Engineering Cultural Diversity
by James Archer
Engineers love nothing more than solving difficult problems with simple solutions.
Cultural Divides – What’s the problem?
We’re hearing a lot about our many cultural divides.
There are many problems that contribute to this divide, and speaking different languages is certainly perceived as one contributing factor. How can people understand each other culturally, if they can’t speak to each other?
“You speak Spanish – I speak English – we’re different”
I believe we all know that, fundamentally, the problem is FEAR.
- FEAR of someone from a different culture
- FEAR of the unknown
- FEAR of feeling self-conscious or inadequate.
The thing is – immigrants, almost without exception, want to learn English.
And, I know tons of people that want to improve their Spanish.
As an engineer, it seemed to me that the simplest solution to this diversity problem might be to simply help people talk to each other.
So, I looked at what would be needed. I could go through all the notes and ideas that I evaluated, but it all boils down to this:
Create small groups of 5 to 7 English speakers with an equal number of Spanish speakers. Give them materials and a method to teach each other their languages. Provide a facilitator.
“You’re learning English? I’m learning Spanish. We’re the same!
Let me help you, and you can help me.”
What happens is simple, and amazing.
Instead of “language issues” keeping the participants apart, the very process of helping teach a language opens up new avenues for cultural exchange between the participants.
Here’s something interesting – “different culture” doesn’t just refer to people who speak different languages. Culture might be Police/Citizen, Nurse/Patient, Manager/Laborer. It can refer to race, gender, religion, etc.
At The ShareLingo Project, we have worked with hundreds of participants – from many different fields, and circumstances. Without exception, every participant has shown a willingness – even eagerness – to help and share. People come to learn Spanish, but LOVE helping someone else learn English. And vice versa. We’ve had Police becoming friends with Hispanic immigrants. We’ve had school teachers bond with immigrant parents. And we’ve had managers and workers laughing and getting to really know each other on a personal level.
And this is not just with the people that speak a different language, but also with the people who speak the same language. English speakers are not just bonding with the Spanish speakers that they are helping, but also with each other! People open up, because the learning/teaching process itself creates trust between the participants.
This communication helps eliminate the fear between the participants – and also their own internal fear of being inadequate. We are seeing the “cultural divides” being eliminated.
Benefits of this model help the individuals, their employers, and our society.
The ShareLingo concept is really simple. Instead of learning from a whiteboard or a computer, we help English learners meet Spanish learners for face-to-face practice together. A bilingual facilitator uses our method and materials to keep things moving so you are never bored. We have language learning solutions for individuals, businesses, non-profits, and schools. Learn more at www.sharelingo.org.