Bittersweet Chalkolate

Blog about cooking, teaching, and everything else that is my life.

January. Conflict resolution seminar. Day 23.

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Do you understand accents?

When I just came to Canada, my first job was at Columbia International College. I was a summer camp ESL teacher. I was fresh off the boat and knew nothing about accents.

So here I was, standing in front of my first class full of Asian students from China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Korea with a few Russians, Nigerians, Mexicans, and Venezuelans in the mix. I don’t think I ever felt so embarrassed as a teacher as in those few first days. I could not understand anything. Nothing!

Every time I asked my Vietnamese student a question, I felt so ashamed of myself. It didn’t sound like English to me at all. And I felt so bad for the student who obviously knew the answer. I couldn’t understand my Nigerian students whose first language was English. I was an English teacher in Canada and I was not ready for that.

Why am I saying all this? One of the biggest barriers in communication is culture and cultural background. I have learnt to understand all sorts of accents. I can tell whether the person speaks Cantonese or Mandarin. I have learnt to differentiate Korean and Japanese accents. So now when I need to deal with my Asian residents, I am so at ease as I know exactly what they are saying to me.

Be patient with someone who doesn’t belong to your culture. Don’t get irritated if you cannot understand them. Open your ears and your heart to them. This barrier might teach you a lot about yourself. Trust me.


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