More Intercultural Miscommunication in TEFL

Do you remember last week’s post?  We talked about a misunderstanding between a new teacher and his employer. They had a misunderstanding due to the employer’s inability to  appropriately express her urgency in the conversation causing the new teacher to assume he was about to lose his job.

Check and Check again!

I want to relate to another story that says “New teachers – pay attention, check and check again!”

Another new English teacher-to-be, in the middle of her visa process, understood her employer to suggest that all the cost involved in the visa process will be covered by the school – even the cost of visa-related things she needed to do back in her home country. This happened in spite of a contract that specifically stated only the expenses in China would be paid.  And – this was not true.

You are entering the non-native world now

It is important to remember that you will often communicate with non-native English speakers while you are looking for an English teaching job abroad. Misunderstandings can be common, it can even happen between native speakers.

The truth of the matter: Miscommunications might be problematic

When problems occur, you are confused or it seems just too good to be true, try to clarify the situation by using the strategies suggested in the previous post.  Rephrase what the speaker said and ask if that was what they meant, you might be surprised!

When you are upset or confused seek the help of a colleague to clear things up.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Communicate – it is your job as a teacher. Practice good communication skills all the time.

TED’s Tips™ #2: I hope that you can see that this post, as well as the previous one, had potentially unhappy and confusing results for the people involved and it was, in fact, solved so easily.

Could this be the very thing that determines who is successful abroad and who is not?

Teaching Internships in China


Cultural Miscommunication in TEFL

Back when I used to place people in jobs in China, a man I was working with became upset over a conversation with his new employer.  He was busy with the visa process but had some delays in getting his health exam (required in many countries) completed.

He told me that his new employer was possibly going to fire him or cancel his contract if he did not complete the health exam by the following Wednesday.

I would say you have a big problem if you have quit your job and you’re ready to travel halfway across the world and this pops up .  . . a BIG problem.

Everything did not seem quite right, so I checked with the non-native speaking employer. I got a very different message from the employer, it was “hurry up!”

 Where did the miscommunication slip through?

What can one do in such a situation – where did the good communication break down and how can you avoid it?

I will tell you where it broke down. Non-native English speakers often find it difficult to express themselves strongly.

They don’t how to make a point assertively and still on target.  It is necessary for them to learn these things (did you know this from your TEFL training?).  Almost every experienced Business English trainer will have spent a lot of time on teaching this exact topic.

What happened was that somewhere in the conversation, the boss implied more than what she intended and teacher-to-be seriously thought that he was going to lose this job.

Don’t read too much into it

Don’t take things too seriously. The example of the teacher-to-be could have been a huge disaster, not only for him but also for the employer as the school would have been without a teacher for the new semester.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you want to be a language professional, you need to learn how to read between the lines and listen between the words when you are talking to non-native speaker supervisors and colleagues (and your EFL students!).  If something is unclear, not making sense, exaggerated or inappropriate, learn how to interpret these situations.  Or you are unsure – use Tip #2 below.

TED’s Tips™ #2: For clarifying and understanding it is wise to check the suspect statement by repeating it back to the speaker.   Rephrase it and ask if that is what they meant. If is still confusing, ask again and rephrase again. You are the person with the skills, you are the teacher.   Try to see these conversation problems as a challenge and turn them into solutions.

Don’t sweat the small stuff and let it stand in your way of your new life teaching English abroad.

Teaching Internships in China