Crossing Language Barriers





Jaja, our resident director, asked us to visit her English class for non-majors. I went twice, because the time conflicted with one of my classes, but I am so glad I did! These students were from various majors and faculties, a mix you don’t normally see at Chiang Mai University. Some French, German, Engineers, Pharmaceuticals, Political Science, etc. I was placed with a group of three girls who had been friends for years before CMU. They were all in different majors, and all smiling, excited to have an English speaker to practice with. Our job was to help them understand what kind of questions are appropriate to ask strangers, as they had to conduct interviews with English speakers that they would meet in Chiang Mai.

Of course, since they were not English majors, their English was harder to understand, and sometimes they had trouble understanding me. But the beautiful thing about confrontations like that in Thailand is that it’s never awkward – there are always shared smiles over our misunderstanding, and laughter with the confusion. I was able to help them with their lesson fairly quickly, so we had time to chat. I learned one girl’s parents owned a restaurant in town and she worked there (it’s uncommon for college students to have a job). They told me stories about high school, their hobbies, their families, and their majors.

From attending this class only twice, I feel as though I took away just as much as the Thai students. I learned from them, just as they did from me. I would leave class with a jaw sore from smiling and laughing the entire hour. Laughter is an amazing thing – it crosses language barriers and makes a person feel at ease. I am looking forward to volunteering again in her class this semester!