World’s worst communicators?

1 Nov

People often think that being a native English speaker in a world where English is the global language is a distinct advantage. However, an article that I read recently says this is not always the case. In fact, it argues that being a native speaker can be a disadvantage when working with non-native speakers because there are common miscommunications that lead to confusion.

I would say that there is some truth in this from my experience. One of my complaints about learning German is that native German speakers speak too fast and it takes my brain a little bit longer to process some of the words and translate them in English so I have always been conscious to speak slower and clearer to avoid misunderstandings.

Where the problem comes is in the use of colloquial words and frames of references which are non-existent in the other language. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that you don’t initially realise that these words are not known or taught to non-native speakers.

For example, I mentioned the other day that I missed “spuds”. I got a very strange look from the person that I was talking to as they had no idea if I was talking about food or if Spuds was the name of a family pet. Potatoes to someone learning English are always potatoes. It would need a very broad knowledge of British English to know that spud is the colloquial name for the humble potato.

What could be more global and international than Neighbours but when I was talking about 90s music with my work colleagues and I mentioned Jason Donovan, they asked who he was. How can you not know who Jason Donovan is? Neighbours is a show that British teenagers and pre-teens have grown up with. It was what we watched every day at 5pm after you came home from school. If you happened to be off school because of illness then you had the great advantage of being able to watch it at lunchtime and then in the evening again.

Of course, there are some frames of reference that transcend the language barrier. Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows Monthy Python and, if I had a pound for every time someone told me how they learnt English from watching it/recited a sketch to me/asked me how many times I have seen Life of Brian, I would be a rich woman. Thinking about it, this also applies to Only Fools and Horses. And why wouldn’t it? We’re not all plonkers.

You can read the full article I read online here.

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