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)
- When delivering information, order it with words like 'first - then'
or 'first - second' rather than words 'before, until, unless'.
- Be aware that multi-syllabic words might not be understood.
- 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.
- Avoid ambiguous phrases. 'On account of the crash' can be simplified
to 'because of the crash'.
- 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'.
- 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
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.
- Write down in your diary any word or expression that NESB people
don't understand without explanation.
- 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
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