Monday, October 23, 2017


We have talked previously about how people new to America should enter conversation groups, conduct themselves in meetings, ask cogent questions, and generally get the attention of native speakers when they want to say something. It can be a formidable challenge to speak up with the right words, confident vocal power, and precise timing.

When you are recognized and it’s your turn to speak, this is a moment of utmost importance for every non-native professional. It is your chance to convey who you are, what you know, and what you offer professionally.

Faced with the challenge of communicating your competence, how do you make your point? It’s a crucial question, and one that native speakers wrestle with, too.

As you search for a solution, there is one underlying point that is absolutely central: An idea is communicated clearly only if it is presented in the style of the dominant culture.

So various cultures conceptualize ideas in different ways, and the educational systems of those cultures further reinforce that pattern.

The same information can be clear or confusing, depending on whether the listener hears it in the way s/he has been taught to understand that information. And what’s more, a point made by someone in one culture can be perceived differently by a listener from another background. It can seem rude or aggressive; pedantic or childish; arrogant and effete; brusque and inconsiderate; or just plain confusing to another culture!

If after you make a point you sense that your listeners just “don’t get it,” you may suffer from what linguists call a clarity deficit. That is, something is missing from your explanation…maybe it’s your pronunciation, confusing grammar or choice of words, or very likely a style of explanation that eludes them.

One theory relating to writing styles has great bearing on our subject here. It was first advanced in the 1960’s by Robert B. Kaplan, and later other linguists. We shall explore this next time as it relates to various culturally-determined patterns of communication. This is a crucial topic that deserves attention in upcoming Tips.