Monday, October 30, 2017


Last time we began a discussion of how to express your knowledge and ideas clearly to an American audience. Two key points were made:
  1. An idea is communicated clearly only if it is presented in the style of the dominant culture.
  2. Various cultures conceptualize ideas in different ways, and the educational systems of those cultures further reinforce that pattern.
Based on Robert B. Kaplan’s work, mentioned last time, we can identify several different patterns around the world to convey an idea. Let’s review the American pattern, illustrating the thinking process for an American speaker with an arrow.

The American pattern is illustrated simply. The “American arrow” has a straight shaft with an arrowhead (representing the conversational “point”) at its end. That’s all, direct and unembellished, like the traditional “straight-talker.”

When writing, Americans are taught to lead with a topic sentence that states the main thesis from the outset. Only later can information be added to further clarify or prove the point. When writing, this is done in the standard American “outline form” with topic, sub-topic, etc. For American students, it is thus very easy to follow a verbal explanation, since we know the subject and the key point about it from the start.

This “American pattern” is what all non-native cultures should employ when speaking to an American audience. They must be careful not to incorporate their own native cultural pattern. For instance, they should not repeat themselves insistently and seem aggressive, like the Semitic pattern would do. Nor should they give detail and other information first, and only much later state their point as a conclusion, the way Europeans would, suggesting a haughty arrogance of stated knowledge. They should not follow a Russian pattern, similar to the European one except skipping grammatical connectors that join one comment with another, leaving the impression this time of arrogance and confusion. And they should definitely avoid the very mystifying, incoherent-seeming pattern of certain cultures of Southeast and East Asia, particularly Japan (the land of few words and suggestive inference), illustrated by an arrow whose shaft winds concentrically inward, with the arrowhead-point hidden at its innermost core!

It is difficult to fully understand the foreign patterns without further examples. We’ll tackle that in succeeding Tips.