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Chinese parents and ESL teachers : understanding and negotiating their differences Guo, Yan

Abstract

Research indicates that the limited communication between English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers and parents is a serious problem confronting educators. However, no serious study has been done to date on ESL parent-teacher communication that adequately recognizes the problematic nature of such communication and that approaches the discourse data from a functional linguistic perspective. This study investigates the communication processes between ESL teachers and Chinese immigrant parents (chiefly from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mainland China) through a focal communication event, ESL Parents' Night, when they discuss their views of an ESL program in particular and the education of immigrant adolescent students in general. The study falls within the theoretical perspectives of learning organization, negotiation of intercultural conflict in a multilingual situation, language socialization, and sociocultural views of activity. Data were collected by multiple methods: 1) observations of twelve ESL department planning meetings and three annual Parents' Nights, 2) individual interviews of teachers and bilingual assistants who acted as intermediaries between teachers and parents, and 3) a focus group discussion. Specifically, the methodology combines qualitative research approaches and discourse analysis. Results indicate that teachers viewed the ESL program positively whereas many parents perceived it negatively. Teachers and parents were deeply divided both by what and how they were discussing at Parents' Night. This 'double difference' creates a major difficulty for intercultural negotiation of conflict, and preconditions aiding dialogue and negotiation become vitally important. Noting variation in interaction in different parts of Parents' Night, the study discusses various conditions that may have promoted or hindered the intercultural negotiation of these conflicts. The researcher's analysis of the difficulties of communication between Chinese parents and Canadian teachers at Parents' Night demonstrates less a solution to intercultural conflict than a need for continuous negotiation between the two cultural groups. Implications of this research include the need to expand the boundaries of language socialization theory to give a greater role to reflective processes, and learning organization theory to include multilingual and multicultural issues. It also provides practical suggestions for improving intercultural communication between parents and teachers in the interest of adolescent ESL learners frequently caught between conflicting sets of attitudes and expectations.

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