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Students strategies

behind dealing with

misunderstandings in
the classroom
Are these strategies cultural?

Kathleen Hamel

Previous Research
- In Anglo-Arab intercultural communication, relations of power and
distance may play an important role in determining what
communication strategies will be effective (Davies & Bentahila,
- Hinnenkamp (2001) noted that ...a different interpretation or
inference that initially led to a misunderstanding may be solved and
clarified by a common repair, even if the misunderstanding is
based on interculturality.
- ...human action depends on a variety of interactionally established
cultural practices (Gumperz & Cook-Gumperz, 2012).

The Basics
- Misunderstandings- when there is
confusion between the teacher and
student based upon the content

What is the gap?

Q: What is a students strategy in dealing
with a misunderstanding based upon content
in an ESL course? Is this reaction based
upon their culture?
- Focus:
- Q&A
- various contexts
- directly / indirectly

Method: Participants
- Interviewed 3 students from differing L1s:
- Chinese, Shanghai
- Arabic, Libya
- American English, Florida

- Ages:
- 19 - 21

- Schooling:
- Undergraduates

- Gender
- all were Female

Method: Procedure

Three one-on-one interviews

Location: Morgan Library
Length: 40 - 60 mins
Information :
- audio
- note taking on computer

Method: Materials
- Two parts to the interview:
- Questions
- Classroom scenarios

- Questions focus:
- What happens when misunderstandings happen
between you/other students and the teacher?

- Scenario questions focus:

- How misunderstandings are dealt with in various
- Classroom - E-mail - Office Hours

- Answers typically fell into three categories:
- Saving face
- All three students mentioned that
students might not ask questions in
class to not feel embarrassed.
- ...only ask a question if I know my
classmates well enough
- Arabic student

- Answers typically fell into three categories:
- Context of the Class
- Perception of the teacher
- How big the class is
- It depends if its a smaller or a larger class
setting. If it was a smaller class setting,
then I would just do it in the middle of
lecture. If not, I would wait till the end and
ask her afterwards.
- American student

- Answers typically fell into three categories:
- Culture
- Chinese student wouldnt continue asking
questions about a topic in class, even
though the topic was currently being
discussed, since that how it was in their
high school classes.

All three agreed upon:
- Depending on the class size, teachers
perception, and relationship with
would determine their

All three disagreed upon:
- Various modes of answering of their
questions = cultural
- American student
- (1) in class (2) websites (3) office hours

- Chinese student
- (1) office hours (2) e-mail (3) classmates

- Arabic student
- (1) office hours (2) before/after class

Pedagogical Implications
When working in an ESL context as
teachers, its important to:
- encourage students to ask questions in
- consistently ask them clarifying
questions to ensure understandability
throughout difficult material
- foster a comforting atmosphere

Everyone is different, and so we all come from

different backgrounds: educationally, culturally...And so
I think since were all so different, students can learn a
lot differently too. So, thats definitely the base of a lot
of misunderstanding, just people absorbing information
differently, misunderstandings happen.
- American student