I first moved to a non-English speaking country almost 30 years ago. I did not know how much I would change my own way of communicating. My own English. And it has really changed.
The Difficulties Of A Non-Native English Speaker
I think most people who learn English as a second language go through more adjustments in learning English as a foreign language than English speakers learning a second language.
Foreigners often tell me English is an easy language to learn. It should be. There is just so much of it around. On the radio, the internet and very often in the workplace.
Foreigners think English is easy. But there is a variety of English communication. There is a big step in thinking you know a language and in being a good communicator.
Good cross-cultural communication takes some adjustments. Both parties need to make an effort in finding a common understanding.
The Native English Speaker's Job
When a native English speaker is in a foreigner's home country, often the native English speaker does most of the adjusting.
If the native English speaker has traveled before, this usually happens naturally. He instinctively knows how to make it easy for his foreign listener.
Non-native English speakers do not always realize how much the English speaker will adapt his conversation to make it easy for him. English speakers adjust their communication in several ways to make it easier for non-native English speakers:
Different dialects or country specific vocabulary
Different communication styles
The Adjustment Process
I can easily forget the years of adjusting my conversation I went through. This is what I remember I did:
Pay attention constantly to make sure everyone understands the same thing.
Backtrack the conversation as soon as a little doubt came up or if I was surprised by any reaction or remark
Explained I was tired, when I was and finding the effort too much.
I remember feeling as if I was doing all the effort in making the conversations work. I remember being surprised at many misunderstandings. I was also surprised at how and why they happened.
Everyone has their own perceptions of their cross-cultural communication. There is no right or wrong. There are only effective and enriching cross-cultural exchanges.
Native-English speakers communicating with non-native English speakers are in a situation with many different and uncontrollable perceptions. Some perceptions are based on the person or culture, and others on workplace specific conditions.
It is important for native-English speakers to remember to adjust their own English communication during their first cross-cultural encounters.
Practice Makes Productive Cross-Cultural Communication
It takes practice to smooth over the hurdles caused by these communication differences. The more conversations you have with non-native English speakers the more you pick up receptive, productive and interactive cross-cultural communication skills.
Seasoned English speaking international professionals end up constantly using a reduced vocabulary. They have to adapt to so many different language levels. This makes it very easy for their non-native English-speaking partners to understand them. The non-native speakers feel flattered. This reinforces their opinion that English is a very easy language to learn.
I have lived in a non-English speaking country longer than I have in my native English speaking home. Adjusting my own communication is permanently on automatic.
My own day-to-day English is very simple and direct. I rely on creating pictures with words to get specific points across. Sometimes I get frustrated at limiting my own vocabulary. That's when I hunt down stimulating conversation, or reading. And even writing.
Language is important. How you use your language to communicate with others is also important. Adjusting your English communication to meet the language levels of others is part of an effective communication process.
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