Globalization and advancements in communication technology are bringing more and more people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds together in the classroom and the workplace. Due to complex socio-economic, political and linguistic factors, English has become a language of global communication. The spread of English language, globalization, and advancements in technology and their effect on inter- and intracultural communication and understanding are among the areas of research that Dr. Zohreh Eslami, professor and chair of the Liberal Arts Program at Texas A&M at Qatar, focuses on in her scholarly activities.
Eslami said that research topics in intercultural communication deal with the reasons for barriers to communication and communicative failures, highlighting the importance of well developed intercultural skills and awareness of all the participants to make it effective and successful. One of Eslami’s areas of interest is intercultural communication and the role that linguistic politeness plays. Even though English has become an international language, there is still a possibility of miscommunication or communicative failure when the interlocutors, engaging in a communicative event, come from different cultural backgrounds. For example, in Western English-speaking cultures, requests are less direct than they would be in Middle Eastern cultures, where there is a tendency to be more direct, especially in business and other professional contexts. “Americans, for example, may get offended by this,” Eslami said. To counteract this, Eslami is studying the role of linguistic politeness in intercultural communicative contexts, more specifically how to convey communicative intentions effectively and come across as polite and friendly to all the participants of the communicative events.
Students at Texas A&M at Qatar will soon be joining the globalized business and professional world and need to communicate effectively and appropriately in intercultural and intracultural contexts using English as the medium of communication. To be successful leaders in intercultural communicative settings, they need to develop diversity consciousness, and intercultural competence. Our students come from around the world, many of whom use English as their second or additional language. “Many students in Qatar are learning academic content through their second language,” Eslami said. Educating and developing pedagogical skills of educators to teach academic content in students’ second language (English), is an ongoing task for Eslami, who has spent two decades working on English as a second language, (ESL) teacher education in American and international settings.
Eslami has been involved in three research projects funded by Qatar National Research Fund. The first research project studied how education reform is being implemented in Qatari independent schools. The second funded research project examined the role of gender in teaching materials used in Qatari independent schools and how gender roles are perceived by teachers and students. Eslami said she wants to continue this line of research at the branch campus. “I want to promote students’ awareness of gender roles and gender stereotyping using research-based awareness-raising activities,” Eslami said. The third research project Eslami was involved in focused on ‘improving reading skills in the middle school science classrooms’ in Qatar. “We examined the level of text difficulty in science textbooks and teaching materials and how visuals are presented in these texts,” Eslami said. To improve the pedagogical skills of teachers teaching science in English and Arabic, Eslami and a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, and Qatar University worked with Qatari teachers and provided them with professional development.
The work on education and the need for better intercultural communicative skills ties together with Eslami’s desire to form a connection between the liberal arts and engineering. In order to succeed in an increasingly connected global economy, engineers need more than technical skills; they also need rather sophisticated communicative, leadership and other so-called soft skills. “Our goal is to connect efforts in liberal arts with the engineering program to produce engineers who are not only competent in technology, but able to lead and be global and ethical citizens in a