A petite snack loving designer
I am a product designer who likes to pursue each problem with an unconventional yet practical mindset. You will find me iterating and reiterating on a frequent basis because I enjoy developing solutions that truly help the end user or target audience. Using design to improve human experiences becomes an exciting challenge filled with many absurd ideas.
What is the most useful piece of design advice that you have received?
Stay hungry, Stay humble
You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?
I would be an iridescent crayon so that I can change my appearance endlessly.
What do your parents think you do?
They think I am getting an education.
If you could learn any new skill or talent, what would it be?
I would love to learn a new language and would also love to improve my ability to speak Cantonese.
Misunderstandings happen quite often in conversations and it can be hard for the person speaking to recognize why the listener misunderstood the message. In many cases, the speaker will believe they have delivered their message clearly to the recipient, so there should be no misunderstandings. But if the speaker was being direct, why do misunderstandings still arise?
To learn why misunderstandings occur, I discovered pragmatics, a subfield of linguistics that studies how context contributes to meaning. After learning about pragmatics, I realized that it never occurred to me that people needed context to understand the conversation. For instance, the meaning of the sentence “that is hot” will become ambiguous when there is no context, which could cause a misunderstanding.
As I did more research, I came to recognize that context helps the listener understand the speaker’s intended meaning. But in order for the speaker to deliver their intended meaning clearly, the speaker will have to use language that is appropriate in the given context. Appropriate language use relies on context because it is the circumstances that surround a message. The circumstances for context could be the setting or identity of the people in the conversation. So, the speaker will use language that is appropriate with friends but may use language differently when speaking to a boss. That means the listener may misunderstand the message when the speaker uses language inappropriately in the given context.
Through my research I found that the problem is, misunderstandings are more common in intercultural communication due to pragmatic failure. According to Geoffrey Leech, pragmatic failure (the inability to understand what is meant by what is said) emerges in intercultural communication (when two or more culturally different groups come together, interact and communicate) from pragmalinguistic failure and sociopragmatic failure.
Pragmalinguistic failure arises when non-native speakers insufficiently transfer linguistic strategies from their native language (L1) to their L2 (second language). It can also occur when non-native speakers do not express meaning correctly or when they use wrong suprasegmental or prosodic features.
Sociopragmatic failure arises when non-native speakers unconsciously abide by their native language rules and as such their communicative behaviour is impacted by their socio-cultural competence in their native language. This type of failure can lead speakers to incorrectly identify social situations.
Misunderstandings happen more often in intercultural communication due to the lack of pragmatic awareness — do not know the rules and conventions underlying appropriate language use for different situations.
Tackling the Problem
To tackle this problem, I wanted to help raise ESL students’ pragmatic awareness. ESL (english as second language) students are already learning new vocabulary and grammar so it would be helpful to teach the students how to use English appropriately. But to raise the pragmatic awareness in face-to-face conversations would be difficult because there are factors like contextualization cues e.g. intonation (rise and fall of the voice) and body language that affect the message’s delivery. The cultural nuances attached to contextualization cues and body language help the listener infer meaning but is challenging to teach. However, misunderstandings are becoming more prevalent in text-based communication so I wanted students to learn how to deliver their intended meaning through writing and reading.
An Educational Platform
To raise pragmatic awareness I created Cue, a platform that aims to build the knowledge of context in text based communication. Cue offers learning exercises, a community page, classroom features and is mobile friendly.
There are four exercises on Cue to help students learn how to use language appropriately in different contexts.
Exercise 1 — Determine the Speech Act
Speech acts like apologies and greetings will not always be delivered the same in different languages. With this exercise, learners will become aware of the nuances that affect how one determines the intended speech act in a message.
Exercise 2 — Decoding the Meaning
This exercise will demonstrate to learners that the same message can have different meanings depending on the context. After completing the exercise, learners will become aware of how to decipher the intended meaning within a message.
Exercise 3 — Constructing Sentences
This exercise will help learners develop the skills to write appropriately to different people and for different situations. Learners will also be introduced to new ways to respond in different contexts that is still appropriate.
Exercise 4 — Making Observations
Successful communication involves an exchange of turn taking which leads to a set of expected responses each turn. This exercise will make learners mindful when the expected response is not delivered and how to repair misunderstandings.
View the video below to see how users interact with the exercises from beginning to end.
This page is for the Cue community to ask questions and engage in discussion by sharing knowledge.
This feature allows teachers to integrate Cue into their classes. Teachers can engage in discussions with students and can check the students’ learning progress. In this feature, teachers can assign exercises to students by either customizing an existing exercise on Cue or by creating a new exercise.
Cue is also mobile friendly so that you can continue learning even when you are on the go.