Thoughts on the arrogance of the unilingual anglophone

unilingual anglophone

Picture this.

You work for a company with global interests. You’re meeting with your counterparts from Asia, Spain and France. But you speak only English. Why learn any other other language? After all, everyone has to speak English. That’s the international language of business.

You enter a boardroom filled with business people from Asia, Spain and France. Though English isn’t their first language, everyone has been communicating very successfully.  There’s an atmosphere of  professional kinship and cooperative interaction.

You sit down and listen to a discussion about a business deal that, though risky, could be very profitable. “Well okay,” you say to the group. “But look, if we’re gonna go there, we gotta cover our bases.” And then you continue talking, talking, talking, talking.

“Huh?” they’re thinking. “Where are we gonna go? And ‘cover’? What ‘cover’? Cover what?” As they stare at you, nodding out of courtesy, saying nothing, you continue your monologue, blissfully unaware that you’ve just destroyed that camaraderie and mutual trust. The meeting does not end well. Why?

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in “their stares,” but in yourself.

You might have tried to say a few words in their languages. But more importantly, you might simply have avoided colloquial expressions altogether, with more concrete language like “Well, if we decide to proceed with this plan, we’d better make sure to prepare thoroughly in order to succeed.” And then stopped to listen.

Why are you using expressions about travel — “going there” — and baseball — “cover our bases” – in a business meeting? Why are you assuming speakers of EAL, who don’t live in your country, should understand? The fact is, they were doing just fine until you arrived.

In 2016, Spencer Hazel, now Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University, wrote in the online journal The Conversation, “there is mounting evidence in international business, native English speakers are failing to integrate … International colleagues resent the lack of effort made on the part of the monoglot English speaker.”

Among anglophones, there is a sense that they are the centre of reference.

In the same year as The Conversation article appeared, another article appeared in the online journal, BBC Capital. Michael Blattner, of the Zurich Insurance Company,  whose native language is Swiss German, commented, “At meetings … typically, native English speakers dominate about 90% of the time. But the other people have been invited for a reason.”

And Chia Suan Chong, a UK-based communications skills and intercultural trainer, wrote “… non-native speakers, it turns out, speak more purposefully and carefully, typical of someone speaking a second or third language. Anglophones, on the other hand, often talk too fast for others to follow, and use jokes, slang and references specific to their own culture.”

Professor Jennifer Jenkins, Chair of Global Englishes at the University of Southampton in the UK, also wrote “Non-native speakers generally use more limited vocabulary and simpler expressions, without flowery language or slang. Because of that, they understand one another at face value.”

The unilingual anglophone has no idea what international communication is all about.

Think about it.

To know a language fully, we must be fully immersed in it. We must live it. Even in the same county, one language spoken in a different region can have a different accent, different words and different expressions. It might seem faster or slower. As you move into the deep South of the United States, there’s a distinct Southern “drawl” that can seem very slow indeed.

I remember sitting in Heathrow airport near London. As I sat, quietly reading a book waiting for my boarding announcement, I overheard three people conversing at breakneck speed in some foreign language. Or so I assumed, until I realized they were all just speaking English with a Scottish accent.

There are common words and expressions in Britain that we don’t use in North America, from something as simple as “boot,” for the “trunk” of a car to something as elaborate as “throw a spanner in the works” meaning “to disrupt plans.” In North America, we have an equally confusing expression “throw a monkey wrench into the works.” Why would a speaker of EAL know either one? How many expressions and slang words can anyone possibly remember anyway? In June of this year 2018, the Oxford English Dictionary reported that it had added 600 new words, phrases, and meanings alone. Hello? …

And English is hardly special. Every major language has its own idiosyncrasies and regional accents.

The French spoken in New Brunswick can be quite different from the French spoken in Quebec City, both in Canada, which can be quite different from the French spoken in Paris, France, which can be different from the French spoken in Brussels, Belgium.

In working with speakers of English as an Additional Language, I (and others, of course) try to take language skills up a notch in terms of pronunciation, use of grammar or vocabulary. Absorbing the local slang and expressions makes living in that environment richer. Besides which, in a local context where English is the official language, sometimes even minor enhancements can lend not just intelligibility but some credibility and authority in the workplace.

But with the “hyper dominance” of English throughout the world, anglophones –especially those who speak no other language but English — can be arrogant and insular.

In an international context, we’re interacting with people from all around the world who have learned English from a variety of teachers, both native and non-native English speakers from different parts of the world. We must be mindful and sensitive! We must make no assumptions.

To create partnerships and trust, communication skills are important. International English must be simple, direct and concrete. We must slow down our speech, choose language that’s universal and accessible. We must also stop and take the time to listen with attention.

That’s not “dumbing down.” It’s stripping off our egos and stepping into the shoes of colleagues, customers and clients around the globe.

If you’re an Anglophone who has travelled around the world for business, I would love to hear from you. If you’re a business person who’s a speaker of EAL who has experienced the challenges I’ve been writing about, I’d also love to hear from you. And I do apologize for any in-jokes or vernacular I’ve used in this blog.

Don’t forget to check out this week’s One-Minute Words on The Canadian Pronunciation Coach YouTube channel.

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Thoughts on speaking to total strangers

speaking to total strangers

Another shout out to @Anesh Daya, who directed me to a podcast in which he was interviewed. What a great interview!

Anesh calls himself the “Founder, Director of Studies & Chief Happiness Officer” of his innovative company “On the Spot Language.” He created a practical language immersion model, in which young ESL students learn to speak English with greater speed, fluency and confidence than in the old-fashioned traditional stodgy classroom environment. With the guidance of specially trained coaches, students learn to approach total strangers for information and to teach themselves to become “independent learners.”

It’s an immersion program, based in Toronto, whose foundational activity is human interaction, i.e., striking up conversations with total strangers. The classroom is the real world: restaurants, cafes, shopping malls and the streets.

Anesh is clear. Not every person will want to engage in conversation, however minimal. His students learn how to approach people in a non-threatening way, asking questions about the history of Toronto or Canada that could be answered with a simple response, but which could also spark conversation if the stranger is so inclined. Students might approach 100 people, of which only four end up engaging in lengthy or more meaningful interaction. But isn’t that also a reflection of life?

He’s interviewed along with one other person, Robbie Stokes Jr., the American creator of the “I Talk to Strangers Foundation,” (http://ittsfoundations.org/) a social movement encouraging “young adults to develop positive networks and lasting relationships by meeting new people.” His is a challenge to reach out and experience the world in new and profound ways.

Robbie has brought his movement to Canada, specifically Toronto, where interested people can get together through Meetups (https://www.meetup.com/I-Talk-To-Strangers-in-Toronto/) to connect, talk and share activities. He’s also taking his movement around the world.

These are two people with a powerful message to share about stepping out of our comfort zone and making lives richer. We learn profound and lasting lessons when we reach out to people we don’t know and connect on a human level.

If you’re interested, you can listen to the interview with Anesh and Robbie at  https://www.megaphonic.fm/unlonely/5

And of course, you can also watch this week’s One-Minute Words on the Canadian Pronunciation Coach YouTube channel

 

Thoughts on taking language to the streets

taking language to the streets

In my blog two weeks ago, Thoughts on building up your public speaking confidence, I talked about one way of overcoming the fear of speaking in front of people, joining #Toastmasters. I loved the response from @Anesh Daya on #LinkedIn, who commented that people can practise by “taking language to the streets.” In other words, every moment is an opportunity to practise.

As hatred spews around us and acts of violence increase, we can use our voices to spread messages of compassion, unity and non-violence.

We can clarify our thoughts, listen with attention, breathe deeply and use every moment, to practise the words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs that embrace others and make us whole. We can take language to the streets, talking with everyone we can to build self-confidence and simultaneously create trust and respect.

The sounds will never be perfect, so don’t wait for perfection. There’s no such thing. What we strive for is clarity of intention, intelligibility, connection, and the power of empathy, compassion and love.

The spoken word is potent. With practice, we can use it to motivate others. And in motivating others, we continually recreate, in ourselves, the motivation to keep going.

For a smile in dark times, check out this week’s one-minute word at The Canadian Pronunciation Coach YouTube.