Exploring languages and cultures
Exploring languages and cultures

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Exploring languages and cultures

4.3.2 Using a shared language

At the time of writing, English is the default language of international communication, especially in the field of business. When communicating with people with different first languages, native speakers of English need to bear certain considerations in mind.

Activity 33

You will now listen to Nigel White, who you first encountered in Activity 20, when he described his experiences of working as a broker in the City of London. He now specialises in intercultural training for a company called Canning. In this interview, he talks about the responsibilities that speakers have when operating internationally. Listen to the audio clip and answer the questions below.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Communication in the business world
Skip transcript: Communication in the business world

Transcript: Communication in the business world

Interviewer:
In the international, global context of communication in business, most of which takes place in English, what do you think people have to do in order to accommodate to that? I mean, is this as much a responsibility of native speakers as it is of everybody else?
Nigel White:
Well, I think you start with the native speakers because we have the, the advantage of being able to do this in our mother tongue, and to show and demonstrate, it’s quite easy, to demonstrate what adjustments they could/should/probably must make to level the playing field. I think that’s an acceptable, offshore English phrase. It’s not about eliminating all colour. I mean, the expression like ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ is understandable in most languages. But if you say, ‘We need to put him bang to rights on that’, or ‘What’s he after?’, that kind of language and the effect, once you’ve identified this for the native speakers is that they stop and start to think a little bit more before they speak, which gives more opportunities to the second-language speakers, which makes them usually but not always, clearer in what they’re saying. So, this is a good thing. Then we need to make other second-language speakers aware of what is it that comes from their language that can cause misunderstandings and issues. Is the objective that we all speak some kind of CNN Hilton-esque? No, it isn’t. It’s to increase awareness and to focus on we need to be clear, we need to control more, so we need to be consciously using much more of ‘So, what you’re saying is … x, y, is that right?’, ‘So, are you asking me about this?’, ‘So, what do you mean by …?’ Yes, that can become irritating if you use it too much but we, we need more of that and we need to be aware of how do we find the right balance between, to get cooperation between being clear on the task and being sensitive to the person. So, different cultures around the world, and it is a generalisation, but we would argue very strongly a truth, there is a tendence [tendency], some cultures, British culture, generally speaking is more sensitive to, to how somebody will react because of language. If we take one example of ‘I’m afraid we can’t …’, when you’re working with most Spanish people they will say, ‘Well, what are you afraid of? Why are you saying “afraid”?’ So, we will use lots of ‘Would you mind if …?’, ‘I wonder if you could possibly …?’, and generally speaking if you’re in Moscow somebody will say, ‘Do it.’ Um, so we need to be aware of that as language trainers and to make learners aware of it at the same time.
End transcript: Communication in the business world
Communication in the business world
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Decide if the following statements are true or false.

Nigel recommends that ...

1. Native speakers of English should never use metaphorical language.

a. 

True


b. 

False


The correct answer is b.

Discussion

Nigel says that native speakers shouldn’t avoid ‘all colour’ but need to be aware of idiomatic language which non-native speakers might find difficult.

2. Native speakers of English should think carefully about how they phrase their ideas.

a. 

True


b. 

False


The correct answer is a.

Discussion

This has the added advantage of allowing more thinking time for the non-native speaker interlocutor.

3. Non-native speakers of English should be made aware of the direct translations from their own language that can cause communication problems.

a. 

True


b. 

False


The correct answer is a.

Discussion

This is something he mentions. However, it needs to be remembered that not all non-native speaker mistakes come from first-language interference.

4. All speakers should clarify each other’s messages when they are unsure what the other means.

a. 

True


b. 

False


The correct answer is a.

Discussion

Although there is the danger this might get a bit irritating, it is important for smooth communication.

L161_1

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