to recognise different cultural patterns at work in the behaviour of people from other countries and cultures.

It is also useful to be aware of how our own cultural background influences our behaviour. And we need to develop tolerance for behaviour patterns that are different from our own.

Some useful areas to look at are:

Tomalin & Stempleski (1993) have some useful photcopiable exercises here.

2. Students’ perception/expectations.

It is important to try to see what expectations the students have of studying and living in this country, to try to see the learning process and experience of living here from the students point of view. How do students see the learning process? What is the role of the teacher/host family? What part is the student expected to play in all this? What are the conventions in British families or schools and universities?

What can students expect and what is expected of them? In the UK, teachers tend to believe that we learn through interaction and discussion. Individual ideas and opinions are encouraged and expected. In many parts of the Far East students are taught to learn through imitation and observation. They believe that they need to internalise the existing knowledge before contributing their own ideas.

Educational institutions and families could help by making their expectations of the student’ s role clear.

Jin & Cortazzi (1993)is a useful starting point for discussion of the student’ s role in higher education. Underhill (1991) also has some useful ideas on both learning and loving in Britain.

3. Culture

Most teachers, secretaries and host families will share the same culture, but not all learners will. Culture is an inherited wealth in which we all can share, but it is passed on to us from different sources, and we share it in different parts with different groups to which we belong. What cultures do lecturers or host families and Students in Higher Education share? What knowledge is expected/presupposed?

Roger Bowers (1992) provides a useful quiz that can be used, or adapted for use , with students, teachers or others. He sees culture as a mixture of memories, metaphors, maxims and myths. Different groups of people share in this knowledge in different ways.

4. Cross cultural pragmatics

It is often difficult for speakers of other languages to understanding “ what is meant” by “ what is said” . It is also difficult for mono-lingual speakers to understand that this is a problem. People from different cultures use language to do things in different ways. A student who says, “ Give me a coffee” is seen as rude by an English speaker in the UK. Jenny Thomas defines politeness as a linguistic phenomenon rather than equating it with any moral disposition towards one’ s interlocutor. The student is therefore making a linguistic error rather than being rude.

Some examples which have been studied are:

Thomas (1995) has some useful ideas. Tannen (1992) has some good examples of communication going wrong.

5. Language

We all, as language teachers, know about language problems, but how can we help people who are not English teachers to deal better with International students. Second language speakers may:

Students in higher education have particular difficulty understanding their lecturers. Although as an ESP teacher, my main role is to analyse the language the students will be exposed to and help my students to deal with it, not to get the lecturers to change their language, at the University of Hertfordshire, I give the following advice to lecturers who ask for help in making their language more accessible to Students in Higher Education:






If everyone in the institution who deals with Students in Higher Education is helped to become aware if these differences, communication will be easier for everyone.

References and Further Reading.

Adams, P., Heaton, B. & Howarth, P. (Eds.). (1991). Socio-cultural issues in English for academic purposes. London: Macmillan.
Archer, C. M. (1986). Culture bump and beyond. In J. M Valdes (Ed.), Culture bound (pp. 170-178). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bagnole, J. W. (1976). TEFL, perceptions, and the Arab world. Washington, DC: Africa-Middle East Educational-Training Services.
Becher, T. (1989). Academic tribes and territories: Intellectual enquiry and the culture of disciplines. Buckingham: The Society for Research into higher Education and Open University Press.
Bloor, M. & Bloor, T. (1991). Cultural expectations and socio-pragmatic failure in academic writing. In P. Adams, B, Heaton & P. Howarth (Eds.), Socio-cultural issues in English for academic purposes (pp. 1-12). London: Macmillan.
Blue, G. M. (Ed.). (1993). Language, learning and success: Studying through English. London: Macmillan.
Blum-Kulka, S. & Olshtain, E. (1984). Requests and apologies: A cross cultural study of speech act realisation patterns. Applied Linguistics, 5, 196-213.
Bowers, R. (1992). Memories, metaphors, maxims and myths: Language learning and cultural awareness. ELT Journal, 46, 29-38.
Brislin, R. & Yoshida, T. (1994). Intercultural communication training: An introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
British Council (1997). Feeling at home: A guide to cultural issues for those working with Students in Higher Education (2nd ed.). London: The British Council.
Brown, G. A. & Atkins, M. (1988). Effective teaching in higher education. London: Routledge.
Brown, P. & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness: some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brown, H. D. (1980). Principles of language learning and teaching. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Channell, J. (1990). The student-tutor relationship. In M. Kinnell (Ed.), The learning experience of overseas students (pp. 63-81). Buckingham: Open University Press.
Christison, M. A. & Krahnke, K. J. (1986). Student perceptions of academic language study. TESOL Quarterly, 20, 61-68.
Clyne, M. (1983). Culture and discourse structure. In L. E. Smith (Ed.), Readings in English as an international language (pp. 163-167). London: Prentice Hall.
Connor, U. & McCagg, P. (1983). Cross-cultural differences and perceived quality in written paraphrases of English expository prose. Applied linguistics, 4, 259-268.
Connor, U. (1996). Contrastive rhetoric. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Davies, E. E. (1987). A contrastive approach to the analysis of politeness formulas. Applied Linguistics, 8, 75-88.
Ellis, A. & Beattie, G. (1986). The psychology of language and communication. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Fast, J. (1971). Body language. London: Pan Books.
Furnham, A. & Bochner, S. (1986). Culture shock: Psychological reactions to unfamiliar environments. London: Methuen.
Greenall, G. M. & Price, J. E. (Eds.), (1980). Study modes and academic development of overseas students (ELT Documents 109). London: British Council.
Guy, V. & Mattock, J. (1991). The new international manager: An action guide for cross-cultural business. London: Kogan Page
Hall, E. T. (1959). The hidden dimension. New York: Doubleday.
Hall, E. T. (1966). The silent language. New York: Doubleday.
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Harris, M. (1975). Culture, people, nature: An introduction to general anthropology. New York: Harper and Row.
Harrison, B. (Ed.). (1990). Culture and the language classroom. London: Modern English Publications and the British Council.
Hinkel, E. (1997). Appropriateness of advice: DCT and multiple choice data. Applied Linguistics, 18, 1-26.
Hoenig, M. B. (1984). Proxemic behaviour among cultures. World Language English, 4, 16-19.
Hofstede, G. (1991). Cultures and organisations: Sofware of the mind. London: McGraw-Hill.
James, K. (1980). Seminar overview. In G. M. Greenall & J. E. Price (Eds.), Study modes and academic development of overseas students (ELT Documents 109, pp. 7-21). London: The British Council.
Jin, L. & Cortazzi, M. (1993). Cultural orientation and academic language use. In D. Gradol, L. Thompson, & M. Byram (Eds.), Language and culture (pp. 84-97). Clevedon, Avon: BAAL and Multilingual Matters.
Jin, L. & Cortazzi, M. (1996). ‘ This way is very different from Chinese ways’ : EAP needs and academic culture. In M. Hewings and T. Dudley-Evans (Eds.), Evaluation and course design in EAP (pp. 205-216). Hemel Hempstead: Phoenix.
Jordan, R. R. (1997). English for academic purposes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kachru, Y. (1995). Contrastive rhetoric in world Englishes. English Today, 11(1), 21-31.
Kaplan, R. (1966). Cultural thought patterns in intercultural education. Language Learning, 16, 1-20.
Kinnell Evans, M. (1992). Supporting study skills: A guide to learning support for overseas students. London: UKCOSA.
Kinnell, M. (Ed.). (1990). The learning experience of overseas students. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Lynch, T. (1994). Training lecturers for international audiences. In J. Flowerdew (Ed.), Academic listening: Research perspectives (pp. 269-289). Cambridge Cambridge University Press.
O’ Sullivan, K. (1994). Understanding ways: Communicating between cultures. Syney, Australia: Hale & Ironmonger.
Pease, A. (1984). Body language: How to read others’ thoughts by their gestures. London: Sheldon Press.
Pennycook, A. (1985). Actions speak louder than words: Paralanguage, communication and education. TESOL Quarterly, 19, 259-282.
Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to teach in higher education. London: Routledge.
Rintell, E. M. (1984). But how did you feel about that?: The learner’ s perception of emotion in speech. Applied Linguistics, 5, 255-264.
Scollon, R. (1995). Plagiarism and ideology: Identity in intercultural discourse. Language in Society, 24, 1-28.
Sherman, J. (1992). Your own thoughts in your own words. ELT Journal, 46, 190-198.
Shirts, R. G. (1977). Bafá Bafá . Del Mar, CA: Simile II
Smith, L. E. & Rafiqzad, K. (1979). English for cross-cultural communication: The question of intelligibility. TESOL Quarterly, 13, 371-380.
Tannen, D. (1984). The pragmatics of cross-cultural communication. Applied Linguistics, 5, 189-195.
Tannen, D. (1992). That’ s not what I meant! London: Virago.
Taylor, G. & Chen, T. (1991). Linguistic, cultural, and subcultural issues in contrastive discourse analysis: Anglo-American and Chinese Scientific texts. Applied Linguistics, 12, 319-336.
Thomas, J. (1983). Cross-cultural pragmatic failure. Applied Linguistics, 4, 91-112.
Thomas, J. (1995). Meaning in interaction: An introduction to pragmatics. London: Longman.
Thorp, D. (1991). Confused encounters: Differing expectations in the EAP classroom. ELT Journal, 45, 108-118.
Tomalin, B. & Stempleski, S. (1993). Cultural awareness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Trompenaars, F. (1993). Riding the waves of culture. London: The Economist Books.Underhill, N. (1991). Focus on studying in Britain. London Macmillan.
Valdes, J. M. (Ed.). (1986). Culture bound. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wolfson, N. (1981). Compliments in cross-cultural perspective. TESOL Quarterly, 15, 117-124.

Andy Gillett is Head of English in the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK. He has spent most of the last 20 years teaching ESP in private language schools, state colleges and universities both in the UK and abroad. He is now mainly involved in organising, planning and teaching EAP courses to students taking a wide range of courses at the University of Hertfordshire.

Andy Gillett (1997). Intercultural communication. ARELS Arena, 16, 22-23.

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