Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Yeah right.

In a couple of weeks, I have to teach part of an intensive English training week for a business woman finance person. She's also the mother of a boy in Boy1's first grade class. She's very nice and smart and successful and all that. She needs to improve her English quickly and there are 3 of us who will be helping her accomplish that over a period of 5 days, 9 hours a day. I'm only doing a little bit. But the bit I'm doing, I learned yesterday, has a troubling title.

Module Interculturel.

Because, let's face it, the longer I live here, the more I'm convinced that there is really no science to intercultural communication. The best you can do is go for damage control.

There are loads of books out there, and I've read many of them, that can explain and give reasons and background and whatever else. But the fact is, when you're trying to feel understood, none of any of that really helps, it just makes you feel better afterwards.

So what on earth am I going to teach this woman for 8 hours about intercultural communication? Here's my course outline.

1. Don't stand too close to Americans, we need more personal space than most French people when talking face to face.

2. Don't interupt Americans. It's considered rude and it is interpreted as a sign that you are not interested in what we have to say.

3. Expect long answers. The French often ask questions symbolically - to show interest in maintaining the flow of conversation, and, therefore, don't expect long answers. Americans, on the other hand, ask questions to get the entire answer, and therefore, answer accordingly.

Of course, these are generalizations and are probably not true for half the people I know. Which means that they may not always be useful suggestions or even accurate.

So, there are the first 3 minutes of the course. Wow, I am SO worth my salary.


beth said...

My husband has French clients and they once told me that in business the Americans prefer more eye contact than the French - something about a sign of sincerity in the words of ones answer. I don't know how true that is - but that is what I was told.
Very brave of you to take on this assigment!

Sarah said...

Here's what came to mind when I started thinking about what I might do if teaching a similar class: You might want to find or invent lists of functional phrases/expressions that would be useful in her line of work, like different ways to disagree politely, to concede graciously, to introduce new ideas, and so forth. Then you and she can role play situations where she has to use them. Good luck!

zeb said...

Good luck she will probably end up talking to someone who speaks a bunch of slang and won't understand a word.

And whatever you are making I am sure is not near enough.

Nicole said...

Beth and Sarah - You're both very nice, I actually don't deserve real advice. I have all the materials and whatever to teach a perfectly respectable class about intercultural communication. I guess sometimes it just feels like a sham.

Zeb - It's certainly not enough to pay off my student loans so you're right on that one.

charlie said...

"Don't interrupt Americans"?

And yes, I agree, you are very brave. It's difficult enough to be mono-culturally understandable beyond the bureau de mon oncle stage, and even then...

Legal Alien said...

And don't forget--open and close every coversation with a "You might be a redneck" joke.