There is something missing in the field of English training for international professionals today. The aspect that is missing is so important that I would even suggest if your English trainer is not implementing it, he or she is out of date and out of touch with your needs.
That missing element is culture. In the past, grammar exercises and repetition to improve pronunciation were enough to help you, as a professional in the United States, succeed with your English. Or were they really?
Today, a few teachers and language schools are catching on and realizing that the English language means nothing to students unless they learn it within the context of the culture in which they will be living and working. A deeper awareness of American cultural norms and communication styles is now key.
And the future? Forget it! Any English trainer who has not lived abroad, struggled with cultural adjustment himself and is not helping his students gain at least a basic awareness of cultural norms and communication styles, is going to be left behind. Why? Because culture is the compass that allows students to use their English skills and navigate their lives in the US. To show you what I mean, let me give you an example.
The future of English training must start with culture
Yesterday I sat down to prepare a course syllabus for a new Indian student here in Boston. Having grown up speaking English, her vocabulary is strong but she is still not able to succeed at work and feels out of place and awkward.
She came to me because she wanted to gain the skills to be able to swtich from a formal way of speaking to a more casual way of speaking and she wanted to know when it is appropriate to do this in the American workplace. Does this sound like something that you could use work on also? How about your presentation skills? Maybe you have heard that you should engage your audience in the US and get them to participate but do you know why? What is it about American culture that praises audience participation and engagement? And how can you use that knowledge to communicate with Americans in other situations?
All of these issues start as questions about culture and then become a language issue, not the other way around!
Culture is your compass
I started to create the modules for my Indian student's course, with a session on cultural norms and communication styles to fall at the end and I realized that I needed to reverse it. In order to know how to build rapport on the phone, introduce people and respond to a joke, she needs to start with knowledge of culture. I am not talking about the do's and don'ts of American culture. I am talking about something deeper. I want my student to grasp cultural norms in the US, ways of solving problems and communicating, and most importantly, I want her to have an understanding of her own assumptions and worldviews as an Indian professional and how they might be different from those of her American colleagues. Our course will only be successful if we start there. We need to build her foundation of intercultural competence first and only then will the new phrases and new ways of verbal expression make sense.
A genuine connection starts with understanding the other person...not perfect grammar
So start thinking of culture as your compass, not language.
Grammar and vocabulary will help you communicate correctly but if you really want to understand what is happening around you and make genuine connections with people in your personal and professional life, look to culture first. Is your English trainer willing to help you out with this? If not, maybe it's time to look for someone new!
Do you have a comment or a reaction to this article? Want to share it? Please leave your thoughts below or respond on our Facebook page .
Click the button below for more advice and lessons delivered to your inbox every week!
photo credit: UF Digital Collection
photo credit: Calsidyrose
photo credit: European Parliament