Many international business people have amusing, awkward or devastating stories to tell about miscommunications between English and non-English speakers. A previous colleague of mine at UNICEF used to collect funny signs from around the world where the bad English unintentionally conveyed something other than intended: for example, ‘Shoplifters will be Prostituted’ or ‘No Littering: Violators will be Fine’!
My own experience from living in Denmark for two decades brought many such scenarios my way. Not that I shoplifted or littered, of course. Although I learned during my time there to speak comprehensible Danish and to understand most of the cultural references, I was glad that the business side of life had English as the largest common denominator. Without that fact, I would not be at Milestone Systems today!
Back in 2003 the Denmark-based company with 28 employees needed PR and a new website in English to help them reach beyond that small country’s borders, to pursue their goals for expansion and growth. Lucky expat me got the job. And I still love working for Milestone, although I ply my English skills from the U.S. these days.
A recent BBC article, sent over by my Danish co-worker Jos, gave me pause for thought with a different perspective – and a bit more humility: many native English speakers are NOT the best communicators! Our English-centric world can make us blind to non-native needs. To use an old expression that perhaps non-English speakers don’t know or understand, ‘like bulls in a china shop’ we Anglophones can talk too fast or too loud or too long, taking up disproportionate time in a multi-cultural group.
Have a read about this topic, and the universal language called Globish, to see what you think:
by Courtney Dillon Pedersen, Corporate Communications Manager, Milestone Systems