Monthly Archives: August 2014

Impressions we/ you/ they make

I’ll do my best now to write a non-whiney blog post. Essentially, I’m NOT annoyed much by instances of the behaviour I’ll lay out in this post. I most often try to keep an objective distanced view, make notes, and subsequent *logical* conclusions. And these conclusions is exactly what matters and drove me to be writing this.

This post is also nothing spectacular or new. It’s about impressions we/ you/ they make when communicating with others online. I’ll mostly be referring to emails here.

 

I’m wondering just how much it is a “Russian thing” to seem (be?), sound, and come across as rude while emailing in English. I’m less and less sure that simply teaching the formal/ informal letter templates, useful phrases and email layouts ultimately helps actually writing better letters. By “better letters” I mean those which (a) carry a message across; (b) don’t hurt/ humuliate/ shock the person on the receiving side. 

So, a few instances that brought me to think that I should be teaching more than just typical expressions, structure and style of common letter types.

1)  The other day I heard amusing and slightly disturbing comments related to writing complaint letters. Namely, threats were considered a norm, in addition to quite typical clipped and sharp half-sentences. Yes, the problem is real and does not come from an exciting case-study scenario. Thus, I now realize, emotions are truly involved and making a difference to the process of writing the letter in question. Is this a common practice? How emotional do you get when/if you find yourself in a similar situation? Do you then follow the rules we teach? Just wondering.

 

2) A few months ago there was a vastly comical but also to a large extent pretty sad correspondence thread in my mailbox. Both sides of it are/were connected with English language teaching or at least with the English language (which is L2 for both sides, by the way). The correspondence was around a professional issue, which is exactly what made it look particularly tragic for me. I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows in bewilderment when I saw Dear Anna!!!!!! The last sentence in the letter invited me to be even more excited about the whole thing, as the amount of exclamation marks tripled, I think. Well, in fairness, the main chunk of that letter conveyed the message and was mainly to the point. I smiled and was reasonably excited.

 

3) The same professional issue had to face more online communication but with a different person. The striking, and frankly speaking, somewhat offending thing about this particular thread was the tone (demanding? aggressive? offhand?) and failure to meet the communication target in the first place. I didn’t lose much as a result of this and had to offer my own very polite but unambiguously (as for the reason for it) clipped response. It was very much about the impression my conversation partner made.

 

4) Finally, this point is also about impressions and conclusions. It is less ethical than previous three, though, as it features some copied and pasted lines of real communication which took place.

The story setting: I was looking for an apartment to rent. The country is NOT Russia (which makes me want to dwell more on the culture impact and how far it extends, and also to be more condescending towards us rude and direct Russians). Here are the extracts of three responses I received. My initial messages included general info about myself, my upcoming visit and some specific questions about the apartments.

Response #1

I uploaded other pictures that you can refer. <…> To make your reservation, you should click “Book it!” button. You can also visit here before you make a reservation completed. To do so, just email me.

(Note: I did ask about extra photos. I did mention, too, that I’m not in that country now or in the following several weeks.)

Response #2

My apt is open for you.

(Note: ok.)

Response #3

Hello Anna

Thanks for your message. 
Big welcome to …. (omitted for secrecy and suspence building purpose, to be revealed soon))

Of course, this studio is available for you.

Yes, I have met some nice guests here. Usually they were working in that table.

If you need more information or help, tell me 🙂

Best,

– … (name)

 

Task: out of these three, choose the person I responded to. 

 

So, to me it all boils down to the impression, even if that sounds harsh. I mean to say, those other apartments could be really great, and I understand that the contact people do not necessarily feel extremely comfortable talking in Engilsh. Also, I’m a language teacher and I’m really understanding. I seriously don’t mind any of those replies, I could deal with that outrageous (to me) correspondence with the Russian ELT people without venting too much.

What matters in the end is that I will rent that other flat.

 

*****

Tell me please if I’m being the worst of an English teacher with these observations jumping out at me as biting my eyes. Where do these issues come from? Should I feel bad about being picky?

Convince me, if you will, that a person, of whatever culture and background, will by all means continue writing grammatically, lexically, stylistically correct letters after you’ve taught them a lesson on it… Throw stones at me but I think it’s about how people think and what they accept as a norm in communicating in their mother tongue.

 

I hope I didn’t sound too arrogant or unprofessional. I’d like to talk more about this.

Thank you. 

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I don’t like this.

Impulsive, prompted by a picture of a fancy salad, post about non-ELT things.

When I was watching the recording of the iTDi Summer School MOOC session by Rose Bard a few days ago, I wrote on Facebook that it’s rich with ideas I relate to. After the session I found a note I’d only half-consciously made while following Rose. The note says:

Help them go beyond “I don’t like this”.

I turned the page of my planner over to this new week and let the note fade away from my memory, without giving it much further thought. Since I’m in this lazy-jelly-brain summer state.

写真 (1)

A few minutes ago (upd: a couple of hours – it takes time to write, even if impulsively) I was flipping casually through the pages of a mag. I saw this picture. I wasn’t hungry, and in fairness I’m no good or satisfactory cook, but I thought it looked fresh and easy. When my eyes glanced through ingredients and saw “300g of pears” there, only a millisecond passed before my mind registered a fleeting but confident “I don’t like pears” line.
I’m sorry for the lack of logic and presence of irrationality here, but this was when I frowned at myself and rushed to this screen to type an incoherent post about the dangers (?) of not liking stuff.

Where am I going with this?

“I don’t like this.”
It sounds like a strong statement of personal will, manifestation of solid knowledge of self, its needs and desires.
It also sounds to me now like a limit, a constraint one willingly prescribes for oneself, to live within and know little better.

And since it’s only human to like and dislike, I imagine I could, in a carefree summer fashion, connect this to teaching and learning.
I don’t like to teach kids. I don’t like to teach, or better say deal with, grammar. I don’t like role-plays. These are major and all have stories of reasons behind. However… What is it about me and liking here? Does liking have a place at all for a teacher, imagining herself to be a more or less professional? Feel free to let me know in a comment.

I don’t like it that I regularly struggle with writing.
I don’t like libraries.
I don’t like Quizlet. (it’s funny just how often this app name makes an appearance in my posts)))

It’s fascinating to me to analyse what lies behind those dislikes binding down our experiences. It’s no less fascinating to imagine now what can happen once I let go of my dislikes. It’s bound to be uncomfortable there out of the homelike confines. I might, in the end, harden in my view and confidently proceed with disliking.
Incidentally, I might just as well reconsider.

*****

I don’t like pears much. If I see them sold at the market I don’t have an impulse to buy a kilo, not even one pear (as opposed to cherries). If I happen to have pears on my dining table, I’ll most likely choose another fruit or nothing. If one feeds me pears I’ll eat and like them, though. I love lemonade made of pears. Pear cakes. The smell of pears. I’m not totally sure what’s behind my dislike. I don’t have a serious point worthy of hours of thinking over with this post. I don’t like cockroaches either, but I’m not inclined to try liking them, or making pets of them, not at this point of my life. Obviously, you can’t rejoice in all things in the world, and indeed why would you?

But seriously, next time I catch myself thinking “I don’t like this”, I’m going to take a step in just the opposite direction. Facing the antipathy, probing for stamina, going beyond my self-imposed prejudice.

The Help them go beyond “I don’t like this” sank deep into my mind and heart, and I want to explore it, for myself and maybe students, too.

*** Late Warning***
It should be obvious I’m musing while being well aware of how far from generalizations this whole line of reasoning is. Thank you.

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