Empathy & Non-Verbal Communication

The first week of February – as part of a language teacher-training course – I have been learning Macedonian. It is not a language that has ever interested me nor did I choose to learn it, but it is an essential part of the teacher training course that I am currently studying. I suppose that the objective is to help new teachers to understand how it is for students who have zero experience of english.

It has been extremely interesting in two ways that relate to my masters studies – the role of empathy, and the importance of non-verbal communication.

As a native english-speaker it is hard for me to begin to imagine how daunting it is to learn sounds and words, and to practice intonation and pronunciation of the language that I have grown up with. I take it for granted. Macedonian is similar to Russian, with a different alphabet and with different sounds and grammatical rules. Learning the language for a week, and being made to do role-playing exercises where I used phrases and words that I had learned, really gave me an empathic insight into how it might be say for a chinese student to begin learning english for the first time. Possibly the best empathy lesson I have ever had, and perfect timing for me to be able to refer to in the thinking behind the master’s projects.

The other noteworthy experience was the process of building an idea using only non-verbal communication – in other words, a language that a physical machine could use. By pointing, and making gestures, it was possible to gradually through a series of steps enable a group of people to suss out for themselves what was going on in a situation where only Macedonian was being spoken, and to give them enough of an understanding to enable them to use the new language for themselves. A lego brick-by-brick approach to creating an idea / concept that was understood by an entire group of people without a single word of english being uttered.

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