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