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‘You’re Speaking My Language’: ‘Food for Thought’ panel discussion held for CU International Education Week

‘You’re Speaking My Language’: ‘Food for Thought’ panel discussion held for CU International Education Week
From left, Isaac Asare, Joshua Detherage, Matt Egbert, Raquel Cunha, Olivia Helm, Jinn Heo and Amanda Goforth participate in a Food for Thought panel discussion titled “You’re Speaking My Language.” (Campbellsville University Photo by Chosalin Morales)

By Scarlett Birge, student news writer, Office of University Communications

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – As part of Campbellsville University’s annual International Education Week, Amanda Goforth, director of the Center for Global Engagement, arranged a “Food for Thought” panel discussion titled “You’re Speaking My Language” to provide advice on how to communicate cross-culturally.

The panel spoke in the Badgett Academic Support Center (BASC) Banquet Hall and consisted of the following student and faculty speakers: Jinn “Julia” Heo of Korea; Olivia Helm of Big Clifty, Ky.; Isaac Asare of Ghana; Matt Egbert, international enrollment counselor; Joshua Detherage, English as a Second Language (ESL) and Master of Arts Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (MA TESOL) instructor; and Raquel Cunha, director of English as a Second Language, of Brazil.

Asare, a resident assistant at Campbellsville University, said he interacts daily with several people from different cultures as part of his job. Having the right tools and resources is a necessary aspect of communicating across languages he said.

“Technology is really useful. It really helps,” Asare said.

Using the internet and online translation services helps to provide essential context when communicating to those who speak different languages, he said. Narrowing the focus of the conversation allows for better understanding.

“Knowing the basics of what is being talked about, combined with the help from technology, helps get the conversation going,” Asare said.

Detherage said obtaining the basic information and grasping the context of the conversation is key when speaking to someone who speaks a different language. Trying to comprehend a conversation starts with knowing the context.

“Context is so important,” Detherage said. “If you don’t know the context, you’re not going to understand anything.”

Being able to understand even small portions of the context can be a big help in communicating the general idea. Detherage said non-verbal gestures are another helpful tool.

“You can act out a surprisingly large number of things,” he said.

Other things such as making eye contact and reading lips are useful physical gestures Egbert said. Being face-to-face and actively participating in the conversation can greatly improve the level of comprehension.

“You need to have eye contact and be able to see their lips moving,” Egbert said. “It makes the conversation much easier.”

Cunha said approaching a conversation with patience and an open mind is a good way to go about speaking to someone of a different culture. Avoiding making assumptions or believing stereotypes can greatly improve cross-cultural interactions she said.

“Consider how you engage in conversation,” she said. “It’s kind of hard but try your best.”

“Remember that people are individuals. When you talk to them make sure you are talking to them as a person and not as a representative of their culture,” said Goforth.

Helm said perspective plays into connecting with people of different cultures. Interacting with people and hearing their stories helps to create a better understanding of each other.

“It really changes my perspective when I see what another culture is like compared to mine.” Helm said. “It’s an eye-opening experience to interact with other cultures.”

Having confidence and being brave adds to communication, Cunha said. Using expressions and speaking clearly with enough volume will help people understand more.

“It takes courage,” said Cunha. “It’s intimidating but you can make a conversation.”

“It takes some humility,” Helm said.

Creating a comfortable environment for others to speak and interact aids in communicating cross-culturally. Putting in the effort to listen and be patient will allow others to feel safe and comfortable in speaking.

“Creating that comfortable environment or safe space encourages people to understand each other,” Asare said.

The panel said being aware, being genuine and being understanding are key aspects to consider when speaking to people of different cultures. Having empathy and patience while trying to utilize available tools and tricks will improve communication skills when facing language barriers.

Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university with more than 12,000 students offering over 100 programs of study including Ph.D., master, baccalaureate, associate, pre-professional and certification programs. The website for complete information is www.campbellsville.edu.