Small Talk: A Big Challenge for Chinese Graduate Students in Canada

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Xu, Hui
Small talk , Chinese graduate students , Social integration , Communicative competence
This phenomenological inquiry explores the lived experiences of Chinese graduate students in Canada when making small talk with native English speakers. The focus is on the challenges they face, possible causes for these challenges, and potential solutions. The theoretical frameworks consist of a combination of the communicative competence model and the concepts of languaculture and communities of practice. Ten Chinese students in Canadian universities were interviewed to collect data on their experiences making small talk with instructors, classmates, and other members of their local communities and on their progress with social interaction and integration. In addition, eight Canadian instructors and classmates were invited to participate by completing an online questionnaire which asked them to outline their experiences with Chinese students. They were also presented with sample narratives from the interviewees revealing difficult personal interactions and asked to provide commentary and suggest strategies they would use under similar circumstances. Thematic data analysis was used to codify and categorize the information collected. The results indicated the most challenging issues for these Chinese students were related to comprehension, participation, initiative, confidence, social connections, and propriety. There were many direct or indirect causes for these challenges, but most were the result of problems tied to language proficiency, cultural differences, and personal attributes. Suggested solutions include practicing communicative skills, improving English language proficiency, learning social and cultural norms, developing communicative strategies, and becoming active members in communities of practice. It is hoped that the results will provide useful information for Chinese and other international students to better prepare them for academic life in Canada. Policy makers, instructors, and other native speakers can also benefit by gaining an understanding of one of the significant social barriers faced by international scholars and other immigrants.
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