There appears to be an increasing movement in the United States to force all residents to speak the English language. And yet, for a great many newcomers from other cultures, our language is full of contradictions and pronunciations that are difficult to understand, let alone master in everyday speech. They often find it embarrassing to seek help in their mother tongue from a friend in order to express themselves satisfactorily.
For example, listen to two newscasters speak about “data”—one pronounces it with a hard “a” and the other uses a soft “a”—yet they exchange the two quite different-sounding words with each other as though they are the same; and, indeed, they are the same meaning to Americans accustomed to hearing both pronunciations. But a foreign listener may be understandably confused. Is “kid” a joke, a baby goat, or a child? His or her confusion may be further increased by learning our numbers: “one” the first digit, or “won” the game; “two” the second digit, or “to” learn, the preposition, or even me “too” the adverb; “four” the number, or “for” the prefix or conjunction or preposition, or “fore” the adverb, adjective, or even preposition (or the popular warning for an errant golf shot).
We may just smile at the American newcomer’s confusion and patiently explain the several strange uses of “homophones” (words that sound the same but have different meanings), such as “piece” and “peace”, or “principle” and “principal”. But it becomes more serious when we engage in conversation with business associates in other countries who speak English as a second or third language. In their zeal to sound perfectly bilingual, they may skip over the use of multi-meaning English words and derive an entirely different meaning from a conversation with American colleagues.
Experience in conversing with clients in several different nationalities over many years has taught us to select our English words and sentences with great care when describing business terms to our English-speaking foreign clients—misunderstandings can be easy to create, and often cause lasting differences of meaning. Of course, we could alleviate this problem by learning to speak their languages, but few of us do.
Thus, our recommendation this month is to respect the many vagaries in the English language and attempt to avoid them when addressing persons with English as a second language. Communication is difficult enough using precise English without encumbering it with potentially inaccurate words.
If you would like to explore further details on this or other stories, please contact Dr. David F. Parker at (904) 992-9888, or firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.parkerassociates.com to read more about what Parker Associates can do for you.