Blog 2 by Anneli – Piller’s article

My initial thoughts about the article: The paper is very interesting and analytically written. It was also a big surprise for me that linguistic approach seems to be a negligible aspect in intercultural communication literature. I think language is one output of communication in addition to gestures and facial expressions. Language also reflects the way we picture the world. However, I am sure we all know, that sometimes it is very difficult to express oneself only by words. In Piller’s article I liked the way she leaded the reader to understand the fuzziness of “culture” as a concept. (Curiosity: A similar kind of fuzzy concept is “context”. One of the leading context researchers Professor Patrick Brézillon is maintaining a database of context definitions found in research literature. There are hundreds of items in the database.)

In page 10, there is an example of the word “yes” and its several meanings depending on context in Japanese (and in other languages). However, in Japan case there is a deeper story behind. My colleagues from Keio University have taught me that “harmony” is one of the key concepts and a way of living for Japanese. It has developed over the millenniums and is a follow-up of huge population living in such a small area. They say “harmony” can also be considered as a survival strategy. So Japanese try to avoid saying “no”, they say “yes” instead, to keep the harmony.

How do Piller’s points possibly apply to “interculturality” in the academic classroom? In case there might be a risk for misunderstanding in communication because of (English) language, I have asked a student to explain by his/her own words what we have discussed, how he/she has understood my story. I use this in supervising sessions. It seems to work, because then I see if the student has understood at all what we have been talking (nodding and say “yes” are not enough). Another approach, closely related to teaching subject (software development), is defining an unambiguous vocabulary that we all use in the course in question.

What are your own experiences as teachers in higher education: when are (cultural) differences evoked and why? Or are they? I have faced cultural differences in supervising (master and PhD) students and collaborating with researchers from different Asian countries (Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam). I think it is richness not a burden. I admire for example the skill of visual thinking among my colleagues from Japan and Thailand. I have thinking that their language might be one reason for this skill – every mark is like a little piece of art.

Ok, ok. Differences can also be due to academic skills, different kind of school systems, society welfare in general etc. Altogether, Piller’s article was refreshing reading for me.