September 22, 2016

The international symbol of office-intrigue. Photo by John Brooks/Flickr Creative Commons

In a world filled with international corporations, one skill holds a lot of currency: the ability to speak English. And that skill gives Americans a definite leg up. At least, that’s what you might think. But, Spencer Hazel, a linguist at University of Nottingham's Linguistic Profiling for Professionals, explains why native English speakers are sometimes harder to understand than people who learned English in school.

Three Takeaways

  • International office workers understand English as a Second Language speakers better than they understand the native English speakers. In fact, native English speakers sometimes confuse more than they illuminate. (Or elucidate.) 
  • Most native speakers don’t know they’re confusing people. Instead, they tend to slip into idioms and acronyms without realizing they’re doing so. At the root of the problem: phrases like “back to square one,” “missed the boat,” “ETA,” and “ASAP.”
  • The key to getting better at speaking your first language? Learning a second: “If we can become more aware of what it is to use a second language,” explains Hazel, “then we can start understanding how sensitive we have to be with different people we talk to around the world.”

More Reading

WGBH, innovation hub, Spencer Hazel, ESL, LINGCORP, Kara Miller

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