Home > Intercultural Communication, Linguistics > well, yes I get your point, but…

well, yes I get your point, but…

I know what you’re saying, I’ve read ‘getting to yes’ but if you said that in Russia, nobody would notice.


So, what were we studying?

It was a lesson on giving feedback and the class had been experimenting with ‘the sandwich technique’.

We opened out the discussion, looking at whether the senior managers comprising the class used this technique in their L1. They all agreed they did but were all uncomfortable with doing so in English.

I pushed a little deeper and another Russian, who happened to live in France, said that it just seemed like too much. If performance is bad, why not say so, rather than it’s ‘not completely satisfactory’. Then an Italian agreed, ‘not satisfactory’ is ok but ‘not completely satisfactory’ that’s just lying.

In response, I found myself discussing British culture, understatement and all kinds of things. They were interested and seemed to understand but did this mini rebellion mean my carefully prepared lesson would fail?

Does this mean that the language isn’t memorable? I love books like ’getting to yes’ and am a big fan of management coaching. My lessons revolve around turning these ideas into language training materials.

However, as an Anglo Saxon, I read and teach the Anglo Saxon way of doing things. There’s a worry that, as learner worldview doesn’t match mine, it won’t go in.

To avoid this, the next stage is too bring in pragmatics, talking about perception and understanding from a cultural point of view. But, if you go too far down this road, will learners recognise it as learning?

  1. August 21, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Oh very interesting. I think many teachers have ecountered situations like this and it raises many issues.

    Most learners of English are going to be communicating in international contexts where native speakers, if present at all, will be in the minority. Following Anglo Saxon politeness or pragmatic norms in those contexts makes little sense. I think there’s a good case to be made for making students aware of them, as you did in this lesson, but in many cases we’d be hindering our students’ ability to communicate effectively if we insisted they follow them.

    I think learners have no difficulty recognizing classes that encompass pragmatics and culture as learning. They are not always easy for native speaker teachers to teach though. They have internalised the rules unconsciously and don’t always realise what norms they are following. While there is usually lots of help on grammar and vocabulary in the teachers books accompanying course books, there’s generally scant information provided on pragmatics. Plus studies indicate that pragmatics information needs to be conveyed rather differently, so teaching techniques we’ve learnt in our training won’t necssarily be much help.

    It’s an issue that needs to be tackled though and I think there are lot of smart folks engaging with it more now. Hopefully we’ll see a surge in different solutions.

    • August 21, 2011 at 8:48 pm

      Hi Viki,

      Thanks very much for your comments. The more I move into teaching ‘soft skills’ rather than language the more I come up against these comments. I think they’re great and they’re integral part of the learning process. On this occasion, as before, the discussion opened into how these approaches would be viewed in their own cultures.

      I also think another critical area is that few learners are ‘blank slates’ and have already been exposed to an Anglo Saxon discourse, particularly when considering areas such as negotiating and socialising. I’ve often experienced learners internalising certain language as ‘correct’ and completely missing the communicative function of certain phrases. How are you? Fine, is a perfect example of this.

      I agree we do need a more systematic approach to pragmatics and culture and, particularly in business English, need to engage learner experience more to find real solutions to their intercultural communication problems rather than preaching an Anglo Saxon hegemony. I’ll have to keep working on that though.

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