30 September 2004

Behavior Patterns

Human behavior patterns often make no objective sense, but make perfect sense if you role-play what the participants are feeling. Here in Kanazawa, the school only has one staff member (other than teachers), Yasuko-san. Yasuko-san ends up helping out everyone with schedules, arrangements, reservations, and the thousand other details involved with traveling in a non-English-speaking country. So, there's usually a clot of students waiting to speak to Yasuko at the breaks.

Both in May and on this trip I saw a distinct behavior pattern emerge. Yasuko speaks English well, but is a native speaker of Japanese and encourages people to speak to her in Japanese as much as possible (better for learning!). Because of that, there's a clear pecking order that's established around her: the advanced students who can speak easily in Japanese will go ahead and speak, while the students who need to use English to ask their question will hang back and wait for a turn.

This beahvior sorts almost perfectly along level of education in Japanese. Obviously, there's a little bit of personality variation to it, but not a lot: some of the least social students, so long as they are advanced speakers of Japanese, speak up the quickest in this environment. And even the most social students will hold back when a advanced student is having a rapid-fire conversation with Yasuko.

Of course, logically, this is silly because the students who can't yet speak in Japanese are usually the ones that most need Yasuko's help! The advanced students may just be telling a story or asking about something trivial, whereas the beginning students need something more important (like how to get home!). But in terms of the ego of the individual, it makes perfect sense: the advanced students are speak out because they don't fear ridicule or correction (even if they are corrected, they'll simply take that as a learning experience). Not only do the beginning students have more anxiety around speaking out in Japanese, they feel the penalty of interrupting a rapid conversation with one that's likely to be much slower. So, they'll wait for a quiet moment to start their own question (and quiet moments, around Yasuko, aren't so likely to happen!). These factors play out at each different skill level down the experience levels of the students, with the pecking order behavior as the result!

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