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Drudge Retort: The Other Side of the News
Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Picture this: A group of nonnative English speakers is in a room. There are people from Germany, Singapore, South Korea, Nigeria and France. They're having a great time speaking to each other in English, and communication is smooth. And then an American walks into the room.

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...The American speaks quickly, using esoteric jargon ("let's take a holistic approach") and sports idioms ("you hit it out of the park!"). And the conversation trickles to a halt.

Decades of research show that when a native English speaker enters a conversation among nonnative speakers, understanding goes down. Global communication specialist Heather Hansen tells us that's because the native speaker doesn't know how to do what nonnative speakers do naturally: speak in ways that are accessible to everyone, using simple words and phrases. ...


I can say from experience, the above is spot on.

I was the American walking into a room of ESL people when I used to go to The Netherlands on business.

I will say, though, that the reception I got was one more of curiosity with no disdain whatsoever. Of course, maybe that all the people in the room reported to me may have had an effect. Or maybe that English was their third or fourth language may also enter into the mixture.

However, even socializing (and going out into the beautiful Netherlands countryside) I found a similar curiosity from everyone I met.

They were curious, they wanted to understand. As an outsider, I seemed to be viewed as someone they could learn from, not someone ~different~ to shun.


#1 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-04-26 08:23 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 2

"Please do the needful" LOL

#2 | Posted by snoofy at 2021-04-26 08:47 PM | Reply

@#2

Yeah, some find it easy to laugh at others who try to communicate with English speakers.

What I found from my Netherlands experience was that there appears to be a somewhat ~standardized~ English that is used for international business communications. Go into your search engine of choice and take a look at "business English".

Those who needed to speak English in a business environment have learned business English is appropriate to be able to communicate, and not to be ridiculed for the occasional faux pas that may occur.

#3 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-04-26 08:55 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

Intelligent people can speak simply.

#4 | Posted by Tor at 2021-04-26 09:03 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 2

"Please do the needful" is such a classic response from devs and support, that it has become a stereotype in and of itself.

#5 | Posted by snoofy at 2021-04-26 09:04 PM | Reply

@#5 ... "Please do the needful" is such a classic response ...

Maybe for someone who is more interested in ridiculing than understanding.

But I prefer to try to understand those who talk with me.


#6 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-04-26 09:31 PM | Reply

Why you trying to turn this into a gotcha? I heard that phrase as long ago as 2008. I understand what it means and I'm not ridiculing anyone. It's a phrase that only Indian or maybe Pakistani English speakers use.

#7 | Posted by snoofy at 2021-04-26 09:34 PM | Reply

@#7 ... Why you trying to turn this into a gotcha? ...

I am not.

Apologies if my comments were taken otherwise.

This is an important conversation.

And I (possibly, erroneously) viewed the citation of the ~needful~ comment with the accompanying "LOL" as something that you might be laughing out loud at.

It was not my intent to misinterpret the "LOL" you had in your comment.

But maybe you can explain what you mean by "LOL".

thx.

#8 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-04-26 09:45 PM | Reply

I had a good friend and colleague who was a Russian PhD. She spoke and resembled Eva Gabor. She warned me one time that I'm speaking too plainly to all the other people from foreign countries we worked with. I told her I don't use American-British idioms or colloquialisms on purpose because I know they may not know what I'm talking about.

She said, you are in danger of losing your own culture. She said she could tell the difference when I spoke to native Texans and was comfortable in using slang and vulgar speech that she couldn't understand. But she told me I was the easiest American to understand when I spoke to her. I thought this was a strange warning. But, she was highly cultured and sensitive. So I always gave her my undivided attention when she spoke to me.

To this day I still don't completely understand her advice. I don't think I'm in danger of losing my culture because I take the time to speak plainly to people who use English as a second language. I mean, I'm not an idiotic fool who speaks slowly and carefully each word, condescendingly treating my interlocutor like a moron. I just don't use English idioms.

For example, I told our Puerto Rican boss that a test passed "with flying colors." She said, "What do you mean?" I explained the idiom and she laughed out loud. I also learned that "rainbow" in Spanish is "arco iris." Which I remember by associating the iris color of the eye with an arc.

#9 | Posted by madscientist at 2021-04-26 09:47 PM | Reply

If you work with software developers please do the needful is funny.

It's something that instantly tells you if the person you're talking to is from India.

#10 | Posted by snoofy at 2021-04-26 10:00 PM | Reply

@#9 ... She said, you are in danger of losing your own culture. ...

I don't know if I would go that far.

I viewed speaking with people (especially business people) in an international environment quite differently than I viewed (and view) speaking within the Country.

I viewed "business English" more as another language. There was no way it would affect how I spoke with my fellow Americans.

I do not think that communicating with others in a business environment will affect my culture in the negative manner she suggested.

#11 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-04-26 10:07 PM | Reply

#11 Lamplighter, I agree with you. If you'll forgive my psychobabble, it makes me wonder if she was projecting her own fears of losing her Russian culture onto me.

We were pretty close as co-workers, and she lived down the same street as me and she would drop in frequently with carrot salads, cabbage salads, beet salads, etc. to feed something healthy to a younger colleague. Instead of being irritated by her dropping in without calling, I appreciated it and chalked it up to a quip by Socrates: "To the homes of the good, the good go unbidden."

#12 | Posted by madscientist at 2021-04-26 10:19 PM | Reply

@#10 ... If you work with software developers please do the needful is funny. ...

As a high-level manager of software development (i.e., reporting to the CEO of the company), I have worked with software developers.

And I have also worked with software developers in other countries.

And, yes, I have heard such interesting use of the English language in my many conversations with software developers in other countries.

Not once, however, did I find such use of English as funny.

My goal in those conversations was to understand, not to ascribe a pejorative opinion of the words used.

All that aside, when you think about it, needful might be a good word to use. No?



#13 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-04-26 10:29 PM | Reply

"My goal in those conversations was to understand, not to ascribe a pejorative opinion of the words used."

What's this pejorative ---- you're trying to lay at my feet?

#14 | Posted by snoofy at 2021-04-26 10:33 PM | Reply

I think the funniest idiom I've heard was from an Indian co-worker who said he came back from lunch ass-hauling. Instead of hauling ass.

#15 | Posted by madscientist at 2021-04-26 10:35 PM | Reply

Turns out some people think "Please do the needful" is rude. ell.stackexchange.com

#16 | Posted by snoofy at 2021-04-26 10:36 PM | Reply

@#14 ... What's this pejorative ---- you're trying to lay at my feet? ...

I am merely describing your comment.

Do you deny what you stated you said?

#17 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-04-26 11:00 PM | Reply

#9 | POSTED BY MADSCIENTIST

Interesting comment from your friend!
It makes me wonder from what perspective she was viewing the intersection of language and culture. Could a(n overly) simple explanation of culture be an observed phenomena in a group which is found to be curious to outsiders?

If I were a non-US English practitioner, I'd find Texan speech and idiosyncrasies to be interesting. perhaps in speaking plainly, while more understandable, you were boring compared to being a unique cultural representation of tx.

#18 | Posted by GOnoles92 at 2021-04-26 11:17 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

@#18 ... It makes me wonder from what perspective she was viewing the intersection of language and culture. ...

That's an aspect I found curious as well.

Because of my managing of an international software development team, I still have conversations with people on that team with who I have become friends. (I retired a number of years ago)

During those conversations I am often queried along the lines of, ~... what??? ...~

So I have to explain the idiom I used.

I think it is A Good Thing when two people try to understand each other.

#19 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-04-26 11:29 PM | Reply

"Do you deny what you stated you said?"

No, just that it is pejorative.

#20 | Posted by snoofy at 2021-04-26 11:44 PM | Reply

Story about a guy who was working in China, he spoke some Chinese as did one of his American colleagues from the South. At some point the guy from the South had to address a large group in Chinese, and the Chinese audience couldn't figure out what the other American thought was so funny. It was because the guy was speaking Chinese, but with a southern accent, which would only seem funny to someone who understands what a southern drawl is.

#21 | Posted by snoofy at 2021-04-26 11:48 PM | Reply

@#20 ... No, just that it is pejorative.

OK, fair enough.

Apparently, I may have misinterpreted your laughing out loud appellation at something said, as being your ascription of a pejorative opinion to what was said.

I now know that when you seem to ridicule what someone says it is not to be taken as pejorative.

Thanks for clarifying that.

#22 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-04-26 11:54 PM | Reply

Don't have a cow, man!
There's no ridicule in laughing at something like that.
Just like there's no ridicule when laughing at one of Bart Simpson's trademark lines.

#23 | Posted by snoofy at 2021-04-26 11:59 PM | Reply

I always thought it was cute how some of my Chinese friends confused the word 'kitchen' with 'chicken'.

#24 | Posted by sentinel at 2021-04-27 12:06 AM | Reply

But I see what you're getting at, Lamplighter. When some right-winger says something ridiculous, and gets a half-dozen funny flags, it's definitely pejorative laughter. That was not my intent.

#25 | Posted by snoofy at 2021-04-27 12:15 AM | Reply

@#23 ... Don't have a cow, man! ...

There's no "having of a cow" here.

If you laugh at loud at something that a person says in a business conversation because of words used instead of concepts conveyed, I would say that it is ridicule.

#26 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-04-27 12:22 AM | Reply

#25 ... But I see what you're getting at, Lamplighter. ...

Thanks.

I have heard the "needful" word used in many business conversations I have had. Oh so many business conversations.

But the purpose of a business conversation is to communicate, not to cast aspersions.

So, yes, that usage of the word was odd (quite odd, but it made sense when you look at it), but the oddity of the word was not the purpose of the conversation.

And that is my point here... what is the purpose of a conversation with a ESL speaker?

I prefer that the purpose of the communication is to communicate.


#27 | Posted by LampLighter at 2021-04-27 12:38 AM | Reply

When I taught non-native speakers, we often discussed pet peeves. I always told them my number one pet peeve was native English speakers with bad grammar and spelling; I would give several examples (there/their/they're, affect/effect, your/you're, lose/loose, a woman/women), and we'd all laugh about them. Because I only ever see native speakers make these mistakes.

#28 | Posted by sentinel at 2021-04-27 07:13 AM | Reply

" Because I only ever see native speakers make these mistakes."

You need to get out more. Y'know, mix and mingle

#29 | Posted by Doc_Sarvis at 2021-04-27 07:27 AM | Reply

In my travels I found the differences interesting between countries where TV and movies were dubbed into English and those that used subtitles.
In the ones that used subtitles (so the show was in English, but with native language subtitles), folks where more likely to use slang and idioms and say stuff like "gonna", but the ones where it was dubbed (native language only) people used more proper English.
I've always thought American English should be classified as its own language.

#30 | Posted by TFDNihilist at 2021-04-27 09:17 AM | Reply

Jesus C. Lamp... how far up your ass does the stick go on this topic?

Being amused at a moment of bemusement when first coming across "do the needful" isn't some sort of ridicule. My god, you have me agreeing with Snoofy you're reacting so dramatically to it.

#31 | Posted by kwrx25 at 2021-04-27 01:00 PM | Reply

"If you laugh at loud at something that a person says in a business conversation because of words used instead of concepts conveyed, I would say that it is ridicule."

Thanks for the tip.
I laughed out loud in post #2.

#32 | Posted by snoofy at 2021-04-27 02:33 PM | Reply

10 Funny Language Learning Commercials

#33 | Posted by sentinel at 2021-04-27 05:22 PM | Reply

Being married to a non-native English speaker for almost 20 years now I can assuredly say this is SO spot on. I also have many relatives and friends that are non-native speakers. Often it isn't a matter of just not being a native English speaker or rather an AMERICAN English speaker. I have a colleague from Leeds. If he goes "native" on me it is worse than trying to understand the worst southern drawl to me. Then if he is using uniquely Leeds words and phrases... Yikes. We talk soccer and even after years at times and I still can not follow him. He is retiring in a few days, going to miss those drop ins.

I will certainly agree on the esoteric jargon bit. I hate dealing with people that use it as it is - not a jargon person. I usually dislike the people using it too. Sports idioms certainly... "Sayings" in general will not translate without a background. My wife still asks me what some things mean from time to time. And honestly, I often understand the gist of the "saying" but don't know the origin/history myself.

#34 | Posted by GalaxiePete at 2021-04-27 10:29 PM | Reply

English is the red-headed bastard stepchild of language. I say take pity on "native speakers"

#35 | Posted by LegallyYourDead at 2021-04-27 11:03 PM | Reply

Every language has idioms. And idiots.

#36 | Posted by sentinel at 2021-04-28 10:59 AM | Reply

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