Sociolinguistics studies affect on practical TESL

#3 Discuss how the topics in sociolinguistics will affect your practice in TESL and other relationships.

This Sociolinguistics class covered a variety of topics, and has proven very enlightening about communication styles and political attitudes in the United States concerning language education and very practical in how to deal with communications between cultures and genders.

Through discussion and reading of handouts in class, I realized that even in the U.S. there are words that have bad or rude connotations to my ear, but to others it does not.  For example: for many of the people from outside the Midwest, “hick” or “redneck” is merely a description of someone who lives in the country.  Yet, for people, like myself, who are from the country in the Midwest, those terms–unless self-ascribed–are considered quite derogatory.  I realize that this is not the only case in which I could perceive someone or they could perceive me as rude when that was not the intention.  This helps me to be more understanding of different dialects and, from an English as a Second Language teacher’s point of view, it helps to remind me that students may perceive certain words about their people or their homeland as derogatory although it was not intended.  I will need to help teach them that this will happen both to and by them and should be guarded against becoming a major offense.  It will be important to include in my instruction opportunities for my students to see metamessages in action.  Perhaps some drama sketches or exaggerated conversations could be used to show how the message is not always in the words but is often more truthfully in the metamessage.  As my students hear various people speak and are exposed to various dialects, they will need to be able to recognize words when spoken by various dialects even though it may seem very different in pronunciation from the exact same word which they just learned.  This is easy to say–“Learn the dialects”–but it is difficult to teach and even to learn myself.  I have heard black guys on my wing talking when they get excited and, honestly, I can’t understand them sometimes.  I have to listen very carefully and even then I cannot always decipher all the words.  At the same time, I have been talking to friends and had them ask me what I said because they thought I had just spoken a different language.  It comes down to exposing my students to various examples, especially those they will encounter most often and tell them to expect some people to have different dialects than others.  Even Americans have to listen closely, so they should not get frustrated.  This class also gave me a good basis for understanding the development of pidgins and Black American English as systematic and  structured forms of language.

As a teacher with students of different cultural backgrounds, it is important to have an understanding of how students pay attention and respect.  If I am not aware that some students communicate their respect and attentiveness in nontraditional ways, according to American standards that is, then I will be at a disadvantage and probably be disturbed by what would appear to be disrespect and inattention.  Sociolinguistics discussed the nonverbal expressions of these qualities in various cultures.  Respect may be shown to the teacher by a Native American who sits quietly, looking down, and never asks questions.  At the same time ,African students may want to take part in a give and take of vocal participation typical of the call-response in many African. traditions.  This class has also made me more aware of how, at least, an aspect of any ESL program should include education about the culture and communication within the culture including verbal and nonverbal communication.  This being included will help the students learn not only how to speak but how to interact in a culture.

In Sociolinguistics I was made to delve into the topic of bilingual education and exactly what this means along with the political camps that are trying to make English as the official language of the U.S.  As an educator this will be an issue that will need addressing as I interact with other educators and state and/or federal regulations about how to teach English.  I feel I gained a basic grasp on these topics and how they relate to teaching.  The paper in this class has helped prepare me to be an educated participant in looking for the right answer without being oblivious to the details involved in the argument from both sides.

The area that will apply more to my personal relationships than with teaching, although it will still be useful there, is communication between genders.  Examples from Deborah Tannen’s book (1992) helped me to understand how communications differ from individual to individual and especially across gender boundaries.  This reading has made me more aware of the dynamics of understanding metamessages as it differs from the message itself.  Prior to this class I was well aware of these dynamics, but this has helped me understand how to become more accurate in the use of these dynamics and how to keep good communication with females.

Through all the things I learned in this class, I have gained an awareness of the communication of myself and others too.  With the information from class and readings and a personal communication analysis, I have found myself listening carefully to conversations around me to pick up accents, idiosyncrasies, and dialects.  My ear has become attuned to differences that I find interesting even in my own speech.  Although this is interesting to note, I have found that it sometimes puts me into an analytical mode of evaluating (even verbally) what I just said.  This can become it’s own nuisance and impede communication because I come across to others as one who analyzes everything.  The awareness created in me has made me not only aware of my communication but shown me how to correct it and be more attentive to how others perceive my communication and how I might perceive theirs in a different way and actually understand what they mean.

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This is Part 3 of my final exam for a sociolinguists class at ORU from about 1999. See Part 1 and Part 2.

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