Jul 26, 2012

clearly misunderstood, or who speaks what

Two non-native English speakers can make a conversation quite funny. I should know, I'm one of them.

I recently had a very loud conversation over the phone with someone from a neighboring country. This person was trying to compensate the terrible English with voice volume to improve my understanding.

This reminded me how confusing it gets sometimes when you have two people from different non-English speaking country trying to understand each other. Not to mention having such attempts over the phone.

Many involuntary humor forms can occur, but I particularly remember one from many years ago, resulted from faulty topics, that undermined the credibility of the IT department from our parent company. Our corporate website was down and, in reply to our complaints, the guys ensured us that "We are aware of this technical issue and we are hardly working to solve it as soon as possible. Thank you for your understanding." Well, it was our understanding that topics can sometimes make your statements backfire.

Joke aside, most of the time, in international companies, there will be non-native interlocutors trying to do business together. So if you want to know who speaks what around Europe, here's a fresh Eurobarometer Report on Europeans and their Languages, conducted by TNS Opinion & Social and released in June 2012 by the European Commission.

This survey was carried out in 27 EU member states in the first half of 2012, and it was an interesting read for me, full of did-you-knows like:
  • Almost all respondents in Luxembourg (98%), Latvia (95%), the Netherlands (94%), Malta (93%), Slovenia, Lithuania (92% each), and Sweden (91%) say that they are able to speak at least one language in addition to their mother tongue.
  • Countries where respondents are least likely to be able to speak any foreign language are Hungary (65%), Italy (62%), the UK, Portugal (61% in each), and Ireland (60%).
  • Oups! There has been a decrease [since the previous report in 2005] in the proportion thinking that French is important (-9 percentage points), and in those thinking German is an important language for personal development (-5 points).
  • English is the most widely understood, with a quarter (25%) of Europeans able to follow radio or television news in the language.
  • Around 1 in 10 respondents use their second language every day or nearly every day (8%)
  • More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents think that improving language skills should be a policy priority.

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