Monday, November 12, 2012

Is Simply Being Able to Speak English Enough? (guest post)

The following is contributed by Eve Pearce, a guest writer. I gladly give over some of my weblog to consider her opinions, and wish her luck as a writer making her way in this digital world.

Is Simply Being Able to Speak English Enough?

The Problem with Learning English as a second language with a view to working with natives, is that simply being educated in standard English may not be good enough. It may suffice for communication with pen pals, helping pass exams and surviving in a schooling environment; but all these scenarios do not account for day to day abbreviations and colloquialisms or slang that is simply not found in a text book.

Regional Dialect

Even after the most studious of pupils have achieved the highest award possible under instruction of any type of ESL course or similar variant; this will not prepare the candidate for the unruly English employment search that is sure to leave them bemused. An important factor that is simply not taught under standard ESL guidelines is how to use regional dialect. Regional dialect is a form of speech particular to a particular region (hence the name), this is imperative to understanding even the most basic of day to day conversations. People living in Newcastle in England for instance are referred to as ‘Geordies’  and the younger generations in particular make use of their particular slang with words such such as, ‘mortal’, meaning inebriated and under the influence of alcohol. Even other English natives in a different area couldn’t comprehend such a transition of nouns – so how would non natives manage?

Similarly, inhabitants of Alabama in American may use the term ‘mudflap’ to refer to human hair normally as a form of negative diction, this subsequently has negative connotations regarding the aesthetics of one’s hair. Even if the descriptor is translated into a more standardised form of dialect and taught as part of an ESL course, the tonality and implications of the verb or noun cannot be expressed in written form. This can lead to awkward situations that can not only be embarrassing, but can get the poor, confused individual into a lot of trouble. For example; ‘spinster’ in commonly exchanged English refers to a single woman in the same way that bachelor refers to a single male; however, although bachelor clearly has positive connotations, spinster is mostly viewed as a highly offensive term and implies the subject is undesirable. A lady, I’m sure, would not take kindly to such a reference made on her behalf! The list is almost exponential in the sense that, as soon as older linguistics become ‘unfashionable’, newer terms are being invented, either officially as additions to the oxford English dictionary, or unofficially in the form of regional dialect or an individual’s personal idiolect (their own distinct style of speech).

Evolution of Language

 This evolution of language is nothing new or out of the norm; if you consider Chaucer and Shakespeare, two of the most influential figures in the history of the English language and contemplate how they spoke, you will see the vast contrast between their idiolects and the dialect we now consider to be ‘standard english’. Natives who speak English regularly would be somewhat perplexed if we communicated with each other with such terms as ‘thou’ and ‘shalt’ and referred to objects with different terminology i.e. a sword as a rapier as Shakespeare would have done. The evolvement of the English Language is unfortunately something to be expected both formally and unofficially; the only way to truly keep up to date with at least one variation of a particular dialect of English is to immerse yourself in the culture of the area; which is not something that can be done straight away if you can only afford to move to the area once a suitable placement has been found.


A solution to the problems posed by regional colloquialisms, that truly hinder a non-natives ability to function, is to introduce a secondary course once candidates have graduated from learning standard English. This should be unique to the location the individual wishes to move to and should incorporate practical elements that are required for day to day living such as trips to corner stores, doctors, public toilets, offices and even local bars and clubs. Potential employees do not seem to appreciate the value of being able to socialise efficiently. Business meetings are often conducted over meals in restaurants, clients of firms are often enticed in bars and partnerships and deals are often established after a social platform as well as a professional one has been built.

About 20-30% of landing a dream role is not just about expertise and qualifications held on a curriculum vitae, but about charisma and the allure of the candidate. If the interviewee is unable to comprehend native humour, manner and customs they will fall at the first hurdle before they have a chance to exhibit any of their professional qualities that will, undoubtedly, remain hidden no matter how impeccable and invaluable they may be. If this wasn’t the case, and clinical, cold credentials were the only criterion for job roles, we would not have face to face interviews. A very simple fact of life that inexplicably seems to of been overlooked by those teaching English as a second language, is that the key to success, and even survival, is interaction. Of course this is the fundamental reason for learning a language in the first place but, as human beings, we use a lot more than just an array of precisely strung together sentences to voice our opinions - we gesticulate, change our poise, tone and overall persona to adapt to an environment. All of these factors differ from country to country, county to county, state to state and even city to city and are no means solely reliant on the English language alone.


Post a Comment

<< Home