It would seem that communicating in English should be easy; however, native speakers often speak too quickly and use slang and cultural references, which means non-native speakers can find it hard to understand.
Native English speakers are so used to other people being able to speak English that they often do not make allowances. Instead of speaking slowly and carefully, using simple language, they speak quickly and assume everyone can understand – even non-natives.
Communication problems from humour
This can cause big communication problems, as non-native speakers are not able to understand cultural references or slang expressions and idioms.
This can lead not only to a lack of understanding but also the wrong understanding, whereby a foreign person thinks they know what the English speaker is saying but they are mistaken.
This kind of problem is especially common when speaking ironically, sarcastically or with subtle humour. These types of speech are notoriously hard to translate.
English is often the common language amongst a group of people of different nationalities. Often, the people of different nationalities can communicate well in English between themselves and it is the native speaker who cannot be understood.
This is often because the non-natives speak simply and directly, while natives use more slang and difficult expressions, including abbreviations in writing.
British and American culture
Even differences between British and American English can make communication difficult across international business; for example, British people tend to use understatement a lot more, often along with irony.
Americans tend to speak more directly. It can be easy to confuse someone’s meaning when taking into consideration cultural tendencies.
Many non-natives feel awkward about not understanding and will nod approvingly even if they do not understand. This can cause many problems. Language is a tool that is vitally important in many contexts and it must be used carefully.
Many native speakers tend to rush ahead with discussions too quickly and try to fill gaps in conversations if there is a second of silence; however, a gap can simply be due to the listeners trying to understand what has just been said.
Sometimes listeners also need an extra moment to compose a sentence in their non-native tongue. That silence is necessary and should not be filled by the native speaker.
An effective way for native speakers to help non-natives understand their speech is to make the same point twice using different words and expressions the second time.
This can help the listener to understand the point without sounding patronising. You could also ask for an acknowledgement to ensure they understand before moving on.
As English is so widely spoken across the world, but there are so many misunderstandings using this language, Jean Paul Nerriere developed a stripped-down English called Globish. This new language is basic English taken down to 1,500 words using simple grammar.
This new type of English eliminates communication problems and misunderstandings, as everyone uses the same simple expressions and words. Although much less colourful, Globish is highly practical and has proved very popular across the business world.
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