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Monday, July 26, 2010

Language and cultural barriers in training

I had a very interesting experience in the very first training class that I taught solo. It gave me valuable insight into how language can be a barrier for training, and also gave me a practical lesson on working with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

My class consisted of one student from Israel, two from Belgium, three from Taiwan and one from Korea. The student from Korea was very reticent and almost never opened his mouth in class, except for a very terse yes or no. He preferred to respond through barely perceptible nods. Almost throughout the duration of the training, he kept browsing through a paperback novel (atleast that’s what it looked like) and kept flipping back and forth vigorously even as I was teaching. However, when I gave the class some practical exercises to do, he demonstrated a good grasp of the subject matter.

While I was happy at his skill on the subject matter, I felt intrigued – and also a trifle irritated – at the fact that he was browsing through a book while I was teaching. I did not feel comfortable about asking him to put the book aside (this being my first class as a trainer), but nevertheless, felt very curious about what he was reading.

Once, during a break, all the students left the class and I was alone in the classroom. Prompted by curiosity, I took a peek at the paperback that absorbed the Korean student’s attention. To my complete surprise, I realized it was a English-to-Korean translation guide. As I was teaching, the student was trying to figure out what I was saying! My irritation turned to sympathy at his struggle in trying to understand English. Like many Asian students, he felt shy about asking out loud whenever he did not understand my English.

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