Teachers and Students: Communication Misunderstandings

Communication misunderstandings between middle-class teachers and lower-middle class students are of increasing significance in the success or failure of the educational learning environment. Students and teachers are two different groups which should collaborate each time and the problems in communication is impossible to avoid, as people’s characters and understanding of communication priorities are various. The communication is seen in contradictory aspects by teachers and students, and normal communication on friendly terms may be prevented. Moreover, the problems of the relations between teachers and students are dictated by a lot of reasons. Different prejudices, racial discrimination, and differences in character are the main obstacles in the effective communication between teachers and students.

The communication between people is influenced by factors, some which are of low importance, the others are significant and identify people’s decision whether to continue the communication with the person or to leave it aside. Social, cultural, linguistic, and ethnic factors are identified by Joan H. Strouse (2000) as the causes of the prejudices in teacher-student communication. The school relationships are obligatory and cannot be eluded, as communication is placed on the highest level in the educational process and teaching considers it as the main device (p. 82).

The productive education is impossible without communication. Furthermore, the advanced technologies, used in the modern schools, are the main supportive attributes, but still communication remains the primary principle in the collaboration between teacher and student, that is the guarantee of the personal directed education. Communication is the best way to teach students, but the problem is in cultural or language differences. The examples of the cultural and language problems very frequently occur in the modern educational system, so the problem has gained the international value, and should be discussed deeper in order to be solved, as it prevents the natural flow of the educational process and creates some obstacle on the way of knowledge possess.

The prejudices of teachers towards students should be ruined, as action oriented approach is aimed to organize students in the educational process and avoid gender, race, language, and disability bias. Furthermore, the successful educational process should be supported by the argumentative motivation, with the aim to make students feel comfortable in the multicultural and multi-language society. Differences in people’s nature and features should be taken into account, and the opportunities for other students should be provided in the campuses, in order to induce them feel free in the strange country (Ellis & Llewellyn, 1997, p. 107).

To provide the structured and argumentative discussion of the obstacles, which may appear between students and teachers in the modern schools, the language misunderstandings should be discussed. The importance of language in modern society cannot be overvalued, as language is the main instrument in people’s interaction, in expression of thoughts and ideas, it is the way the information is transferred and people understand each other (Samovar, Porter & McDaniel, 2009, p. 15). Language is the core instrument in education, and the significant difference in the communicational abilities of the students creates an impassable barrier on the way to knowledge.

Misunderstanding is the main problem which occurs at schools, when people with different native languages come into conflict. The mentioned misunderstanding may occur in the questions of grammar, vocabulary and accent. The elder the student is, the more difficulties in the educational process appear. Westwood (2004) states four main difficulties which appear between students and teacher with different language orientation:

  1. Limited vocabulary, poor syntax and inability to follow quick speech create the problems while listening comprehension.
  2. Differences in phonology, limited sight vocabulary and the difference in perception of the situations in the text create reading problems.
  3. The differences in the subject perception, especially of the social nature, create the inability for student to engage meaningfully with the new information, concepts and problems.
  4. Social interaction of the students is problematic due to communication problems, which appear because of the language issues (p. 62).

The wrong interpretation is the supplementary problem, which may occur in different situations, when both, language is the core problem, and simple personal misunderstanding of the ideas takes place. This difficulty is hard to avoid, but the ideas of how the problem can be prevented are going to be discussed. The more problematic issue is misunderstanding as the result of wrong interpretation, created by the other language competence (Francis & Reyhner, 2002, p. 125). The problem of misunderstanding is the core problem in the education as the number of hours is limited at schools and the new material follows, new topics are discussed and the inability to do homework (as the theme was not understood because of different causes) is the crucial problem in understanding the following material.

The fusion with terms in educational process is the additional obstacle, created by the wrong understanding of teacher’s speech. The student may be educated, he/she may know the material and be rather lateral thinking, but the frustration from lots of unknown terms and special names, may prevent student longing to learning. Two reasons may precede the problem, first, the student is unwilling top study terminology, or, second, the explanation is not the core consideration of the teacher. The consequence is obvious – it is the misunderstanding and bad academic average of the students. As seen from above, the small problem may appear to be the great obstacle on the teacher’s way – student communication (Ogede, 2002, p. 40). The unawareness of the terminology of grammar and in any other discipline in the educational process creates the barrier between the student and knowledge, which he/she is eager to possess but is unable.

The other reason, which makes the problem slow solving, is the family. The language, person tries to communicate at the educational establishment, is mostly unknown to the domestic members, and the communication inside the family is provided on the usual for everybody terms. The student’s desire to impart the new language on the family members leads to no result. Furthermore, the home native communication does not support the student’s educational process, which leads to the bigger obstacles at school, to more misunderstanding and wrong interpretational problems (Hiatt-Michael, 2007, p. 47).

The reasons and the consequences of the issue of language differences may be discussed for a long time, and the obstacles, which are created, are numerous, but the information about the ways out should be researched better and the solutions of the problem discussed deeper. Levinson, Cookson, & Sadovnik (2002) in their study offer the bilingual education as one of the ways out from the current situation (p. 55). Different courses and the additional lessons should be attended with the aim to ruin the barrier and to create open space for interrelation and connection of the student and teacher in understanding the language and implementation the foreign student in social atmosphere (Friese, 2007, p. 248).

The problem in the language abilities and in the communication between teachers and students may be slightly shifted to the cultural difficulties, which create the obstacles in the communication as well. Turning to the problem of wrong interpretation and misunderstanding, as it was mentioned, the problem of culture as the supportive element of the discussed problem appears. The association of different objects and events is different in various cultures. The example of cow may be taken to understand the discussed question better. American people, after hearing the word “cow”, create the image of hamburger in their minds. Cow is associated with food in American culture. Indian people have another opinion, where cow is a sacred animal. Eating beef is impossible in their culture, it is a taboo, and no one will even think about it due to their religious beliefs (Galanti, 2008, p. 82). The wrong interpretation may lead not only to misunderstanding, but also to the international conflict of cultures.

Language usage is not the same with language knowing, as it deals mostly with culture, not with language as the grammatical structure. The usage of language may be characterized by way and the place where communication takes place, it is the time and the acceptability of the discussed theme. The problem may appear in the educational process of the Chinese students, who value silence more, while American people are eager to talk a lot (Gudykunst, 2004, p. 194). The active communication, while problem discussions and problem solutions, may cause the barrier for the Chinese student, and the communication between students and teachers becomes to be problematic. There are situations where the language usage may lead to misunderstanding, may hurt or create other problems, which will be rather difficult to overcome in the future for both, the teacher and the student.

The discussed problem is the main obstacle in the cultural differences between students and teachers. “There can be no doubt whatsoever that we know about the suffering and that we have the material and intellectual resources to significantly relieve if not eliminate it” (Shapiro & Purpel, 2005, p. 349). The problem exists, but at the same time the core issue is that the problem is not in the cultural differences, the problem is that some teachers do not want to spare their time on searching for different approaches to the international students with the aim to help and to avoid misunderstanding.

The cultural differences in the communication are commonly associated with nonverbal communication, as language of gestures is thought to be similar in all countries, what a wrong belief is. Mentioning the nonverbal communication, not only gestures, but also emotions and body movements are meant. To observe the problem better, it may be significant to dwell upon the examples, which create problems in gesture communication among people of different cultures. The simple phrases, “yes” and “no” may be interpreted differently. American people cannot imagine that “yes” may be showed differently from nodding of the head, and to express “no” may be the other movement from shake of the head. At the same time, some cultures cannot imagine that their traditional movements may be misunderstood by others. Greek and Turkey people will show “no” with a head-jerk, as the Americans will understand it as the affirmative answer. Ghana is the country, where a hand with the thumb up will be distinguished as the sexual invitation, while every American uses this gesture as hitchhiking sign (Poyatos, 2002, p. 27).

The problems, created by the nonverbal communication in the educational process, may be caused by the wrong understanding of the specific gestures by students. The Japan student in America will never understand the touch of the teacher as the friendly action and will be injured. The differences in feeling the personal space is the other obstacle on the way to knowledge, as Arabians have used to close contact, while Americans feel better on distance (Fujishin, 2000, p. 70). These small, from the first sight, objectives create barriers on the way to the communication between teachers and the students, who are the main participants of the educational process, and the misunderstanding between them is a real problem for all: the teacher, the student, and the whole class, as they are also involved in the conflict (Carment & Schnabel, 2004, p. 8).

Analyzing problems, caused by the cultural significance, the problem of the initiative should be considered. Foreign students are usually afraid of exposing any activity during the classes, they usually stay self-contained and do not interfere in the discussion. The cultural significance, according to their opinion, may create the problem in the educational process, but in reality the versa effect takes place. The student does not take part in the discussion, the group comes further and further, the refusal of a contact creates more problems with communication in future as work in group is much easier than the work individually (Valentine & Speece, 2002, p. 109).

Considering the obstacles which appear between students and teachers in the educational process from the cultural point of view, the problem of racial discrimination cannot be avoided. Modern world is democratic and free, people of different countries may come to any country, to live there, receive education and enjoy life. The prejudices of some people may cause a lot of problems as the educational process is impossible to stop and different people have the opportunity to receive this education and there is a real problem when the prejudices of teacher or student prevent the communication during education (Woods, 2005, p. 21).

The problem may be divided into two parts, the prejudices about race from the students’ side and the same from the teachers’ one. The racial discrimination from the teachers’ side appears frequently. Some teachers refuse to consider the other nationality students as the equal participants of the educational process. The feeling of safety is not present in other race students and the potential, knowledge and imaginative capacity of students is not seen (Evertson & Weinstein, 2006, p. 191). The prejudices may be based on misunderstanding, not the bad attitude, as it may seem from the first sight. The example is provided by Imber and Geel (2004) where the teacher assigned the Black student in a group of four, where the other Black student was present. During the court trial, when the teacher was convinced in racial discrimination, the teacher explained that it was her consideration that African students need the other representative of their nationality in the group in order to work more productively (p. 117).

The observed examples are numerous and the fault is not the bad attitude to the student of the other nationality, but the prejudices, which exist in the society and which are not demolished, are usually taken for faith and are not checked. The examples of misunderstanding exist, and the problem could be missed, if the case of discrimination and injury did not take place. At the same time, the problems are usually created out of nothing and cause the obstacles in the communication between students and teachers. The case is when the prejudice attitude does not exist, but the student imagines it, and the imagination of the problem creates this problem in reality. The communicational process looses its smoothness and the barrier, which is created artificially, puts the relation between teaches and students on tense and complex terms (Arora, 2005, p. 15).

The huge problems for the whole educational process are created when the problems with one student take pace (the racial discrimination is meant), as teacher – student communication is not fair, open and sincere, vice versa, it becomes cruel, ally and unfriendly (Landsman & Lewis, 2006, p. 194). The conflict becomes not dual (teacher – student), but the whole class is involved, and the curriculum is not followed. There is no necessity to search for guilty and innocent, the whole system is responsible for the education, and the whole school system should follow such problem and search for the ways to solve it (Richlin, 2006, p. 135).

Returning to the question of misunderstanding, the racial discrimination theme is going to be appropriate. There are situations, when racial belonging is the core issue in misunderstanding between the teacher and the student, and the desire to solve the problem, to understand, leads to the alternative problem, when the student considers it as a racial discrimination and the situation should be corrected by the teacher (Omotosho, 2005, p. 37).

The problems in the communication between teacher and student, without any cultural distinguishing, may appear because of the income differences. Computer assistance and skill acquirement in the computer spheres may lead to the communicational problems, which may be provoked by the low incomes of the students (Sehrt, 2003, p. 47). The consideration of the low income families is that the education should be provided only at school and that the home education is impossible because of the weak financial position of the family (Powell & Caseau, 2004, p. 105). This consideration is wrong as the education should start from the family, and only in this case the interaction between students and teachers will be better, any barriers and problems may never be core problems (Wyness, 2000, p. 31).

The language and cultural problems in the communication between a teacher and a student is the main symptom of the difficulties in the relationships, so the solving of the situation should come from inside, it should be the relation problem solving, not searching for the communicational issues, so the decisions should be made personally and then the whole educational process will give positive results (Birkner, L. & Birkner, R., 2001, p. 9).

The discussed language and cultural problems are solvable, but still the teacher is the initiative participant of the communication, so the task of the teacher is to research the distinguishing features of the students and to take into account all the peculiarities in their cultural and language features in order to reduce to minimum the problems which usually occur in the educational process. There are a lot of different strategies and ways to make the life of foreign student better in the ally society, so the teacher should research the personal priorities of the students and try to follow them (Smith, 2004, p. 94). The foreign student should also try to find the ways to make the communication with the teacher easier, as he/she has come to the strange country and should do as much as possible in order to assimilate to the native citizens and do not create the problems to the teacher and class during the educational process (McKenzie, 2001, p. 158).

The modern world is the world of the innovative technologies, and the problems in misunderstanding, and as a result the barrier in communication, may appear because of the innovative technologies usage. Some students may have used the computer and the internet, students from low income families may know little about it. Moreover, the opportunities are different, and the barrier increases between the teacher and the student, the bigger difference in the income of separate students is (Smith & Pellegrini, 2000, p. 53).

The educational establishments of the United States of America have examined the factors, which influence the school performance, that is school factors, school climate, school polices and practices, and school resources (Programme for International Student Assessment, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2004, p. 209). The cultural and language problems are considered to be individual, so they are not inserted as the factors. On the other hand, these factors may also become the obstacles in the communication between a teacher and a student, what will directly influence the learning procedure (Rosenthal, 2000, p. 33).

The school factors should be considered as the supportive opportunities for foreign students and their existence at schools. Some authors name the existence of the bilingual programs as the supporting factors for the education. The absence of such factors, as a result, leads to some obstacles in the education and the learning process as a whole (Baker, 2006, p. 266). School climate is described as an “essence of school” (Hughes, 2005, p. 295). The attitude to the foreigners and the prejudices in the school society are created out of the school climate. The communicational problems also have their roots in school climate, and the creation of the supportive and friendly climate at school and in classes will reduce the teacher – student communicational problems to minimum (Hughes, 2005, p. 295).

School polices and practices should not even been discussed in the light of the current problem, as it is understood that they are created with the aim to avoid any misunderstanding and to provide favorable environment at school. Different conflicts, which appear between teachers and students, may be coordinated by means of these polices and regulations (National Research Council (U.S.) Committee on Increasing High School Students’ Engagement and Motivation to Learn, 2004, p. 10).

Having considered the problems in the educational process, which may be created by the cultural and language differences, it is necessary to provide the list of the problems in teaching, which may occur not only in the communicative competence (speaking, reading, listening and writing comprehensions), but also with the other types of activities.

Time is one of the class problems, which may be spoiled by the student misunderstanding, or the absolute unawareness of the problem. The cultural and language problems are the main issues, which may be the reasons for problem appearance. The student may be explained some extra material which is already known to the others, and the time is spoiled in vain for the whole educational process (the interests of the student who due to cultural or language differences failed to understand something are not taken into account in this section) (Sousa, 2006, p. 146).

Academic average of the whole group is reduced as the whole class is unable to come to the next new theme as the student with the cultural or language problems is unable to decide the previous, or some other issues which are not understandable for him/her. The poor knowledge of one student in the group takes the whole group back, as the teacher wants to make students understand what the theme is, what the topic was about, and it is rather difficult to provide, especially with the cultural and language different students at class (Cochran-Smith, Feiman-Nemser & Association of Teacher Educators, 2008, p. 1125).

Still, in spite of a lot of disadvantages of the student with language or cultural differences, there are a lot of advantages (Osborn, 2005, p. 71). The opportunities may be given to investigate the other culture, to know the peculiarities of the other language, and to increase the whole scope of knowledge in general. “Cross-cultural interviewing is the collaborative performance in which both interviewer and informational cross cultural boundaries, that includes definitions of physical space, negotiation of social roles, and creation of a new kind of interpersonal context” (Green, Camilli, & Elmore, 2006, p. 366). Communicating with the student from the other culture, the knowledge about the country, which is discussed, is possessed better and the students may get invaluable opportunity to “travel” to the other country and to enjoy the story of the native speaker of the other country.

In reference to all mentioned, it becomes understandable that the advantages of the cultural and language different students in class are so few, and the disadvantages are so numerous, that the impression is created that the foreign student at school is a bad experience. Such consideration is mistaken, as all depends on student’s desire to be taught, on the teacher’s desire to teach and on the school government, as the school organization, policy and climate play not the last role in student’s assimilation (Hoy & Miskel, 2004, p. 373).

So, how might cultural and language perspectives between middle-income teachers and low-income students be an obstacle to learning, and therefore, potentially effect school performance? The question was answered clearly, that the cultural and language differences cause a lot of problems to the educational process and influence both, teacher and students, to the point, not only the problematic student, but the whole class. The educational process is a team work, and the problem with one student creates the problems with the whole class, as the educational process stops to be effective, the student does not take part in the discussions, that makes the teacher to think about some new strategies to help the new comer to be involved in the conversation, and these strategies are useless for the rest of the class.

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