Home > Business Theories, Intercultural Communication > The Empathic Classroom

The Empathic Classroom

I’ve spent a lot of time teaching small talk strategies lately. The reason is partly because my recent learners have expressed a strong desire and a real need for it. Here’s what I’ve been doing:


  •  My learners feel it’s really difficult to engage with people from different cultures and they really struggle to build the same connections that they can in their native language
  • A lot of the time, learners struggle to understand each other due to lack of clarity, not insufficient language (I’ve been teaching high level learners)
  • Learners seem to focus too much on their own communication needs (language accuracy etc) and not the needs of their communication partner


  •  Deep discussions about the learners’ own communication style and the differences between them have led to an increase in empathy and a big change in how learners interact with each other. These conversations were initially led by me but, by building a collaborative environment where the importance of understanding other people is prioritised, learners have grown in awareness and are initiating conversations about each others’ differences and peer teaching is really taking place.
  • By consistently recording learners and helping them identify areas where they are unclear, learners are slowly thinking about how to express things more clearly and, little by little, they are much clearer and easier to understand.
  • These two activities have resulted in learners’ addressing each others’ needs much more openly and negotiating communication much more consistently and collaboratively. They also remember more language input too.

As a result of this exploration, I’ve learnt things about my learners I’ve never found out before and really believe the learners are developing faster as a result of collaborative training and peer teaching.

I’m speaking about these issues at the Business English UK conference next weekend and would love to see you there.

  1. May 1, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Love the topic of small talk – it’s so difficult for so many learners,ain’t it? You’re absolutely right that they focus too much on the talkng and not enough on the listening side of it: small talk and active listening go hand in hand. Clarifying,summarizing and paraphrasing seem to be central to all relational and non-relational tasks in communication too. How come we so often overlook these skills when teaching business English, eh? Sorry I missed your talk at BEUK – are you posting your slides anywhere? Best wishes, Gabrielle

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: