In our show today we look at Geert Hofstede’s statement of “Culture as the Software of the Mind” and will try to explore that metaphor to the extreme. We will be asking ourselves how we get to learn about a piece of new software and whether this experience can really be transferred to learning about a new culture. What, for example, can be done in the classroom to raise the intercultural awareness of students who prepare for their stays abroad?
In a round-table discussion with Berit Wiebe and Karsten Kneese we asked ourselves: “Where do we get our culture from? Do we get if from our parents like a new version of Photoshop for Christmas? Or do we get it from our peers like we would get new software if we illegally shared a programme with our friends? Or does the cultural learning rather work like the spell check in Word, which learns from us and improves because of the way we use it and add new items to it?
Audrey Fernandez-Diehl, who was born in Malaysia, studied in Australia and New Zealand, lived in Switzerland for a while and now teaches intercultural communication at university level in Germany tells us about her concept of culture, whether she thinks culture can be taught and about a very disturbing cultural game called Rufa Rufa. As Audrey teaches intercultural awareness, she says that her training is both, for foreign students who come to her university but also for her own students who prepare for going abroad.
On this last day of Christmas I would like to say that Anne and I have enjoyed another year of being in intercultural contact with you, the listeners, through our show. We appreciate your response, please keep it coming. Now, if you have not made any new year’s resolutions yet, maybe you could share your thoughts about the shows a little more with the other listeners on this blog using the “comment”-function. This show has given Anne and me many opportunities for having conversations about intercultural topics with experts and ordinary people which otherwise we would probably not have had. So, the two of us would also like to thank you, the listeners, for keeping us going and looking at intercultural issues from different angles on a fortnightly basis.
The next show will be coming to you on 9 January from Anne Fox in Denmark.
Today’s show is devoted mostly to language learning. This is partly because intercultural awareness is tightly linked to language learning but also because there has been an explosion of new internet sites to help you learn various languages. This is not new of course. What is new is that these sites work on the premise of building a community of people interested in helping each other out by offering help in their native language while trying to learn another language. This means that you can exchange messages and meet up live using text, audio or video so that you can practice in real life situatons. Social networking for a purpose, if you want. You’d be amazed at what language learning websites like Babbel can lead to!
So often those of us interested in intercultural matters are looking for differences but in this case not only has Professor Mitra come up with a surprising theory, that children will actively organise their own learning if left to their own devices, but also presents some amazing evidence to show that this applies not only in India but all over the world.
It all started with an internet enabled computer with touch screen, installed in a public area in an Indian slum area and I really recommend that you take a look at some of the movies available about this experiment to really appreciate what is going on. The children taught themselves how to use the internet and a basic English vocabulary because so much of the Internet is in English. But in further experiments Mitra showed that the children could also teach themselves complex biological concepts and even French when they were presented with a graphics editing program which was available only in French! That’s the clever link to this show’s language theme by the way! Mitra described this particular feat as a double positive. The children wanted to use the program therefore they needed to learn the language whereas adults would tend to have the attitude that because they didn’t know the language then they wouldn’t be able to use the program. So how does Mitra explain children’s ability to organise their own learning like this?
One of the key findings from Mitra’s observations is that it is the working in small groups which is key. So perhaps it is no coincidence that the newest internet language learning sites such as Babbel or iTalki, rely heavily on the social aspect for their attraction. So let’s ask Dr Elizabeth Hanson-Smith why she joined Babbel when she wanted to improve her Spanish.
So that was Spanish. Now what about Chinese, or more accurately, Mandarin, is that easy to learn? Well it seems it depends on what your goals are according to Ken Carroll in Shanghai who is the man behind Chinese Pod, a learning system based on the spoken language rather than the written language. In fact you can try out much of the Chinese pod materials for free to test for yourself.
A great deal of language learning these days is purely functional. You do it because it’s on the school curriculum or you need it for your job. But there are still people who learn a language for it’s own sake. One such person was Gloria from Hungary who is using iTalki to learn English and Turkish. The English is for work but the Turkish is for pleasure.
Now we’ll return to Ken Carroll in Shanghai to discuss the thorny problem of writing Mandarin. He reckons it’s absolutely impossible. I am amazed that Ken says he can always find someone to write Chinese for him. I must say that I haven’t found that to be the case for me here in Denmark, so many people have to suffer my poor written Danish.
absolutely impossible (part 2):
Our final segment was a last question to Professor Mitra who has just moved from New Delhi to Newcastle where they speak with the strong Geordie accent. Does he understand it? I must just say that I love the Geordie accent but it does take some getting used to.
In our show today we will be asking ourselves how we can learn about culture and what can be done in the classroom to raise the intercultural awareness of students who prepare for their stays abroad. As an example culture we have chosen China and in particular the Chinese and their food.
Jack Lonergan tells us how you can teach intercultural communication when you teach a classroom full of learners who have, in fact, the same cultural background and even the same language. Jack gives some very interesting examples of how you can explore a culture in depth even in monocultural classrooms.
I took the opportunity to ask Mingxia Zhou, one of my business students from the North East of China whether what we call Chinese Food in Europe and what real Chinese people eat in China are more or less the same thing? Mingxia talks about the delicious food in her home country and that the so-called Chinese Food in Europe is not a real substitute. While eating out in Europe can be quite expensive and is seen as a kind of luxury, we find out that eating restaurant food in China is so much cheaper and part of everyday life there – so ordinary people can dine out or order restaurant food to their homes, simply because of the heat or the bad weather outside.
We return to Jack Lonergan and listen to how he explains intercultural differences. In his project called The Intercultural European Workplace he makes sure participants perceive intercultural differences by understanding concrete examples. He talks about how a little bowl of soup available at sundown and offered by the university canteen can make all the difference for Muslim students during the fasting period called Ramadan.
Carina Mayer, who did her internship in Hong Kong working for the Olympics this summer, aimed for a cultural change and new experiences which she would not have been able to experience in Europe. She gives us some insight on her experiences with the Chinese cuisine and seems to have been very unafraid to try everything that the Chinese put on her plate. We hear that in China she often went out to enjoy the vast variety of the real Chinese cuisine with the whole department of the office and this gave her colleagues the opportunity to get to know her more informally than at work.
The next show will be coming to you on 12 December from Anne Fox in Denmark.
In this show we go from a European base to Turkmenistan, Kenya, the United States and Nicaragua.
Signe Møller is a Chaos Pilot who decided to take a career break and ended up setting up her own charity helping children in Kenya. We’ll be learning more about the innovative social business and project management Chaos Pilot course in a later podcast. Meanwhile Signe’s groundbreaking approach called 100 percent to the children is based on allowing donors to choose whether the money they give supports the Kenyan projects directly or whether it helps to pay for the administrative back-up needed to keep the whole enterprise afloat. This new way of approaching charity work earned her the title of Fun Fearless Female 2008 organised by the Danish edition of Cosmopolitan magazine. How did Signe end up in Kenya in the first place?
You go to stay at the home of a family in Turkmenistan and you notice that you never see the older daughter. She is always in the kitchen cooking or doing housework and she does not eat together with the family. Why is this? Is it because
a) the family do not want their precious first born daughter to mix with foreigners
b) the first daughter is always the least favoured in Turkmen families or
c) it is traditional for the eldest daughter to do all the household chores
The next question is would it be possible for you to get to know her better? Find out the answer as Zohre Ovezlieva who has been organising Peace Corps placements for many years explains what to do in this situation.
When people who don’t have enough to survive are confronted by groups of strangers with access to seemingly unlimited amounts of resources, the problem of corruption often arises. Is this a problem Signe Møller of 100 percent 2 the children recognises and how does she deal with it?
Zohre has been looking after American Peace Corps volunteers for many years and decided that she would like to find out what it feels like to be a foreigner by going to the US for a month. How did she fare?
Nicaragua is a small country with a population roughly the same as Denmark’s but with much lower living standards partly as a result of the civil war in the 1980’s, so when Nicaragua’s ambassador to Denmark, Mr Ricardo Alvarado Noguera paid a visit to our school in Grenaa his perspective was very much that we are all connected.
Skype, SMS, Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Second Life. Like the characters in Pirandello’s play “Six Characters in search of an Author” these applications seem to have been set loose on our post-modern society without a clear script or a destination.
We have all heard about these digital applications which promise to make our lives richer, more interesting and more “connected”. However, it is difficult to predict which of these activities will still be part of our culture in 20 years’ time. Will they replace old-fashioned communication channels like the telephone or email? Or are they just a passing fashion for digital geeks and flat rate junkies?
Today we want to look at the online culture and how we all manage to be part of it in our daily lives at work and at home.
Some weeks ago at a teacher-training event I met Evi and Linda who had attended my seminar on integrating new media such as podcasts and twitter into their teaching. Later in the afternoon I had the chance to speak to the two to ask them about their general attitude towards new media for communication. I asked how essential mobile telephones are in their private lives and while Linda has had her mobile since she was 13 (which seemed normal to me) to my utter surprise I heard from Evi, a successful professional in her thirties that she only bought her first mobile phone four months ago and only because she had to …
Assja Tietz, one of our students, who has spent a lot of time in different countries during her studies speaks about her study period in Australia, an excursion to Ireland and her recent internship in Hungary. What with all her moving around her challenge is actually to stay in touch, both with family and friends at home but also with those new friends she met during her stays abroad. So rather than being overwhelmed by too much communication on different media channels she is constantly looking for the best ways to be “close to home” even when she is far away…
absolutely fashionable: Katrin dares a prognosis whether the new technologies we hear so much about will become important parts of our communication or whether they are more like a fashion that comes and goes. Can you imagine that perhaps nobody will remember Facebook or Twitter in ten years’ time?
The next show will be coming to you on 14 November from Anne Fox in Denmark.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.
I’ll stop right there because it’s our attitude to school which is going to be the main topic of of the show today. And if you want to know the rest then you’ll have to revisit ‘As you like it’.
In the last show we explored some of the many cultural aspects of learning apparent in one educational institution and in this show we’re going to stick with the idea of learning culture but this time on a world wide basis.
I mentioned the 2 Million Minutes project very briefly in the show on China and the Olympics but I was so intrigued by the project that I got in touch with Bob Compton, the man behind the project, so that I could find out more.
absolutely educated: What do you want to be when you grow up? According to Bob Compton the answer you give to this question when you are six or seven years old says a great deal about how successful your country is going to be economically in the future. Be honest now! What would your answer have been at that age?
Bob Compton is worried about the economic consequences of the American education system but sees the problem as arising from different cultural attitudes to learning and teachers. He decided to raise awareness about the competition from India and China by making a film following the lives of 6 high school students from the 3 different countries. The project is called 2 million minutes and I asked Bob to tell us more….
absolutely rotary: Bob kept asking me about how things were in Europe generally and Denmark in particular but having never experienced anything other than the European education system it was difficult for me to say. When I heard that one of my colleagues was hosting an American student, Brittany Alcorn, through the Rotary Youth Exchange programme I jumped at the chance for a chat with her. It seems that the Danish situation is probably closer to the American model than the Indian and Chinese models.
absolutely concerned: Back with Bob Compton I asked him to explain the title of the project and then wanted to know more about some of the main observations made in the film. He picked out the differing parental aspirations as a key difference.
absolutely musical: Ah but, say the objectors, it’s not healthy to study all the time, what about creativity? A running theme through the project seems to be the musical prowess of the Chinese on all sorts of instruments. Even the translator could play something on the accordion!
absolutely prepared: So having seen the situation in India and China did this have any effect on Bob Compton’s family at an individual level? I asked him in particular about his daughters’ education and discovered that the family had made radical changes.
‘In America you have tutors when your children are failing but in India and China you have tutors when your children are doing well so that they can do even better.”
‘In India your college application is your name and your test score. Nothing else!’
I was interested in this project for what it told me about cultural differences in the attitude to education but there have also been some very strong negative reactions to this project because it tends to view education in purely utilitarian terms. Where do you stand on this? Let us know here on the blog. What is the learning culture in your country? Is it closer to the Indian and Chinese models or closer to the American model? You will find lots more information about the 2 Million minutes project at their website where you can even take an Indian maths test and you will find many film snippets about the back story behind the project on their dedicated channel at YouTube.
By the way, I would like to do a show exploring some of the new social networking language learning websites which have sprung up in the last year or so. So if you have any experience as a user of sites such as Live Mocha,Palabea, Mango Languages or Babbel then get in touch because I would like to know if they really work.
In this episode we are going to have a look at adult education. Anne and I were lucky enough to be invited to the Volkshochschule Rhein-Sieg by Alexandra Haas. We took part in a very stimulating workshop day for trainers inspired by Alexandra’s previous project “Teaching Culture!”.
absolutely learner-oriented: Mechthild Tillmann, director of the Volkshochschule Rhein-Sieg, reports on 24 different work-shops in which teachers shared ideas about marketing, suggestopedia, podcasting in the classroom and other subjects related to their teaching. Following the idea of “teaching culture” and the “culture of teaching” the institution invited their own teachers to turn into learners and improve their methods.
We listen to Mauricio Virgens from Brazil and Andres Villamil from Columbia, two South American musicians who played music for us, and “bossanovarized” our busy lives a little. Mauricio speaks about his mission as a cultural ambassador for his native country Brazil and tells us how he keeps up his cultural identity through music. Of course, we also get to enjoy a bit of their music.
absolutely enjoyable: Katrin, one of the new staff at the Volkshochschule Rhein-Sieg, tells us how previous learning experiences of the participants can a be challenge for the teachers. She has noticed that learners seem to expect the same “learning culture” which they got used to when they were learners for the first time – years ago. However, one aspect seems to be important to all learners – that they learn faster if they are having fun.
Evi and Linda both work in adult education and explain to us how adult education creates its own culture. We also hear about their perspectives on gender issues and that adult education, just like health services, appears to attract women with a strong impulse to help.
The next show will be coming to you on 17 October from Anne Fox in Denmark.
Today’s show is about people who live in the past, more specifically about those who live as Vikings for one week in the year or every summer weekend depending on their role. What makes them prefer the Viking era over any other? How authentically do they try to live the Viking lifestyle? Is there anything we can learn from this living tableau?
We’re going to the Mosegaard Viking Moot, a gathering of people from all over the world who just want to be Vikings. Every year at the end of July, just south of Aarhus, the Vikings meet to show off their horsemanship, their handicrafts and their fighting skills for a week. People live as Vikings, more or less, and at the weekend the public are invited to join in. Since I have been enjoying this for many years I decided that this year I would be brave and approach some of these warriors, feisty women and well-travelled minstrels to try and find out what makes ordinary people try to step into such a faraway culture so completely.
absolutely historical: I spoke to Peter Hambro Mikkelsen at the Mosegaard Museum to get some background to the event and only then did I find out how special the Mosegaard Moot really is!
absolutely homely: Now let’s hear from some of the enthusiasts who live as Vikings. First I talked to Grethe, a conscientious Viking woman who makes all her own clothes and who comes to Mosegaard with her husband who is a horseman.
absolutely exotic: As I was wandering round the encampment, buying pancakes and roasted meat and getting smoke in my eyes, my gaze was inexorably drawn to a very exotic looking person even by Viking standards: This turned out to be the alter ego Ibn Fadhlan who revealed his Arabic roots and recommended the 2005 film ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ as a fair representation of the Crusades story.
absolutely violent: Then I could put it off no longer; I simply had to gather all my courage and nail down one of the warriors to find out what made them come from all over Europe and beyond to fight. I’d always been intrigued by the number of English voices I’d heard on the battlefield over the years so I made sure that it was a Briton that I talked with. The voice belongs to Ian Judd or Gunnar as he is known in Viking circles.
Finally we return to Peter Mikkelsen from the Museum to find out if there is anything we can learn through these cultural recreations. This leads to an interesting parallel between how there was class distinction even in death in the Viking era but that the same distinction was made during the Falklands War when privates were buried in a mass grave on the Islands while the fallen officers were flown home. Peter ends with a powerful anecdote about the strength of the Viking identity.
In today’s show, we put our emphasis on working cultures, both, in digital work contexts and in face-to-face team work.
Whether you prefer to work in a hierarchical context or whether you prefer to work collaboratively – we sometimes end up in workplaces which do not leave the choice to us. Are you aware of the working culture that surrounds you? Do you appreciate it or would you change it if you could? Do you notice that you have an impact on this culture, too?
We hear about different email cultures and discover that yes – your email may show your personal writing style – but that your email also says a lot about the working culture of your company or your institution. Our interviewees fill us in on their opinions regarding the perfect email. We learn that signals which indicate whether the message is well structured and can easily be read and dealt with are quite important and that preference is often given to those messages which have a “speaking” subject line.
Different working cultures in face-to-face teamwork are explored. Jean Lennox of the University of Applied Sciences in Mönchengladbach, Germany, reports about an international excursion with university students to Posnan, Poland, which confronts them with the difficulties of working in groups of European students from various countries. We learn that intercultural tests of what we expect of the working cultures of other countries can bring up interesting results.
Nora Müller, who is going to the Netherlands for her practical training, gives us some insights into her preparations for her stay abroad and tells us that she believes that going to a neighboring country in Europe is still a big step.
Dr. Cruickshank from Scotland and Clementina Poposka from Macedonia came to Germany as lecturers under the “teaching staff mobility” program. We get to hear what they hope to gain from their academic mobility and in which way universities in their home countries differ from what they experienced during their visit.
The next show will be coming to you on 19 September from Anne Fox in Denmark.
With the Olympics in full swing it seems obvious to turn our attention to China this time round. However if you think that we’re going to be talking about heights, lengths, points, timings and goals then you’ve come to the wrong place. But maybe by now you have an idea what the intro music was. It didn’t sound stereotypically Chinese but Forever Friends is the official anthem for the Beijing Olympics.
So what are the intercultural aspects of the Olympic Games? The list is long and could begin with the opening ceremony which was a lesson in world geography with the majority of the world’s countries represented, even those currently in conflict such as Afghanistan and Georgia as well as many small nations such as Andorra and Cape Verde. Be honest, how many flags did you recognize? I was also struck by the number of parading athletes using their mobile phones mostly to take pictures but also in conversation. The formality of the occasion has obviously been very much reduced. I can feel a theme for a future show coming on!
As the games swung into action inevitably another issue raised its head, that of cheating. What is cheating? I’m not referring here to using drugs to enhance performance but of the strange story of the Danish sailors. The weather conditions for the start of the race were very rough and the mast of the Danish boat broke. Instead of bowing out of the race, the Danes asked the Croatians, who were no longer competing, if they could borrow their boat. The Croatians said yes, the Danes set off late and incredibly went on to win the competition on aggregate and were in line for the gold medal. But it took 18 hours for the judges to decide whether the Danes had broken any rules by borrowing the Croatian boat. In the end the Danes were awarded the medal but other nations have put in official complaints. So was that cheating? Let us know what you think.
Firstly hello to Zohre Ovezliyeva in Turkmenistan who administers the American Peace Corps programme there. I was so interested in Zohre’s work that I arranged to link up with her for a future show so watch out for that.
Then we heard from Christopher Cummings who wanted to tell us about his Spanish language learning site at Spanishdict.com and who also told us that some of our pieces resonated with him as an Asian American. I hope that we can get Christopher to tell us more about his approach to language learning in a future show.
Hello also to Eddy Van Hemelrijck in Belgium who was interested in getting his students involved in producing some material for the podcast. Yes of course, we’re very open to suggestions like that and I am very much looking forward to seeing what they come up with.
Today we’ll be hearing from Ken Carroll, a Dubliner who has lived in Shanghai for 15 years and who offers online language training through Chinese Pod, French Pod and Spanish Pod. What does he think is the significance of China hosting the games? Inevitably we started talking about learning the Chinese language too.
We’ll also be hearing from Yaodong Chen, a professor of English at Guangxi University in Liuzhou and one of his students Justina, currently working as an intern, about whether they will be watching the games or not.
A recurring theme seems to be homework in China. This reminded me of an interesting initiative happening in the USA at the moment called 2 million minutes. That is the amount of time available to the typical teenager to qualify themselves for university in high school. The project is making a series of films documenting how teenagers in India, China and the USA are spending their time during this critical period and it will be no surprise to learn that the Chinese students spend a great deal of time doing homework compared to the Americans. Although you need to buy the main film there are many short clips available for free on the project website and on You Tube.One of them features Bob Compton, the executive producer, giving his answer to a typical question about how students in China feel when they get low marks.
absolutely olympic (part 2):
What? More inter-cultural aspects of the Olympic Games? Well how about, is it about individuals and teams or about countries? I know many people are simply looking at the medal tally for each country but in the Olympic Charter it does explicitly say, and I quote:
‘The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries.’
Finally, isn’t there a tension between the supposed coming together of nations and the inherent rivalry in sporting events? I heard one athlete interviewed who said ‘I didn’t come here to socialize with the other athletes!’ and in fact there doesn’t seem to be anything in the Olympic Charter compelling him to do so!
Well that’s it for today. Thank you to everyone who took part, we couldn’t do this without you!
So long! Stay tuned.
The host of this show is:Anne Fox
Editor: Peter Kron