The implications of English proficiency among non-native speakers

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The implications of English proficiency among non-native speakers

Postby iguanamon » Sun Aug 11, 2019 4:43 pm

I read this article today in the New York Times: Parlez-Vous Anglais? Yes, of Course.
Pamela Druckerman NYT wrote:Most people now learn English to communicate with other nonnative speakers — and even many of their teachers aren’t native — so they acquire few expressions and idioms. The linguist Jennifer Jenkins describes a British TV interviewer asking a perplexed Italian opera singer whether his trip to England is “going swimmingly.” She writes that, at European Union conferences, nonnatives who can easily understand each other’s English switch on their translation headphones when someone from Britain or Ireland takes the stage.
English will mutate.
A recent Irish conference on “World Englishes” included sessions on “Egyptian English as a new English variety” and “English in the linguistic landscape of Kazakhstan.” The linguist Marianne Hundt of the University of Zurich says common errors like “we need to discuss about this” or “I want some advices” could enter native speech.
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Re: The implications of English proficiency among non-native speakers

Postby aokoye » Sun Aug 11, 2019 7:31 pm

I'll leave this quote here and then probably vacate the thread.

English belongs to all those who use it.

As said by a previous professor of mine who specializes in (among other things) World Englishes.
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Re: The implications of English proficiency among non-native speakers

Postby MorkTheFiddle » Sun Aug 11, 2019 10:58 pm

It is really trite to say that once upon a time no native English speaker spoke or wrote the word "law" or "bishop" or "parliament" or "hoi polloi." Many such words came into the language in the wake of blood and sword. Let us be grateful the new broadening of the language comes with an olive branch (just to stick to the trite ;) ).
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Re: The implications of English proficiency among non-native speakers

Postby tussentaal » Mon Aug 12, 2019 1:48 am

Common errors in Euro English:

It is not allowed to smoke here.
Please speak slowlier.
How does he look like?
I recommended her to try the cake.
Look at the sky! It will rain!
I feel quite better now.
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Re: The implications of English proficiency among non-native speakers

Postby Doitsujin » Mon Aug 12, 2019 7:15 am

Pamela Druckerman NYT wrote:[...] She writes that, at European Union conferences, nonnatives who can easily understand each other’s English switch on their translation headphones when someone from Britain or Ireland takes the stage.
IMHO, it's more likely that non-native speakers didn't understand the speakers because they might have spoken with pronounced regional accents.

Marianne Hundt wrote:[...] common errors like “we need to discuss about this” or “I want some advices” could enter native speech.
I seriously doubt that this'll ever happen. For example, European Union publications often contain English translations that don't make sense to native speakers and, AFAIK, none of these mistranslations has been adopted by native speakers who don't have to deal with the EU.

BTW, EU jargon has become such a problem that the EU has released a style guide to address this issue.

I totally understand that linguists are fascinated by Word Englishes, but in the real world readability trumps creativity. To quote the author of Misused English words and expressions in EU publications:

Jeremy Gardner wrote:‘In order to meet the addressees’ requirements, reports should be drafted for the attention of an interested but non-expert reader who is not necessarily familiar with the detailed EU [or audit] context’.
[...]
During the last couple of years, I have heard two main objections to this basic premise. The first is an English-as-a-lingua-franca type of reasoning, i.e. that international English has taken on its own momentum and, to a certain extent, has its own rules. Native speaker usage, therefore, is no longer necessarily a model that needs to be followed. I must admit that I never found this particularly convincing to start with, but, more importantly, I do not hold it to be relevant here. Our most important ‘client’ is the European taxpayer (see ‘citizen’, below) and it does seem to be reasonable that English-speaking readers should be able to read our documents in versions that are linguistically at least as good as the translated versions (something that is currently often not the case). [...]
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Re: The implications of English proficiency among non-native speakers

Postby Cavesa » Mon Aug 12, 2019 9:45 am

Yes, this is happening and I've been saying it for years (and sometimes getting weird reactions from the natives on the internet).

The problem is not just "lack of expressions and idioms". Please, stop the idiom obsession. Speaking more like a native is not just about the stupid idioms. You can speak very well and actively use relatively few idioms. Or you can use idioms in every sentence and sound like a moron (but a typical English teacher will cry of joy while listening to you)

There are more important differences between the "international English" and any native or "trying to sound like a native" English. There are grammar and pronunciation mistakes that even people with absolutely different native languages make similarly. They understand each other really well, but they struggle with the native speaker. My extremely badly speaking father could understand Bad English speaking greeks or japanese much better than I could.

There is a vocabulary problem. I was even asked to use less complicated vocabulary. The people were looking at me like "wtf, I don't know why are you showing off so much, and I can't understand you".

So, whenever people ask why I simply don't consider English to be a priority language, why I am not interested at all in improving it, and why I do not have any immediate plans to upgrade my certificate to CPE, this is one of the big reasons. There is no point. I am not moving to an anglophone country and I rarely speak to natives in the real life. I already speak better than vast majority of the non natives. And I wouldn't get any advantage for the years of work required to break the final wall, quite the opposite.

I don't think the non-natives will change the native English though. That would require the International Bad English to conquer the Hollywood, HBO, and Netflix. I think the future development will be just further solidification of the situation we can see right now. Without the UK (not only in the parliament, but also as a much less frequent emigration dream, study exchange opportunity, etc), the EU will become better and better at the International Bad English.
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Re: The implications of English proficiency among non-native speakers

Postby MrPenguin » Mon Aug 12, 2019 11:37 am

Most native speakers of English rarely interact with non-native speakers in real life, rarely consume media produced by non-native speakers etc. Unless this changes, I don't see these non-native variants from around the world having that much of an impact on the language in anglophone countries in the immediate future. And native speakers will, for the foreseeable future, remain the model for most learners.
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Re: The implications of English proficiency among non-native speakers

Postby sjintje » Mon Aug 12, 2019 12:00 pm

describes a British TV interviewer asking a perplexed ...


It perplexes me, that uk tv interviewers always use such idiomatic and colloquial language when interviewing foreigners. Over the last few decades, all aspects of even supposedly "serious" television have been made more accessible by the use of more familiar, day to day laguage, because standard english sounds too formal, but the interviewers and producers seem to be unaware that this "simplified language" is likely to be more difficult for non native speakers.

The surprising bit is actually how well the interviewees seem to cope, even when they have relatively poor english. I think everyone just gets used to bluffing when they speak english.
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Re: The implications of English proficiency among non-native speakers

Postby Adrianslont » Mon Aug 12, 2019 12:46 pm

MrPenguin wrote:Most native speakers of English rarely interact with non-native speakers in real life, rarely consume media produced by non-native speakers etc. Unless this changes, I don't see these non-native variants from around the world having that much of an impact on the language in anglophone countries in the immediate future. And native speakers will, for the foreseeable future, remain the model for most learners.

I guess it depends where you live but I am a native speaker of English and I interact with non-native speakers everyday, unless I stay indoors and talk to no one.

I live in a big city in Australia, in a neighbourhood that is much less multicultural than other parts of the city - yet 9/30 houses in my street have non-native speakers of English. Probably 90%+ of the shop assistants I deal with are non-native. When I eat out the staff are always non-native. I participate in a community group and it is 75%+ non-native. When I still worked about 50% of my colleagues were non-native. Unfortunately I’ve been spending time getting various health problems sorted this year and about 50% (very roughly) of the doctors, dentists, nurses and other hospital staff I have met have been non-native. If I make a “business” phone call there is more than a 50% chance I will speak to a non-native, either here in Australia or located offshore.

That’s just me, a sample of one, but as far as I can see from my travels, if you live in a big “English-speaking” city you will interact with many people who don’t have English as a native language - certainly that is the case for large Australian and English cities I have visited. I’m pretty sure that’s also true for the largest US and Canadian cities, too.

That said, I agree - I don’t think the non-native variants are impacting English in “anglophone” countries substantially - I think american tv has a bigger impact in Australia. I just wanted to describe the reality of living in the world’s multicultural “anglophone” cities.
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Re: The implications of English proficiency among non-native speakers

Postby Cavesa » Mon Aug 12, 2019 2:04 pm

MrPenguin wrote:Most native speakers of English rarely interact with non-native speakers in real life, rarely consume media produced by non-native speakers etc. Unless this changes, I don't see these non-native variants from around the world having that much of an impact on the language in anglophone countries in the immediate future. And native speakers will, for the foreseeable future, remain the model for most learners.


While I agree that the natives are unlikely to be affected, I simply cannot agree with the last statement. Are the native speaker really the model for most learners?

On paper, sure. If you ask them, of course they will parrot this. And those who consume lots of tv series and similar stuff in English will also be closer to the natives. But that is still not the majority.

Most learners' desire is not to be like a native. Their desire is to pass their exams and then do their job in English. The models they really hear around themselves are in most cases not the natives. When you work in an international company (I know various people in various such teams), you adapt to the language around you. And that is non native English.

So, of course those people will naively tell you "yes, I would like to speak like Jack, our Irish boss, who visits our department three times a year". But the real model they hear every day and that moulds their English is the mix of ESL speakers with Czech/Hungarian/Italian/... as their native languages. And they will admit that they struggle understanding that Jack, whenever he visits.

It might be slightly different in the scandinavian countries (or any other with unusually high overall level of English), but those are simply not the standard.
..........................
sjintje wrote:
describes a British TV interviewer asking a perplexed ...


It perplexes me, that uk tv interviewers always use such idiomatic and colloquial language when interviewing foreigners. Over the last few decades, all aspects of even supposedly "serious" television have been made more accessible by the use of more familiar, day to day laguage, because standard english sounds too formal, but the interviewers and producers seem to be unaware that this "simplified language" is likely to be more difficult for non native speakers.

The surprising bit is actually how well the interviewees seem to cope, even when they have relatively poor english. I think everyone just gets used to bluffing when they speak english.


Yes, this is exact. The less formal English may be easier for the natives, but is harder for the non natives.

The interviewees cope, because they haven't got any alternative. The public punishment for "not speaking English" is simply too harsh. Even a real star that would demand to be interviewed in their own (and important) language would look weird. And when you are a "middle sized star" from a not that privileged country, you are probably glad they are even talking to you and you don't want the label of a moron.

I don't know, why so many natives do not realise that the formal language is actually the easier one. It is the one being taught earlier, and it is also the more regular and less region and background affected one. I'd say it is a similar oversight as the one in most vocab size tests. The majority of those tests believes that difficult and rare vocabulary=medical vocabulary. But anybody with a bit of a background in that field in most european languages will do really well on such a test, no matter their real vocab size. Really, what is difficult and what is easy is not universal at all
.........................

Adrianslont wrote:
MrPenguin wrote:Most native speakers of English rarely interact with non-native speakers in real life, rarely consume media produced by non-native speakers etc. Unless this changes, I don't see these non-native variants from around the world having that much of an impact on the language in anglophone countries in the immediate future. And native speakers will, for the foreseeable future, remain the model for most learners.

I guess it depends where you live but I am a native speaker of English and I interact with non-native speakers everyday, unless I stay indoors and talk to no one.

I live in a big city in Australia, in a neighbourhood that is much less multicultural than other parts of the city - yet 9/30 houses in my street have non-native speakers of English. Probably 90%+ of the shop assistants I deal with are non-native. When I eat out the staff are always non-native. I participate in a community group and it is 75%+ non-native. When I still worked about 50% of my colleagues were non-native. Unfortunately I’ve been spending time getting various health problems sorted this year and about 50% (very roughly) of the doctors, dentists, nurses and other hospital staff I have met have been non-native. If I make a “business” phone call there is more than a 50% chance I will speak to a non-native, either here in Australia or located offshore.

That’s just me, a sample of one, but as far as I can see from my travels, if you live in a big “English-speaking” city you will interact with many people who don’t have English as a native language - certainly that is the case for large Australian and English cities I have visited. I’m pretty sure that’s also true for the largest US and Canadian cities, too.

That said, I agree - I don’t think the non-native variants are impacting English in “anglophone” countries substantially - I think american tv has a bigger impact in Australia. I just wanted to describe the reality of living in the world’s multicultural “anglophone” cities.

This is an excellent post, thanks.

I'd say this is one of the reasons, why so many immigrants do not learn the local language that well. Yes, some don't even try. Others try but they still need to spend time in their native language instead. And others try and use English every day, but they simply reach the ceiling of what is the English ability in their surrounding area.

When I talk to others in a different language, my skills change. I don't know whether it is the same for everyone or I am a bit too adaptable. But when I talk to natives or really good non natives for a while, I subconsciously improve. But when I speak to worse speakers (for example on Erasmus), I worsen too. Partially consciously (as I know they simply haven't got the vocabulary, for example), partially subconsciously. That's why I really believe that the classmates in the language classes are not an asset, they are an obstacle. And I think that while the native speakers in such a city do not "suffer" from catching Bad English from their non native neighbours (and it might be an interesting discussion, whether the Australian English really changes due to the tons of American TV), I'd say it is pretty obvious that the non natives have very little chance to get their language skills above a certain level. At least unless they manage to move elsewhere, to be the only immigrant among the natives. So, again, there is a bilingual area. Just instead of the neighbourhood being bilingually English and Something, it becomes English and Bad English.
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