This week we invite you to use this thread to participate in conversations about:
- multicultural communication: Have you worked in a multicultural context, provided services to multicultural communities, or lived in a multicultural family? What kinds of problems and triumphs have arisen through communication and miscommunication?
There are two aspects on multicultural communication that I can give examples of, off the top of my head…
I’m the offspring of Australian migrants – my father was Egyptian (with Turkish parents) and my mother is Chilean (with Spanish parents). As my mother was a language teacher, she learnt to speak Russian and English in Chile before she came to Australia and met my father. She learnt English in the British Institute of Chile, so she acquired a more formal way of expressing herself in English. Plus, as a teacher, she taught me to read in Spanish and English before I started school.
Her first episode of culture shock regarding communication within Australian society occurred at the airport on the day of her arrival. She was having trouble with her luggage and asked for assistance. An Australian male helped her carry her luggage to the taxi queue and after she thanked him for his help, he replied with “No worries, love.”
My mother was aghast. Love? She didn’t even know him that well. It took her some time to become accustomed to the casual way of speaking and informality we express in the Australian community. Sometimes, we still laugh about the expressions that Aussies use, which still leave her mystified.
A few years later, when she was teaching me to read, speak and pronounce words in English, she would over-annunciate certain words. ‘Onion’ was not pronounced un-yun as Aussies do, but as on-ee-yun. Likewise, ‘Iron’ was pronounced literally, rather than the Aussie eye-yun. So, here I was, going to my first days of school and being teased by some of the kids because I talked funny, or like a “wog”. As a confident kid, I didn’t let this affect me too much, but quickly adapted my speech to be more Australian and fit in with the other kids. However, I am grateful for the experience, as I learned what it was like to be on the receiving end of such teasing – I suppose I developed more empathy and understanding for kids that didn’t fit the mould.
The second example… over the last few years, I have been voluntarily teaching English to asylum seekers for the ASRC and working as a volunteer for ESL students within the university I work for. What marvellous experiences I have had as a result of these pursuits. Whenever I am given a new student to tutor at home, I do some research on their background so I don’t cause offence or distrust in our relationship. My current student is from Myanmar, but is a member of the Chin tribal community. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about Myanmar and all the tribes in the country before I met this asylum seeker. I found out that the Chin people were treated horrendously by the rest of the tribes – it seems they are on the lowest rung of tribal status within the country. So, I read about their ways and their culture – I wanted to make sure that I didn’t insult or upset this woman, so that I could build a learning space of trust and friendship. Over time, she has gotten to know my jovial personality, as I have hers… she was very shy at first, but I’m happy to say that we now speak with ease (despite the language barriers still evident) and we laugh together at the mistakes she occasionally makes in pronunciation which produce words in English with a very different meaning. Luckily, I had purchased a Burmese/English dictionary for her up front, so that I could illustrate the differences in the words being used. But, I must say, it has been a challenge at times, and it is a mentally draining experience to teach English to someone with no knowledge of the language or the culture. I’m happy to report that she has made immense progress overs the months I have been seeing her. I am pleased to announce that she has just been given refugee status and can stay in Australia – however, I am concerned for her future, as she is the mother of two daughters in their early twenties and a wife. She wants to bring the rest of the family to Australia now – I think she assumed that once she got refugee status for herself, it would be simple to bring them over as well. She hasn’t seen her family in almost two years and I am keeping my fingers crossed that she has the stamina for the next stages she must now face with our immigration-friendly Australian government. Plus, I will no longer be teaching her now that she is an official refugee. I will miss her.