After interacting with a group of children at a SOLE in India via Skype yesterday, I couldn’t help but reflect on the different ways communication can take place. A conversation with Chetan, Akansha, Pravin and the others could have been doomed by the potential obstacles…
- I had never met this group and it was the first time they interacted with a ‘foreigner’.
- Our backgrounds are as different as you could possibly imagine.
- We don’t speak the same language.I know 5 words of Hindi and no Marathi. Their English is very limited.
- Although we had video, the sound wasn’t working. They could occasionally hear me. I couldn’t hear them at all.
Here’s what we achieved…
- We communicated for almost an hour by text, hand gestures and smiles.
- I learned some Hindi words (see above!)
- I shared pictures of animals and they saw a kangaroo for the first time.
- They told me their ages and how many people in their families.
- They asked about my children and I showed them a photo.
- I learned where Mahbalshour is and next time I will show them Australia on the map.
- We made faces and laughed.
I love the paradox of being able to use modern communication technology like Skype to interact with people anywhere, but then having to resort to the most basic forms of communication like hand gestures and making faces!
Here’s what I learned from some of my other SOLE experiences:
Summer holidays are over in Hyderabad and yesterday was my first Skype session in some time, with the kids at Madina Creative School.
There were about a dozen 10 year olds, half of whom were familiar from the earlier experimental sessions before the summer and the rest were new faces. I blogged here and here and here about my earlier experiences and what I’d learned from them. This time I went in unprepared and with no expectations. I wasn’t even sure whether there would be kids online since it’s their first week back at school. Fortunately there was power and a connection and sound and video. Often these are not things things that can be taken for granted! I felt more confident this time than in my first few sessions in February/March, when I didn’t know what to expect and nothing I prepared seemed to work. I chatted recently on Skype with one of the other mediators who has more experience and she reassured me that I was on the right track.
These are kids with limited English and no exposure to people of other cultures in other countries. They chatter all at once, sometimes in their own language. They don’t always understand when I ask them something and I can’t tell if it’s the language or the content that’s the issue. But they can smile and I can smile. They can make faces and I can make faces. They are as excited to interact with me as I am with them. Already we have a connection! (In a previous post, I wrote about turning the cultural iceberg upside down … )
Calling each child by name and speaking to each one individually makes a huge difference, for a start. There was Saba with the cheeky expression, vying to be in front of the computer, Nusrath and Rehana eager to have their turns to talk, Moshim a little naughty, making faces close to the webcam , Mainaaz who’s new and a bit overwhelmed, Saniya peeping from the back at this strange foreign lady (me!). I tried to ask what they had done in their holidays, but they didn’t seem to understand. I fared better with my questions about their first days in Class 6. They told me they had classes in English, Maths, Science and Social Studies. They said they liked to draw and had drawn maps of India that day. In English they ‘learnt hard words’. Most of this was conveyed without any full sentences. Just a word or phrase, sometimes they typed something… and I put the pieces together.
The highlight was when I folded a piece of paper concertina style and cut out a string of paper dolls, especially when I labeled them Saba, Rhenana, Moshin…
They said they would bring scissors and paper next time so I can show them how to make them too.
I know I get as much out of it as the kids do. So much to learn!