Let attentiveness be your guide with a culturally diverse class

A recent study shows that 85 percent of new U.S. workers in 2000 will be minorities. In the second of a three-part series, Kevin Eikenberry provides you with various ways to see, hear, and speak to your culturally diverse audience's needs.

According to a University of Illinois analysis on diversity training, members of ethnic minority groups will make up 85 percent of the new workers in the U.S. by 2000. What does this say to your training staff? Your trainers must carefully watch, listen, and speak so that every class member, no matter the ethnicity, has a well-rounded training experience.
In Part 1 , we discussed several ways to help you prepare for a culturally diverse training session. In this article, we tell you how to see, hear, and speak to what your students want. In Part 3, we will cover the four final tips for teaching culturally diverse training classes.
Eagle eyes and sharp ears
It’s important to be respectful of each individual learner, so you must be observant of how each person responds to certain classroom situations, such as:
  • Are they withdrawn during group participation? If so, make the groups slightly larger to make it a safer interpersonal environment.
  • Do they seem reticent to get involved? Use creative ways of assigning partners or teams so students don’t have to select groups themselves.
  • Are they put off by the icebreaker activity? Be aware that your favorite “never fails” icebreaker may be a bit scary for some people. Have a way to reduce the personal risk in that particular exercise—or have a back-up exercise ready.

Observe not only the responses but also to the interactions with other students. It’s crucial that you notice any discomfort with your teaching style early on so that you can make adjustments, similar to those described above, on the fly.

Understand your audience
As instructors we are focused on being understood. After all, we are the ones with the knowledge to impart. We become much more effective instructors when we shift our role to that of facilitator. In a mindset of facilitating learning we must strive first to understand, then to be understood. You may have read this advice in Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This advice is even more important when working with people or groups from cultures outside of your own.

Raise more questions than you may normally ask to make sure your students are keeping up with you. Phrase them carefully, however, as not to embarrass or set students apart. Talk to students during breaks, lunch, and any other time possible to foster your understanding of their needs and challenges.

Be ready to ad lib
The “perfect” exercise or practice session seldom is “perfect.” Your exercise might make assumptions based on your cultural background that might not play well when dealing with other cultures.

Make adjustments for time and rules, for example, based on your group. This doesn’t mean you need to change every exercise so it’s completely comfortable and stress-free for our learners—some stress is useful in spurring action (and learning)—but there’s a balance we must find, and that balance is a moving target from group to group. Be flexible.

Say what you mean, and mean what you say
It may go without saying, but you must speak clearly and slowly when instructing people from other countries or cultures. Reduce or eliminate the jargon, acronyms, slang, and figures of speech. If you must use the jargon, always be clear about its meaning and pronunciation. If your students’ native language is different than yours, helping them with technical pronunciations is critical to helping them be successful.

When you introduce an acronym, say it, then define it. Prepare a glossary, or document all the terms on a flipchart that people can refer to throughout the session.

Steer clear of slang and figures of speech. I can tell you from experience that the phrase “bang for the buck” means something very different in Great Britain than it does in the U.S. And “rule of thumb” means nothing at all in Central America.
If you’ve taught training classes to a diverse audience, please post your comments at the end of this article or write to Kevin .

Kevin Eikenberry is president of the Discian Group , a learning consulting company in Indianapolis.

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