Poor language skills damage our economy
Posted 16 April 2005 - 04:24 PM
which contains many public reactions to a news item on the claim made in a House of Lords report that poor language skills are having a negative effect on Britain's business performance - relating to the current situation in state secondary schools in England (Note: England, NOT Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland) whereby foreign languages only have to be studied by children up to the age of 14. Most of the reactions are positive about studying foreign languages, but there are quite a few that support the view that there is no point in learning a foreign language as all the world trades in English.
What do YOU think?
Posted 16 April 2005 - 05:41 PM
Learning to express yourself in a foreign language gives you all sorts of insights into what's going on when two people from different cultures try to communicate with each other, which the monolinguist usually doesn't have. That's why Swedes are such successful exporters …
Posted 17 April 2005 - 12:14 AM
When things go wrong with the communication, it's much more likely to be due to cultural problems than 'pure' language problems.
I attended a presentation on this subject by a very entertaining speaker, John Mole, who began by putting up a list of statements on an OHP and asking us to guess who said what about whom, e.g.
They wear funny clothes.
The don't wash often enough.
We were all wrong, because it turned out that all the statements had been made by foreigners about the British. Regarding the second of the above statements, language is not necessarily the barrier. The speaker cited an Australian joke:
"How do you hide a dollar from a Pom?"
"Put it under the soap."
There's probably some truth in the message behind the joke. Brits arriving in Australia, and being unfamiliar with the extremely hot and humid temperatures, often fail to realise that one shower a day may not be enough.
Language problems often arise when a non-native speaker of English mistranslates a word or phrase from his/her own language into English. For example, be wary if a German says "Eventually we will sign this contract", as the word "eventuell" in German means "possibly" or "perhaps". The same problem may arise if you are dealing with a French native speaker. Such words and phrases are known as "false friends". The verb "müssen" ("must") in German creates problems when used with a negative ("nicht" = "not"). If a German says "You must not do this", s/he may really mean "You don't have to do that", which is the correct translation of "Sie müssen das nicht tun". "Sie dürfen das nicht tun", however, means "You must not (are not allowed) to do that".
A Swedish friend of mine told me the following linguistic joke:
A Swede on his first journey to London stopped at the top of an escalator in the underground. An attendant noticed him standing there and asked if he needed assistance. The Swede pointed to a notice stating "Dogs must be carried". "What's the problem?" asked the the attendant. "I don't have a dog", replied the Swede.
David probably understands what this is all about :-)
Posted 17 April 2005 - 12:46 PM
The 'dog' story is quite clear in Swedish - this 'must' would be 'have to' in English.
Posted 17 April 2005 - 01:42 PM
I am currently negotiating with Japanese colleagues in connection with a forthcoming conference. There are enormous differences between the way we do things in Europe and the way things are done in Japan. I have found, however, that we have a lot of common ground regarding our sense of humour. We seem to enjoy the same jokes. I also enjoyed a great game of golf with a Japanese professor.
When talking to German and American colleagues I have learned to avoid irony, as neither seems to understand it in the same way as the British.
Raising cultural awareness is very useful. A few years ago I attended a conference for language trainers in the airline industry. A representative of Swissair ran a very interesting workshop on cultural awareness training for cabin crew, check-in staff, et al.
Posted 17 April 2005 - 05:33 PM
I agree with Graham about the affinity between the British and the Japanese. We are both island peoples and share many common perspectives. When I was in Kobe and Kyoto, I did see instances of what we Europeans would probably call "exotic", such as the wooden temples of Kobe and Kyoto and the geisha haunts of Gion. But I also saw a people with incredible technological expertise, as exemplified by their bridges and causeways and their ability to achieve an enviable quality of life in a country with a huge population crowded into coastal areas. I also loved what I regard as their poetic use of, not their errors in, the English language: "Happy soon" said the poster outside my hotel on Rokko Island, off the coast at Kobe.
Posted 17 April 2005 - 08:14 PM
...we both drive on the left too!
I agree with Graham about the affinity between the British and the Japanese. We are both island peoples and share many common perspectives.
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