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Anyone have experience working in groups where everyone has a different first language?

so in one of my classes we do group work for the last half of class. the teacher puts us in these groups b/c the class has 3 different majors in it and she wants us to get all perspectives. but they are driving me nuts!

all my group mates have English as their Second Language. they speak fine English, can read it and write it, and they are intelligent ppl. the problem is that they dont understand each other's English (they all have different first languages) and they dont understand my English either. i can understand them, but of course they are speaking my first (and only) language. student 1 argued with me for 5 mins last night even tho i kept telling her we were saying the same thing. she was really aggressive about it too, in my face like i wasnt understanding the whole assignment. she did the same thing to student 2 a few mins later. student 2 repeats every idea several times several different ways to make sure he's understanding correctly which upsets student 1. student 3 just giggles at how badly we all understand each other and doesnt contribute to the group much.

i have nothing against these ppl...i just cant take working with them in this setting again (this was the 2nd time). its gotten so bad that i had to use all my tricks to keep from having a panic attack! ive got a week off for Spring Break so im trying to come up with some ways to make us work better as a group. ive worked with these ppl separately in other group settings and everything was fine, which is why i think its a language barrier on all of our parts.

im trying to use this situation to prepare me for struggles i might face with ESL students in my classroom (im teacher ed) but im not finding anything for student to student problems. any ideas? i also wasnt sure what category to put this in...


Asked by okmanders at 11:31 PM on Mar. 15, 2013 in

Level 42 (152,217 Credits)
This question is closed.
Answers (2)
  • Yes, in a work setting. Added bonus, they were all engineers. Most of them had been in the US for quite a while, so there wasn't the idiom issue for most of them. There was a huge issue with accents, though. The running joke in the dept was that HR was only at the job interviews to translate.

    The best thing you can do is go out of your way to be overly formal in how you speak - no contractions, no slang. Next time the hot head goes off, first off, tell her that being aggressive with you is inappropriate (and is there a chance her 1st language is one where inflection and volume are used to change the meaning of words?) - she may not even realize she's doing it or that it's rude. Then break down whatever you're saying phrase by phrase until you figure out which part she doesn't understand.

    Answer by NotPanicking at 7:03 AM on Mar. 16, 2013

  • The English language can be really tricky. I worked with a woman who had gotten an advanced accounting degree in her native Vietnam, but who had taken an entry level job in a college computer lab after moving to the U.S. so she could work on her English. She had the nuts and bolts, of the language down to some extent; it was the idioms that threw her.

    One day she asked me, "What does 'Tah dah!' mean?"

    Once she said, "I'm so freaking tired!"

    I asked her if she knew what 'freaking' meant, and she said no, but she'd heard some guy in the lab say it. She was horrified when I toler what 'freaking' was a euphemism for.

    Answer by Ballad at 11:52 PM on Mar. 15, 2013