Ever think the world would be an easier place if we all had a common language? Think again.
Irony. Sarcasm. Nuance. The Brits themselves know that their social norms and conversational etiquette can be complex to say the least. So what hope does the rest of the world have in understanding British English as their second, third or fourth language?
This amusing guide has been floating around the internet for years, but it’s still relevant. It allegedly stems from Dutch diplomats in trying to translate and understand the intentions of their British counterparts.
While it’s funny – and largely accurate – the guide raises deeper questions and discussions about effective communication. What is the point of communicating if we are saying almost the exact opposite of what we mean?
The problem has less to do with the meaning of our words but more the impact on our audience. When we communicate, we need to think carefully about the perspective of our listener. How will they receive this information? What will this mean to them? While content is obviously important, the language we choose to use is critical in ensuring our messages are correctly understood.
It’s the same as using endless jargon and clichés. The listener is forced to interpret and ‘read between the lines’ – a risky tactic, particularly across language barriers and (often deep) cultural chasms.
So, perhaps there should be a fourth column – what we should say if we want to be understood. Although we’ll probably never use it. After all, at the end of the day, I would suggest, with the greatest respect — complexity is easy.
Simplicity is hard.
Alexandra – London
(P.S. You can read more about similar follies of European diplomacy in the original Economist article.)