Sunday, May 21, 2006

Once strangers, now friends

From Wendy

I have been thinking about communication and language after attending part of a conference at the weekend, the difficulties of communication between two people, one who is fluent in English and the other a person from NESB - Non English Speaking Background. How can the second person be empowered rather than be shy, silent, puzzled. There is a tendency for the first person to speak fast, repeat him or her self, even SHOUT and then speak in a deliberate S L O W A N D L O U D voice which is really offensive.

In a book called Snapshots of Multicultural Ministry a Sydney writer asked - How can I approach them (the culturally different) in a way that is friendly and authentic? Then I think of Fiji and the multitude of languages and how people speak to one another in Fijian, dialect Fijian, Hindi, English or other languages. And what of tourists and their way of speaking with local people? They may reiterate a point with repetition, loudness, etc. I am sure that some vavalagis sometimes come across as bossy, loud and aggressive when they speak with Fiji people.

Here are some tips in Cross Cultural Communication summarised from Neil Payne's paper, Director of a London based consultancy. It can apply to a fluent English speaker with a NESB person, or to an encounter between two people from other language backgrounds where one is a confident speaker and the other not so. Too often in mixed groups, a few people are left right out of the conversation and stories and they become like wallpaper.

1. Slow Down rather than speak quickly. Speak clearly.
2. Separate questions rather than ask two or three at a time. Let your listener answer one at a time.
3. Avoid negative questions because in some languages, someone might say, Yes I am not going.
4. Take turns talking and listen to the response rather than butt in again and again.
5. Write something down if you are unsure whether something has been understood.
6. Be supportive and encourage the other person who might have weak English.
7. Check meanings are understood rather than keep going and the other person nods vaguely.
8. Avoid slang, idioms and sayings as they may be misunderstood and the meaning missed.
9. Watch the use of humour because in some cultures protocol is constantly observed and perhaps people should not joke in a formal context.
10. Maintain etiquette. Learn the manners of another culture.


YD said...

Thanks for sharing.

Reminds me of HSBC's campaign of understanding local culture. With lots of its posters and adverts, it certainly stressed the importance of understanding, and respecting different cultures and languages.

I remembered using drawings to convey message to another friend, and realize i do need to improve on my drawings. :-)

Besides the tones of the language, I think a great communication bridge is the sincerity exuded from our expression and body language.

Thanks for the meaningful post.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Hi yd.
Last night we had two visitors for tea, two Tongan ladies from Perth who had been at the conference. We talked about this kind of thing and one spoke about how Islanders might embrace one another, and that at the conference when people were greeting one another, the Aboriginal men just leaned backward, as their protocol was not to be overwhelmed by the fat arms of strangers!