By Blake, Finnbrit teacher
A student came into my language class with extreme enthusiasm. She was over the moon and chomping at the bit to tell me about her new summer hobby. She explained how she decided to grow mice. Shocked, I admitted that it was most assuredly an ambitious and exciting endeavour.
I interrogated her newfound interest. Her excitement grew. My curiosity matched her enthusiasm. She explained that it wasn’t a money-making prospect but just a hobby. She intended to share the mice with her family to eat. I understandably found her details intriguing. “There can’t be much meat on them,” I commented. “There’s enough.” she replied with a tad surprised expression. I suppose she was growing conserved with my sideways looks. Seeing my shock, she explained that they were full-grown mice, not the baby mice you see at fancy parties. The clarification raised more questions than it answered but after a bit more probing, I realized she was talking about maize as in corn, not mice. There was a slight pronunciation problem. We both had a healthy dose of laughter. I’m sure she’s happy we cleared up the misunderstanding. Although, I’m sure she suspected something when I squinted my eyes trying to see if there might be a mouse whisker or two caught between her teeth.
Language misunderstandings occur with the best of us. As the world gets smaller, international communication needs to be conducted quickly. This may prove particularly challenging when business is carried out increasingly online. Nuances in communication could be lost. Imagine if my misunderstanding wasn’t caught. A client would be shocked when they receive three thousand tons of mice instead of maize. A lot of people in the supply chain would be confused, upset, and downright angry at the absurdity of it all.
Similar feelings could arise from improperly modifying the degrees of which tasks should be done. The phrase “thank you,” “please,” and “sorry,” only go so far in conveying the intention of how one wishes to be interpreted. “Please take these mice to the trash,” can come across as a nagging demand rather than a polite request. Intonation and context can easily negate the word, “please”. I would be willing to bet most individuals in business wouldn’t want to be reminded of their parents badgering them into doing household chores. Therefore, it is appropriate to have a guide to ensure your intentions are met through, not only language accuracy, but cultural appropriateness.
Whether we like it or not, English has become the lingua franca of trade and commerce. It is documented that close to 20% of the world’s population can speak English. That is one out of 5 people on the planet. Of the 195 countries, 67 speak English as their primary official language and an additional 27 others have English listed as their official secondary language. I predict that those numbers will continue to grow. I taught in China 15 years ago. The principal of my school proudly mentioned there were more students learning English at that very moment than the entire US population. I am positive those numbers have increased. This expansion will pose unique challenges for all English speakers.
As English usage expands, regional differences will remain. Understanding accents and colloquial nuance in addition to their cultural relevance will continue to be problematic and pose a challenge in accomplishing a clear awareness of the mood and intention of the conveyed messages. Maize may be on the label of a can, but colloquially an American would call it corn. You would receive a few wayward glances when you mention you want maize on the cob in Iowa. Similarly, how such a request is made will affect one’s opinion. Impressions on a speaker’s assertiveness, passivity, or general social savviness will undoubtedly affect the way future interactions will occur. Asking bluntly for maize on the cob will mostly result in not being asked back to neighbourhood barbeque. In business the results can be more catastrophic. Millions of linguistic cultural and regional variables to communication do exist. Navigating through them is nothing short of a minefield. This is an area where FinnBrit excels. We bring together diverse students. They share their linguistic mishaps and successes expanding everyone’s language skills with the overall goal of being understood correctly in all contexts. That can include being prepared and confident for language exams, conducting international business in English, socializing with friends at home or on vacation.
A person from a non-English speaking culture may not realize the severity of any number of various communication subtleties. Those subtleties have a critical impact on if they’ll be perceived positively, negatively or as an equal within both social and business contexts. Making friends and influencing people in a foreign language is a skill which rarely comes naturally. It’s formed through guidance, trial and error, mishaps, misunderstandings but most of all through continual practice. The success an individual had in English at school may not necessarily prepare them for the rigors of social interactions where linguistic situations may require the use of a scalpel rather than a machete and vice versa. Understanding the cultural differences when using English becomes just that; matching the appropriate linguistic tools to match the appropriate cultural situation.
FinnBrit trainers will ensure that you learn about various cultural differences that will aid in the utilization of the most effective linguistic tools so you’ll be perceived in the manner you intend.
It is also worth mentioning FinnBrit trainers are never judgemental. If you do decide that eating mice is your thing, we will expand your vocabulary by recommending a whole variety of potential side vegetables (probably maize) as well as garnishes and sauces to pair with it. We’ll demonstrate how to politely decline or accept such a meal as cultural etiquette demands. We would even provide you with a plethora of adjectives to describe your experience either positive or negative depending on the appropriateness of your audience. The point is, as English is growing globally, the individuals that have the broadest range of linguistic skills to express innovative ideas will excel. FinnBrit will help you build upon your current English linguistic skills to accomplish your communication goals.