Positive Path Recommended Reading

Are You a Language Chauvinist? 
By Michael Kelly

A language chauvinist is a speaker who disregards the language needs of another person during an interaction, particularly when interacting with a person of a different cultural or language background. Language chauvinists can speak using idioms, culturally specific expressions, or speak with too much speed or with unclear speech pronunciation.

A language chauvinist may display an air of superiority in their voice and body language which patronises others. They can demonstrate that they do not care if another person understands them.

If you are a native English speaking person, consider the following points when interacting with a person of non-English background (NESB)

  1. When delivering information, order it with words like 'first - then' or 'first - second' rather than words 'before, until, unless'. 

  2. Be aware that multi-syllabic words might not be understood.

  3. Complex grammar can confuse people. Using the passive voice can make understanding more difficult. For example, 'The market forces of the Indian subcontinent were discussed by the chairperson' could be more directly expressed as, 'The chairperson discussed the market forces of the Indian subcontinent.

  4. Avoid ambiguous phrases. 'On account of the crash' can be simplified to 'because of the crash'. 

  5. Be aware that homophones can confuse NESB people. Homophones are words that sound the same, but have different spellings and meanings. For example 'Grease - grease'.

  6. Be aware that one word might have a few meanings. The word 'post' could be relating to posting mail, or a stick in the ground, or to placing a sheet of paper on a noticeboard. Confusion in word meaning can occur between people of English speaking background.

    Early in the 1900's there was a high level diplomatic meeting between some Britons and Americans. At a key point in the discussions the Britons said 'We'll table this document' to which the American camp erupted in anger. It took 30 minutes for the meeting to come back to order.

    What was the problem? - the word 'table'. The Britons definition of the word 'table' was to put the document on the table for discussion right then. The American's definition of the word 'table' was to put something away for discussion at a later time.

  7. Write down in your diary any word or expression that NESB people don't understand without explanation.

  8. As you speak, judge how well the person listening to you is understanding certain words or expressions. Don't assume without evidence that a person will understand you. As well don't assume without evidence that a person will not understand you.

    All you can initially know when first meeting a person who has an foreign accent of English is that they speak English differently than you do.

Interacting with people of different cultural and language backgrounds can be very enlightening, stimulating and enjoyable. Paying attention to the above points will help you smooth these interactions by de-chauvinising your language and attitudes.

About the author: Michael Kelly teaches “Speak & Listen for New Results”. He is a media commentator, keynote speaker and seminar leader.  Delighted blue chip corporate clients including Icon Recruitment, Credit Suisse, First Boston and Pfizer. Michael is the director of Kelly Speech Communication. He has a clear insight into powerful speaking and listening techniques – to help his clients keep on winning more business and achieving fresh results in their careers and their lives. Visit http://www.kellyspeech.com.au for more information.


An error occurred on the server when processing the URL. Please contact the system administrator.

If you are the system administrator please click here to find out more about this error.