Tuesday, August 26, 2008

English as an International Language

In the class I'm taking, I sometimes wonder if all the methods we're learning will apply, since right now we are teaching students who need to survive in the U.S., but I will be teaching overseas, where students don't need to know all the nuances of American culture in order to effectively learn English.

Many of the program participants will be going abroad, however, and we do address culture. Last night we had a homework reading that addresses this issue of teaching people who need English as a second language but not in the same context as immigrants need it. We may have students who will have no interest in or need to internalize the "cultural norms of native speakers."

An excerpt:

Some texts, for example, point out that, when receiving a compliment, learners of English should acknowledge and accept the compliment with a simple response, such as "thank you." However, research in cross-cultural pragmatics has clearly demonstrated that there are vast differences in how various cultures enact a particular speech act so that, in some cultures, it is typical to downplay a compliment, leading one to react with responses such as, "I could have done better."*

This is so true! I get so annoyed when I've paid someone from another culture a compliment and he/she downplays it. I want to make him/her happy, and I'm rejected for my efforts! If someone pays me a compliment, and I know I don't deserve it, I might insist that I could have done better or that I can't take all the credit. But in general I do try to give a polite, simple response and to show gratitude that the person who paid the compliment has been so thoughtful. Is it my culture or just me? I don't know.

*from "The Cultural Basis of Teaching English as an International Language" by Sandra Lee McKay


  1. Думаю, ситуация с комплиментами, описанная тобой, справедлива для России. Однако, если ты сделала комплимент человеку, и он сказал, что мог бы лучше и т. п., это вовсе не означает, что ему не приятно :)

  2. That was SO hard for me - learning to accept a compliment gracefully. And, when I was young, that was ANY compliment. (Did I belong in some other culture?) Some wonderful person - I know not who - told me that I just needed to say "thanks" and I learned to do it, but I always squirm inside. Yet I realize now that if I demur I am really just insulting the other person's judgement.

  3. Но откуда знаешь, приятно ли, если он не скажет?

    Annie, what is it about the compliment that makes you squirm? Is it the attention? Or feeling like you don't deserve it?

  4. Elizabeth - worst is when I feel as though "whatever" is not up to my standards.... But if I am pleased with "whatever" I think maybe it is simply the understanding that it is not ME, but God working through me.

    With Christian people, I can happily reference this, "I really felt God's helping hand all the way through this..." or "God is so good to give me what it takes!" something like that. With other people, so as not to sound preachy, I have to just take credit for what I probably feel on some level I don't really deserve. I enjoyed thinking about this question. I hadn't quite understood it before.

  5. That's funny, with me it's the opposite. With non-Christians I feel more compelled to make a reference to God because I feel like it's the last thing on their minds, and therefore I try to say something about my faith. But with Christians, I feel this big pressure to say something spiritual, and it feels forced if I say something about God.

    But I know what you mean about feeling worried that you'll take credit that should belong to the Lord.

  6. Now that is interesting too! I guess that is why I am not a missionary and you are!

    Or, at least why I feel sent to convert the converted (as we say).

    I'd like to be different, but I'm not.

  7. Ha ha! I'm not sure where to go with that. Notice I said I "feel compelled," instead of saying that I actually do it. Good intentions don't mean much without action!


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