Americans, Russians and Asians: Language learning and taking in cultural nuances
The question all my students have in common. “Stephanie, what are the Americans really like? What are the Russians like? What about the Koreans?” As a language professional, I have had the privilege and a bit of luck to work with people from various countries, of different ages and professions. I have taught both English and Spanish to Russians, US Americans, Canadians, Koreans, Chinese, Emiratis and Sudanese, just to name a few countries. I have chatted on a cellphone video call with a Sudanese man in Dubai during Ramadan all the while watching him cook a huge pot of a yellowish delicious looking stew-rice type dish for the 20 or so bearded Muslim men in turbans waiting to break their fast. He used his lesson to introduce me to his friends from Sudan and explain to me the process of the elaborate stew he was making. They were eagerly awaiting sunset so they could devour the feast. I travel every day to Russia, where I go into the living rooms, kitchens and executive offices of my students. I meet their family, coworkers, and listen to sounds of car traffic and the motorcycles speeding down the bitterly cold streets of Moscow from outside their window. All my students are very different culturally, yet at the same time they share many things in common. The most notable is curiosity. There is a genuine interest in learning not only about language, but also about the world, especially about other people.
All my students from around the world have a lifelong interest in language learning or they wouldn’t be with me. It is fascinating to see how different cultures approach adult education. My Korean or Chinese students seem to be more time goal-oriented and want to study for a specific relatively short period of time and get their expected results and be done. My US Americans and Canadian students seem to be much busier with many different tasks they pack into a day for example job, countless errands and/or volunteer meetings and activism of some kind. They tend to learn in spurts, folding language learning into a rotating list of priorities; sometimes it is at the top of the list, other times at the bottom. My Russians have proven to be the most comfortable with the idea of language learning being part of the long haul. They are oriented towards an integrated life-long dedication to learn language.
Although I have worked with many nationalities, I have spent most of my recent years teaching Russians. Six years ago I started teaching English online to Russian professionals living in Moscow via Skype. This was the first encounter I had ever had with Russians. Before I had actually met any Russians, I assumed they were intelligent, serious and brutally honest people who don’t often smile in public. Yet, as I started to get to know the Russians, I saw a whole new side–an inside look into their personality, their culture and their devotion to family, friends and lifelong learning. Although they keep up a working day from 10am to almost 9pm in the office, they get home and online with me anywhere between 9pm and 1am Moscow time. As far as character, the Russian people are fiercely loyal friends who once they get to know you (and appreciate and like you…) will give you the shirt off their back and completely invite you into their lives. If you make a true Russian friend, you have a friendship for life based on real affection, love and concern. People I talk to are always surprised to hear that some of my Russians students have been with me for 6 years, others 4 years, others 3. All my students are long term and because of this, I have come to know them and their culture very well. I become part of their family and quite frankly, they become part of mine.
As I continue in this profession, I learn just as much from my students as they probably do from me. As I have said before, I love my job as it not only allows me to explore an infinite amount of topics, but also gives me a window into the heart and nuances of my student´s cultures.
By Stephanie Carmon for TYT
Stephanie Carmon, “language lover” is an English and Spanish language professional with over 18 years of experience teaching and providing clients with effective communication skills. She works both online and in person with companies and individual learners and from Mexico, Russia, U.S. and Canada as a freelance language consultant, translator, interpreter and teacher. She currently lives in Mérida, Yucatan.