Body Language Works Two Ways

Christy Schaffner

Picture this:  a nineteen-year-old American woman studying abroad in Greece.  She approaches a periptero (newspaper/bus ticket stand) with the intent of purchasing some bus tickets.

Her Greek ability is not spectacular, but she has the functional language skills to successfully ask if the clerk has tickets (or so she thinks).  She asks, “Exete eisieteria gia to leoforio?”  [Do you have tickets for the bus?] The clerk does not audibly reply, but rather tilts her head slightly back and blinks her eyes slowly.   Although this gesture seemed a bit odd, it was somewhat like a nod that would indicate yes, at least in America, so she thought that the clerk indeed had bus tickets.  After awkwardly standing there for a few long moments, she then asked, “N’agoraso ta eisieteria?” [May I buy some tickets?]  At this point, the clerk looked at her with a relatively universal “Are you crazy?” look.  She then said, “Ochi.” [No.] and did the same slight rear nod with the slow blink.  This time for added emphasis, she also made a slight click with her tongue and palate as she tilted her head back.

The American woman then sheepishly left the periptero, realizing her misjudgment of such a simple gesture.   AND she didn’t even get any bus tickets!

In case you’re wondering, that American woman was, in fact, me when I was studying abroad in Athens, Greece in 2008.  I had gotten a bit of a handle on the functional language needed to get around in the city, but clearly I was not familiar enough with Greek body language to communicate successfully.  For me as a language learner, this was a frustrating but extremely significant step in the language acquisition process.

I erroneously assumed that a simple gesture of yes or no would be the same in Greece as it was in America.  As a language learner, this was a simple transfer error; I transferred something from my native language to the language I was learning.  Thankfully for me, this transfer error did not cause me to do something that was offensive in my host culture.  If I had motioned the following symbol, I could have greatly offended those around me.

How often in the ESL classroom do our students use nonverbal communication that is perhaps a bit odd to us?  Perhaps they use a gesture that is inappropriate in America, such as pointing to something with their middle finger.  Maybe their tone comes off as accusatory instead of inquisitive in the classroom.  If your classroom is anything like mine, this happens pretty often.  Transfer errors are a natural part of the language acquisition process.

Similarly, how often do you think we do something nonverbally when teaching our multicultural students that may be interpreted incorrectly based on their cultural norms?  Whether it’s something as simple as excessive eye contact or something more serious like an unwanted handshake between sexes, our nonverbal communication can also be misinterpreted by our students.

So what should we do?  I believe the key to success for both parties is awareness.

In order for us to take advantage of our students’ teachable moments and teach them about American English body language, we must make a concerted effort to be aware of these behaviors and document them.  We must teach them appropriate body language with compassion and understanding, realizing that we too would likely make similar errors in a second language.  (Or, if you’re like me, you’ve already made plenty of these errors!)

As educators, we must also be cognizant of our body language and be aware that many of our students may misinterpret our body language.  Maybe our nonchalant shrug of the shoulders does not mean “no” to our students, or our comforting pat on the back is an invasion of space!  If we are unaware of how our actions impact others, how can we effectively teach our students?

How can we apply this in the classroom?

  • Like previously mentioned, be aware of your students’ behaviors. Be aware of your actions as well.  Take your subconscious actions to a conscious level as much as possible, and actively observe your students.
  • Involve your students.  People typically love to talk about their own cultures.  It is a great way to help you students feel like valued contributors in the classroom.
  • If possible, utilize technology to demonstrate body language.  In the classroom, I have done this through the use of GIFs and YouTube videos.  It is one thing for an instructor or student to act out an action.  It is a whole other experience to see people on a screen interacting.
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Experiencing Cultural Diversity in Germany

Stephen Birk

In the summer of 2012, I decided to take a summer school course introducing Translation and Interpretation at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Germersheim, Germany. I had just graduated from Ohio State in March of that same year and I had no direction with my life. So I thought to myself, why not see the world while I’m searching? And see the world I did.

When I arrived at this little town in Germany, I did not really know what to expect. I had been to Europe before, but every small city or town is quite different with its own respects. I was settled into the quaint town of Germersheim. It was a very beautiful town but rather small compared to what I am used to. Upon arriving, there were some problems with my housing situation, so I was eventually placed into a nice little apartment quite a ways from the town center. This was no problem since they decided I could rent a bike, since I lived the farthest away from the campus. A nice little set-up after all!

The first day at orientation, we did a survey of how many different countries students were from. To my amazement I was the only American there, but there were also people from Russia, Greece, Italy, England, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Spain, Sweden, and even Kenya. I was no doubt pleasantly surprised that I was going to be experiencing so many different cultures congregating in one place.

There were only a few people that spoke English as their native language, so it was a great experience trying to use my German to communicate with these people from all over the world. My first realization was that the Italian and Greek cultures are very proud cultures. At first, the Italians and Greeks would not interact with each other because they felt they were better than the other, but by the end of the trip they seemed to mix quite well together. The Cyrillic speakers were very to the point when I spoke with them. I also noticed that whoever spoke a Cyrillic language seemed to adapt better to the German syntax. What was the reason? I am not sure, but it was noticeable nonetheless. The Spanish speakers were among the friendliest out of all the different cultures. I felt like I could talk to any Spaniard anytime because of how open they were. The Swedish man was a researcher, just like I imagined all Swedish people were. All these different people were smashed together and somewhat-assimilated into the German culture together.

Each culture brought a new breath of life to my view of the world. We had several weekends to share our own cultures while learning the traditional and modern German culture. Being able to connect with people that have such different views from my own really brings me joy. The power of communication and language is nothing to scoff at. If we could all learn more about other’s cultures, I believe we could really open up our way of thinking and help humanity progress with a more harmonic approach. Cultural diversity is an amazing opportunity to learn something about yourself and someone else.


Even though I started out going to Germany for translation and interpretation, I ended up getting much more out of it than just that! The world has a lot to offer if you stop to take a look. Noticing the beauty of the dissimilarities can sometimes be a challenge, but if you take the time to step into another way of thinking, you can experience the tremendous multiplicity of ideas aroused from other cultural views.

Taking a step into a foreign land may seem like a big risk sometimes, but the experience you gain from it will forever make an impression on you. Take a walk in someone else’s shoes for a change. Dream another’s dream for a night. Surround yourself in an array of new concepts. Becoming sensitive to cultural diversity can affect one’s entire life. One starts to appreciate how different and similar we all really are. Each day that we become more culturally sensitive, we become more in tune with our fellow brothers and sisters of this world. So let’s keep rockin’ out to that funky beat of omni-cultural acceptance.

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Tips for Classroom Management in a Pre-Kindergarten Classroom

Emily Dixon

The world of teaching early childhood education can be very rewarding. It is so exciting when, over a short period of time, you can observe your lessons and teaching come to life and be applied by your students. To some, teaching children of 4 and 5 years old can seem fun and energizing, but to others it is daunting and exhausting. As a first year pre-kindergarten teacher, I have learned a lot about this age group and how to create an inclusive and controlled classroom with these energetic youngsters.

Emily Dixon

Emily Dixon

Have clear classroom rules in concise language

From day one of a pre-kindergarten class, you have to be very explicit about your expectations of your students’ behavior. In my classroom, we have only five simple rules that cover a lot of ground without saying too much because this age can only handle small bits of information before it becomes frustrating for both them and you.

Have clear consequences when the rules are broken

It is important to convey to your students what can and will happen if they break one of the classroom rules. Structure is very important for young children so that they can know what to expect and not get upset or frustrated when something unexpected happens. I also want to add, along with this tip, that it is extremely important for you to follow through and be very consistent with rule enforcement. Children will correct their behavior if they know you will follow through on the consequences you have made, but if these consequences are not implemented consistently there may be little or no progress in a student’s behavior.

 Open Lines of Communication with Parents are Essential

Early childhood development happens not only at school but also in the home. It is important for the parents to know what their children are doing at school and try to practice it at home. I have seen time and time again how important parent involvement is when it comes to their child’s development in reading, writing, and math. It is also important for parents to understand the social and emotional growth that their child is undergoing at school.  The teacher can aid in this by informing the parents of anything notable in their child’s performance or behavior so that the parents have a role as well. Developing a relationship based on trust and openness will benefit the child, the parents, and you when it comes to achieving the goals that are essential before starting kindergarten.

Teaching pre-kindergarten can be very fast paced but it is imperative that among all the work that’s put in there is also some fun too. Developing strong relationships with your students and fellow classroom teachers can lessen the load and make for a rewarding experience. These are just a few tips geared toward the pre-kindergarten environment, but I believe some of these tips can be applied to any age classroom.

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Call for Proposals!

Stephanie Wilker

In just a few months, Michigan State University English Language Center, in collaboration with National Geographic Learning, will be hosting its second annual Learning Symposium. Last year’s professional development event provided attendees with a wealth of information about content-based learning. This year’s Learning Symposium, slated for Saturday, April 12, is entitled The World in Words: Teaching and Learning Academic Vocabulary. Administrators are currently calling for proposals from any English teaching professional in the Great Lakes region. Presentations must be vocabulary-related and 45 minutes in length. The deadline for proposal submission is February 3. I attended last year’s event, and the experience was well above and beyond my expectations. I highly recommend that anyone interested in ESOL attend the 2014 Learning Symposium!

Please contact the GSO at for more information from Austin Kaufmann, ELC Instructor and Learning Symposium Organizer.

Also, be sure to check out the new Learning Symposium website.

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Reflections on Promoting Peace in the English Language Classroom

Gwendolyn G. DeRosa

I recently read a list of astounding stories of nonviolence by the Huffington PostOne of the stories happened just last year.  In Sweden, a Muslim woman was senselessly beaten and her hijab was torn off.  She was pregnant.  Reacting to this unacceptable act of extreme violence, both Muslim and non-Muslim women posted photos of themselves in hijabs on social media websites as an act of solidarity and nonviolent resistance to hate.

This story hits home for me because most of my students are Muslim and some of my brightest and hardest-working students are women who wear a hijab or who may also wear a niqab.  I wonder what it’s like for them to peruse the shops at the Easton mall.  Do people stare?  Are they treated differently?  I wonder what I can do.

Amy Faeth and Maria del Mar Aponte, Instructors at ELS

Amy Faeth and Maria del Mar Aponte, Instructors at ELS
Photo courtesy of Maria del Mar Aponte

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Tomorrow, I will talk with my students about his historical importance and his legacy.  We’ll discuss the term “nonviolent resistance” and I’ll teach it as vocabulary, focusing on understanding the prefix “non” and the root word “resist.”  My students are bright thinkers.  I hope they’ll go beyond the lesson and think about how this word applies to them.

Most of my students come from Arabic speaking countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Libya, the UAE, and Yemen.  The prevalence of violence is not foreign to them.  They have friends and relatives in Syria.  They have experienced the unrest in Libya.  They wonder what they should do.  Maybe King’s words of love and peace can be used to heal the wounds in their homelands.

I also teach students from China, one of the most powerful countries in the world with one of the most oppressive national governments.  Perhaps my students are interested in King’s strength and determination.

Every day I wonder how to promote peace in my classroom.  Whether it’s by creating a non-competitive environment, promoting respect for every individual’s ideas, or actively encouraging authentic discussions about world conflicts, teachers have a real opportunity to make a difference through their words and actions in their classrooms.  What we do actually matters.

Gwendolyn G. DeRosa and Maria del Mar Aponte, Instructors at ELS Photo courtesy of Maria del Mar Aponte

Gwendolyn G. Derosa and Maria del Mar Aponte, Instructors at ELS
Photo courtesy of Maria del Mar Aponte

I want to hear from you.  What stories do you have about peace and nonviolence?  How do you promote equality in the classroom?  Do you encourage authentic discussions or teach students about international people of peace?  Post your comments here and let’s keep this discussion going.

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Classroom Management for Post-Secondary ELLs (Panel Discussion at the Ohio TESOL Conference 2013)

Gwendolyn Glover DeRosa

The Ohio TESOL Conference 2013 was a tremendous success.  Located at the Hilton Columbus Downtown, the conference brought together educators, activists, students, and professionals.  Ideas were shared and discussed regarding numerous topics including “Teaching the Process of Writing a Research Paper,” “Making Connections by Using Discourse Intonation Effectively”, and “Hands-on Teacher’s Guide to Culture.”

Current and former MA in TESOL candidates from ODU formed a panel to discuss the topic of classroom management.  Lejla Bilal, Amy Faeth, Gretchen Stranges, and I have taught adults at an intensive English language center and we have faced many classroom management issues during our experience. Although the topic of classroom management for P-12 is quite common, there is not much discussion for post-secondary ELLs.  At the Ohio TESOL Conference 2012, Mairi Wilkins presented on the topic of management tips for new instructors at universities and her presentation encouraged us to pursue this subject further.

Each participant shared her research on a particular subtopic and included her personal classroom experiences with tips and ideas for how to address and handle common management issues.  These subtopics included plagiarism, grade negotiating, cell phone use in the classroom, and perceived disrespect toward the teacher.  Each topic was quite involved and required a lot of research and discussion.

The participants showed how classroom management issues can be addressed by understanding cultural and language differences or confusion. Since plagiarism is a foreign concept for many international students, it should be addressed as a learning moment so students can be educated on the concept and practical consequences.  Grade negotiating may be motivated by deep ideals of saving face.  Much verbal disrespect toward the teacher may be misperceived by the teachers.  Observations and research of first language voice inflection and intonation reveal that loud and “accusatory” inquiries may not be a sign of disrespect, but rather first language interference.  Cell phone usage may also be a cultural issue when male students are required to be accessible at all times due to their familial duties.

The audience engaged with the participants during a Q and A session.  Many of the classroom management challenges were felt and experienced by all present.  The participants realized that this topic should be a continuing discussion and that more research and observations should be done.

For more information, you may check out the prezi here.

* I am very grateful to ELS Columbus for allowing us to share our research with them first. Thank you to Lejla Bilal, Amy Faeth, and Gretchen Stranges for giving time to make this panel discussion work.

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Editor’s Note: New Year Resolutions

Gwendolyn G. DeRosa

Winter in Columbus by Gwendolyn G. DeRosa

Winter in Columbus by Gwendolyn G. DeRosa

As we reflect on the past year, I am excited about what ODU’s Graduate Student Organization has accomplished in 2013.  The first annual recognition ceremony for the MA TESOL graduating class took place on August 17th.  In November, a panel of current and former MA in TESOL students presented on classroom management for post-secondary ELLs at the Ohio TESOL Conference.  The GSO provided funding for attendance to the Ohio TESOL Conference and will continue to fund professional development in 2014.

In the New Year, I am resolved to have regular posts on this blog.  The GSO’s goal is that this blog reflects the interests, accomplishments, and professional aspirations of the MA in TESOL candidates at ODU.

What are your interests? What have you accomplished this year? What are your professional aspirations? Comment below. Let us be active participants in our educational community.

If you have an idea for a future blog post, please email me at .

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Ohio TESOL Conference

Amy Faeth and Gwendolyn G. DeRosa

The annual Ohio TESOL Conference will be held this Friday and Saturday, November 15-16, at the Hilton in downtown Columbus. The conference will feature keynote speaker Deborah Short, co-developer of the SIOP Model. The conference will also include site visits on Thursday and networking tables. Presentation topics will include areas of interest for the fields of K-12, adult and higher education, teacher training, and refugee services.

Current and former ODU MA TESOL students — Lejla Bilal, Gwendolyn DeRosa, Amy Faeth, and Gretchen Stranges — will be participating in a panel discussion on classroom management for post-secondary ELLs. Each participant will share her personal classroom experiences with tips and ideas for how to address and handle common management issues. These experiences include cheating, plagiarism, grade negotiating, cell phone use in the classroom, and disrespect. Sometimes classroom management issues can be addressed by understanding cultural and language differences or confusion. These issues will be discussed through the lens of personal experience and current research on Saturday, November 16 at 10:30.

Dr. Timothy Micek, executive committee board member, will be presenting on multiple topics addressing issues in teacher training. These topics include annotated bibliographies and morphological analysis.

Registration for the conference includes access to all sessions, yearly membership, and the Ohio TESOL Journal.

This year promises to be an invigorating experience. We hope to see you there!

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Studying Abroad: A Snapshot of Mei Fujiu

Gwendolyn G. DeRosa

Mei Fujiu

Mei Fujiu

Mei Fujiu is an international student from Tokyo, Japan.  She began her studies at Ohio Dominican University in the MA in TESOL program this fall and she is currently an active member of the TESOL GSO.  Mei studied Intercultural Communication for her undergrad degree and she studied abroad in St. Joseph, Minnesota in 2010.  Recently, I spoke to Mei about her experience studying abroad.

Mei stayed for about a week with a homestay family.  She enjoyed staying with an American family, but Mei said she had difficulty getting things from the refrigerator without asking. In fact, she always asked first.

Mei also stayed in the dorm and she liked her roommate.  Life in St. Joseph was much different from life in Tokyo, Japan.  For one thing, it was much quieter.  “Especially walking around campus at night.  It was too quiet for me,” said Mei.  It was also much, much darker.  The amount of snow accumulation was also something that Mei wasn’t used to.  “We have snow in Tokyo, but it doesn’t stay.”

One of the most challenging aspects of communication in the U.S. is the common greetings and salutations because of the lack of real meaning. When an American says, “How’re you doing?” they mean “Hi!”  They do not actually want you to answer the question.  Also, a common salutation, especially among college students is “We’ll hang out soon.”  But this does not actually mean that you will spend time with this person soon. This was confusing for Mei.

One of the most difficult aspects of learning English for Mei is the pronunciation. This is because “I had only learned English grammar in my schools in Japan. It is very difficult to learn speaking because the class style in Japan is mostly lecture, and there are not many materials to practice speaking.” Mei said that she had two choices: “Either I should make English speaking friends or I have to go to an English conversation school which costs tons of money. In Japan, we learned English at least for 6 years (junior high-high school), but most Japanese cannot speak English at all because all we learn is English grammar for exams.”

Mei enjoys English because it can help her when she’s traveling around the world. “I like traveling and if I can speak English, I can interact with people from all over the world while I’m traveling. It is really fun to hang out with people from different countries. Also when I was in Japan, I helped and took care of many international students. I was very happy that I could get to know them because I knew English.”

Mei wants to teach English because she knows how hard it is and she wants to help international students.  She also believes that it’s very important to teach American culture, such as lifestyle, holidays, and relationships, in American English language classes.

Mei and the TESOL GSO

Mei and the TESOL GSO

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Are You Interested in Teaching Abroad? Check out WUSIEP!

Stephanie Wilker

This summeDr. Tim Micekr, Ohio Dominican University’s own Dr. Tim Micek taught English in The People’s Republic of China through the Wuhan University Summer Intensive English Program (WUSIEP). He generously shared the details of his trip with the ODU TESOL Graduate Student Organization at its September 26th meeting.

Each summer, WUSIEP chooses a select group of instructors to teach English language and American culture to highly qualified Wuhan University students. The program runs for three weeks, during which instructors are provided with meals and lodging at a university hotel near Wuhan’s beautiful campus. During the academic year, this public university is home to over 50,000 students (comparable to Ohio State) and is the seventh best university in all of China (–think Ivy League in the U.S.!). To top it off, instructors from the U.S. are never too far from the comforts of home. Located conveniently close to campus are a Wal Mart, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, etc.

Weekdays in the program consist of daytime classes and evening extra-curricular activities. In the classes, instructors teach English through content dealing with an aspect of American culture. Instructors are assigned different themes to teach their classroom of (roughly) 15-20 students. They have each group of students for three days before a new group of students rotates in. In 2013, there were about 600 students in the program. Dr. Micek said that the evening extra-curricular activities gave WUSIEP a sort of “summer camp” feel. Some of the extra-curriculars offered this year included scrabble, other classic American board games, and Yiddish.

Teaching in China is a different experience than what American teachers might be accustomed to. The culture and environment are different, and not everyone speaks English. ESOL teachers, of all people, should know that they will probably go through a little bit of culture shock in a new country. Be prepared for minor misunderstandings due to linguistic and cultural differences. They may be embarrassing at the time, but these awkward situations will give you good stories to tell your friends later and help you be a better cultural navigator. Also, instructors in China stand up during class, which makes for tired legs! (Bring comfortable walking shoes for walking to and from class.)

WUSIEP is not all work and no play! Some highlights of Dr. Micek’s trip included walking on the Great Wall, visiting various landmarks in Beijing, and, of course, trying new foods. His favorite part of China was Shanghai, where he stopped for a short time on his way back to the U.S. He said that the city was an interesting mix of old and new, and recommends that anyone who has the opportunity go see it for him/herself.

Summers in Wuhan are hot and humid, and Dr. Micek says that there is about one day of heavy rain per week, so those considering a trip to Wuhan should remember to keep weather in mind when packing their suitcases. Also, participants must bring their own funds for snacks, souvenirs, and laundry needs (if you do not wish to wash your clothing by hand and let it air dry).

For more information about WUSIEP and requirements for potential applicants, click this link to read an Ohio State University posting.

Also, any Ohioans interested in applying for WUSIEP next summer should join Ohio TESOL and keep an eye out for an email from Bob Eckhart (WUSIEP Recruiting Coordinator and Program Manager) sometime around early spring. Feel free to contact the ODU TESOL GSO with any questions and we will do our best to find answers for you!

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