A Paradigm Shift

Teaching a class of international students in a different atmosphere is very different from teaching a class of only Indian students; I was to learn quite soon. The classes I began teaching had people from several nationalities in the international university though the largest number was that of Thai students.

I soon found that Thai students and other South East Asian students find it difficult to speak English. It is an alien language for them since most countries were not colonized. Most students want to improve their English skills and try hard to do so. However, the task is definitely uphill for them. Those coming from international schools of course did not have a problem.

Most students were extremely disciplined. They sat quietly in the class-room and accepted all that the teacher was saying. Thai tradition reveres teachers whom they call "Ajarns" ( 'Ajarn' comes from the Sanskrit Acharya).  There was very little interaction with the students since they did not consider it polite to stand up and speak to the teacher in the class-room. In fact, as I was to learn later, most of them spoke only when the teacher went right up close to them and they could interact face to face. When they wanted to ask a question they came up close to me and asked me the question on bended knees. This humble gesture surprised me greatly, in fact it amazed me and I got used it only after some time.

It was interesting to note that many students loved to eat snacks and drink cold drinks while the lecture was in progress. After the lecture, when they were engaged in group discussion, many of them even offered me some candy or chewing gum! The atmosphere was generally genial and far more relaxed from Indian class-room teaching. I received the ubiquitous Thai smile quite often. Students also walked in and out of the class-room from the rear door when they wanted to leave the class to attend to their 'phone or talk to someone else outside! All this got some getting used to and the cultural shock of an alien foreign country would get me thinking about my own country sometimes and how easy it had been to communicate there.

I had to use a power point all the time for my lectures. I was under the impression that my accent was clear and could be easily understood, but I found that the students could follow me better only when I used a power point presentation. Soon I was preparing numerous power point presentations and transparencies. I also realized with time that to be intelligible I should use simple words and direct vocabulary. At times the nuances of the English language were lost on them and it would take them some time to decipher what exactly I was joking about in case I used a jovial anecdote to lighten the atmosphere.

Thus communication paradigms changed and I became more and more adept at the change once I came to terms with it. I even graduated to using key terms in Thai language in the class at times. However the task became even more challenging when I taught some classes with several nationalities like Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, Laos, Burmese, Maldivian, Saudi Arabian and Indian students. Looking for examples which would be easily understood by all of them was practically impossible and I had to think hard to make myself easily understood. The challenge was exhilarating and rewarding at the same time!