Intercultural English: Will This Dog Hunt?

by Michael Haberman on June 3, 2008 · 0 comments


I got a newsletter in my email today that had an announcement about a seminar on Intercultural English that is being presented by Lorelei Carobolante. The SHRM ad copy had the following description “Whether you work in the U.S. or globally, learning the concepts of Intercultural English can improve relationships, collaboration and productivity. Intercultural English ensures your messages are understood around the globe, reduces translation costs and helps avoid misunderstandings. In this webcast, Lorelei Carobolante, GPHR, SCRP, of G2nd Systems, will describe what Intercultural English is, why it’s essential to anyone who works in today’s global workplace and how it can benefit you and your organization.”
I am not endorsing this seminar (though it might be a good one). In fact I am not really sure if I know the official definition of Intercultural English. But I think I have an idea. I teach a PHR prep class that is often attended by individuals who have English as their second language. Some of them are very good English speakers others are still dealing with the challenge of learning, what is considered by many to be, a confusing language. Anyway, one class session I was trying to explain something and I was using a sports analogy. Looking out over the class I saw several faces which had confusion written on them. (BTW, my classes are primarily attended by women, so English may not have been the only issue, just sports talk in general may have been a problem.) I stopped at that point and asked what people did not understand.

The confusion for the non-native English speakers was the use of regional idioms, made even worse with sports analogies tossed in. So I have come to the conclusion that Intercultural English is communication that does not make use of these devices to make a point. Thus making the point more clearly to the non-native speaker. The funny thing is that I also discovered we had cultural English problems even with native born English speakers. There were many “yankees” in the class (I do teach in the South) that did not understand many of the Southernisms that occassionally popped up in the class in both my speech and that of other students.

This got me to thinking that many of us have these same problems in our workplaces or at least in different regions of the country. Locales with heavy Hispanic or Asian populations will certainly encounter this. You even encounter this with native English speakers who make very heavy use of local dialect. And even though you may have English only rules and people will be making great strides in learning English most classes that teach English do not teach “regionalisms.”

So the next time Y’all are trying communicate and the homies aren’t picking it up remember to take another trip around the bases, take another shot at the basket and revise what you are trying to say. Youse guys with? Think “that dog will hunt?” Eh?
Leave some comments on your experiences with cultural language issues.
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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

HR Wench June 4, 2008 at 1:36 am

I once worked with a man who ONLY spoke in idioms. English was his second language. It was really interesting…I kept trying to think of things to say to him that would require a non-idiom response but I never “won”. He knew “American English” idioms better than I did.

Then, of course, there was my dad who was born in 1924 (I was born when he was 53). He had a slew of idioms up his sleeve that no one in my circle of friends (or their parents) understood. Of course he also said weird things like, “There used to be a dairy here. The old guy let me ride his jackass once”.

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