Arguments in the Classroom

Matt | Classroom Arguments | Monday, October 27th, 2008

The other day I was in an adult’s survival level English class and we were reviewing nations and nationalities when I got into an argument with one of my students. I was writing on the board all the countries that the students could think of, e.g. Canada, China, Japan, and if they gave a nationality instead, e.g. Swiss, Swedish, Thai, I would correct them, “Thai is not a country it’s a nationality.” This is when one of my students became upset.

The student said, “Thailand is not a nationality it is part of China.” I said, “What? No, Thailand is its own country. Thai is the nationality.”

She said, “No, Thailand is part of China!” This time she said it a bit stronger than the last time. Now, I was a bit tired as this was the last class of the day for me, and I was thinking, well maybe a few thousand years ago Thailand may have been part of China or a tributary or something (my Asian history isn’t very good), and I know China is very important now, but Thailand is definitely a separate country. And I said this.

The other students were trying to convince her as well in English, “Yes, Thailand is its own country.” So, I couldn’t understand how this woman could be so wrong and stubborn. I knew I was right. The other students knew I was right too, so I was confused.

She repeated, “No! Thailand is part of China!!!”

At this point she mentioned it in Chinese to the other students to convince them she was right, and then she said two words. After that I realized she was right and I made a mistake.

She said, “Tai Wan.”

I laughed. The class laughed. She looked confused. I reassured her that, “Yes, Taiwan was a part of China,” as I would never intentionally talk of such topics in class. The other students said in Chinese, “Thai Guo bu shi Tai Wan,” or “Thailand not Taiwan,” then the students laughed, and she laughed. I was glad to see we all laughed and I learned some valuable lessons.

In an ESL classroom, or anytime you’re discussion things in a foreign language, there are great possibilities of miscommunication. When people don’t communicate clearly there is a strong chance for frustrations, arguments and discomfort.

Also, when people argue it is possible that BOTH people are right and the problem lies not in what they say, but in what they are thinking underneath their words. It is totally understandable that a beginner survival student could get confused with Thai and Tai as they sound identical.

As a teacher I learned that when miscommunication happens it is very important to try and understand the other person first before I try and convince them my point or get frustrated and argue with a student. In this case she was right and I learned a valuable lesson.

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