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Saturday, November 26, 2022

Being compassionate while teaching our immigrant students

By Barbara MoralesSpecial to CSMS MagazineIn our daily lives, we spend all day long communicating with each other verbally and nonverbally.  In many instances it is done unconsciously.  We have learned to give a high five, a wink to a friend or a thumb up to a student.  We naturally assume that everyone else knows the meaning of what we are nonverbally communicating to someone else.  But what if you are a recently arrived foreign immigrant trying to make out what was being communicated? Would you understand by looking at this interchange what is occurring? Probably not, unless the gestures used are the same as that of your culture. What if you find yourself in an important meeting with the person in charge of the Japanese company you are trying to merge with?  They have just flown in from Japan to meet with you and don’t speak much English, and you don’t speak a word of Japanese. This could turn out to be a major setback in your plans.  I’m sure you are planning on your ability to pick up on nonverbal cues. Unless you’ve done a lot of studying on the Japanese culture and the behaviors, you are in trouble, no matter how good a business person you are!As an American, you tend to hurry through things.  You must keep in mind that Japanese like to take their time, they pace themselves.  Take turns talking, but don’t point with your index finger. Japanese point with their entire hand, palms up (Larry A. Samovar, 2007., p. 206).  Americans tend to value eye contact tremendously.  Americans are usually suspicious if someone does not look at them when they speak.  Japanese find direct eye contact rude and disrespectful and sometimes threatening.  (Larry A. Samovar, 2007., p. 211)   To end your meeting on a good note you might want to take a courteous bow and skip the traditional American handshake. Japanese are not too accepting about any physical contact with others in working conditions (Larry A. Samovar, 2007., p. 213). This is a situation where it would come in handy to understand the nonverbal communications of the Japanese culture.  It probably would be very profitable!There can be misunderstandings and miscommunications when one misinterprets nonverbal behavior.  In Hispanics cultures, it is not uncommon to greet someone with a wink or a hug.  Someone of another culture may interpret this as a romantic interest.  This can definitely cause problems for someone!  Americans liked to be looked in the eyes when spoken to, but a co-culture such as homosexuals use the prolonged stare to show interest in the same sex partner (Larry A. Samovar, 2007., p. 211).  This could bring on a physical fight, to show their manly attributes.  Just giving the ok sign, making an o with your index finger and thumb, could be an insult and mean an obscene gesture in the Latino culture (Larry A. Samovar, 2007., p. 207).  Last week during one of my classes, my professor took off her shoes, sat on the desk and began going over the material we were  suppose to have read.  Raised in the Hispanic culture, I was always taught to never take off your shoes in such a public and formal place, especially if you are the authority figure.  Thinking back now, I did have a good laugh, at least she had a good pedicure and toe rings.As a teacher, it is very important to understand the different forms of nonverbal behaviors across the different cultures and how they are expressed.   As a Hispanic, I am a natural “toucher”.  As a teacher you have a certain attachment you make throughout the school year while maintaining the required distance.  As I walk around the classroom I like to encourage the students as they work and pat them on the back.  During my clinical hours I observed there was one ESOL student not of Hispanic descent who did not feel comfortable with this and instantly shied away from my touch.  I did not take into account, that everyone does not like to be touched. I was evading their personal space.  Just because I was used to touching and being touched for encouragement didn’t mean others felt comfortable with this method.  I was taught a lesson early on.There are many American gestures.  The index finger is used to point at something or someone.  When you put your index finger and thumb together to form an o you are making the ok hand signal.  When two individuals slap their open palms together high in the air they are giving each other a “high five” and are celebrating something good that has happened.  If someone were to stick out there middle finger at you, this is one of the most obscene and insulting American gestures.  Moving your head up and down is a sign of agreement or understanding (Larry A. Samovar, 2007., p. 207).  Even in the good old American game of baseball nonverbal signals are given to the pitcher in order to let him know what pitch to throw.Other cultures also have their own gestures.  Germans point with their little finger, while the Japanese use their whole hand with the palm up.  Argentines twist a fake mustache to signal that everything is ok (Larry A. Samovar, 2007., p. 206).  In Japan you place your right hand over your heart to make a sincere promise (Larry A. Samovar, 2007., p. 206).  In Japan and Korea, the index finger and thumb together in form of an o means money.  In the Cuban culture when you pat your open palms together back and forth referring to two women, you are saying they are homosexual.   In the Cuban culture when you raise your index finger and middle finger together at the same time behind your head, it means you are being cheated on by your partner.  Each culture may have different gestures or different meanings for the same gesture.As we can see, the ok signal for Americans is not universal.  This gesture does not mean the same thing to Japanese and Koreans.  While watching the Olympics, I saw a lot of the “high fives” while celebrating good plays or won medals from different countries, so it appears quite universal.  Even though the middle finger may not universally be an obscene gesture, I know it is common many places, especially in the Hispanic community.  While driving up and down the roads of Miami-Dade County, you are guaranteed to encounter the rudest drivers who will give you a dose of that medicine (gesture).  The forms of salutation are different in all countries.  Each culture is different and each has its form of nonverbal communication.ESOL students will have a difficult time understanding the new culture’s gestures.  It’s tough enough that they have to learn the verbal communication!  Imagine your whole life being brought up a certain way with certain beliefs and behaviors and all of a sudden you are brought into a strange situation where you have to adapt to everything and everyone.  Sounds scary right?  That’s what’s happening to these students.  They have to read, write and speak in a foreign language.  They might not be accustomed to speaking out loud in class, raising their hands for permission, the teacher nodding to let them know they have a correct answer or nodding to give them permission to do something.  Pointing is constantly used during the school day, whether it be to pick a student to answer a problem you have to solve or at a location the teacher wants you to go.  This may cause problems for the ESOL student if they are not accustomed to the index finger pointing system. Many teachers use a thumb up sign to let students know they are doing good work, something ESOL students might not understand. These students have a hard task before them, they not only have to learn the verbal language, but also the nonverbal gestures.  Eventually, they will end up integrating these gestures into their known cultural gestures throughout the years. As children everywhere, they definitely catch up rather quickly. Just be patient with them.Note: Barbara Morales is a student at Nova Southeastern University majoring in Education. Also see Creating culture diversityMake our society a better placeWhat we need to teach our ESOL students about Nonverbal communicationIndian Culture: Vibrant and thought-provokingRole of alternative languages in our society

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