It was just one word in one email, but it triggered huge financial losses for a multinational company.
The message, written in English, was sent by a native speaker to a colleague for whom English was a second language. Unsure of the word, the recipient found two contradictory meanings in his dictionary. He acted on the wrong one.
Months later, senior management investigated why the project had flopped, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. “It all traced back to this one word,” says Chia Suan Chong, a UK-based communications skills and intercultural trainer, who didn’t reveal the tricky word because it is highly industry-specific and possibly identifiable. “Things spiralled out of control because both parties were thinking the opposite.”
When such misunderstandings happen, it’s usually the native speakers who are to blame. Ironically, they are worse at delivering their message than people who speak English as a second or third language, according to Chong.
A lot of native speakers are happy that English has become the world’s global language. They feel they don’t have to spend time learning another language,” says Chong.
The non-native speakers, it turns out, speak more purposefully and carefully, typical of someone speaking a second or third language. Anglophones, on the other hand, often talk too fast for others to follow, and use jokes, slang and references specific to their own culture, says Chong.
“The native English speaker… is the only one who might not feel the need to accommodate or adapt to the others,” she adds.
With non-native English speakers in the majority worldwide, it’s Anglophones who may need to up their game.
“Native speakers are at a disadvantage when you are in a lingua franca situation,” where English is being used as a common denominator, says Jennifer Jenkins, professor of global Englishes at the UK’s University of Southampton. “It’s the native English speakers that are having difficulty understanding and making themselves understood.”
Non-native speakers generally use more limited vocabulary and simpler expressions, without flowery language or slang. And then there’s cultural style, Blattner says. When a Brit reacts to a proposal by saying, “That’s interesting” a fellow Brit might recognise this as understatement for, “That’s rubbish.” But other nationalities would take the word “interesting” on face value, he says.
“English speakers with no other language often have a lack of awareness of how to speak English internationally.”
In Berlin, Coulter saw German staff of a Fortune 500 company being briefed from their Californian HQ via video link. Despite being competent in English, the Germans gleaned only the gist of what their American project leader said. So among themselves they came up with an agreed version, which might or might not have been what was intended by the California staff.
“Too many non-Anglophones, especially the Asians and the French, are too concerned about not ‘losing face’ — and nod approvingly while not getting the message at all,” he says.
That’s why Nerriere devised Globish — a distilled form of English, stripped down to 1,500 words and simple but standard grammar. “It’s not a language, it’s a tool,” he says. Since launching Globish in 2004 he’s sold more than 200,000 Globish text books in 18 languages.
“If you can communicate efficiently with limited, simple language you save time, avoid misinterpretation and you don’t have errors in communication,” Nerriere says.
When trying to communicate in English with a group of people with varying levels of fluency, it’s important to be receptive and adaptable, tuning your ears into a whole range of different ways of using English, Jenkins says.
“People who’ve learned other languages are good at doing that, but native speakers of English generally are monolingual and not very good at tuning in to language variation,” she says.
In meetings, Anglophones tend to speed along at what they consider a normal pace, and also rush to fill gaps in conversation, according to Steggles.
He recommends making the same point in a couple of different ways and asking for some acknowledgement, reaction or action.
到2020年单位国内生产总值二氧化碳排放比2005年下降40%-45%，非化石能源占一次能源消费总量的比重达到15% ， 森林面积比2005年增加4000万公顷，森林蓄积量2005年增加13亿立方米。