“That was quite nice?”, “where’s the lavatory?”, “next tomorrow”, “I’m outta here”, “the second floor”, “two billion”, “comes with chips” … These phrases mean either nothing, or completely different things depending on where you learnt English.
“The meaning of your communication lies in the response you get” is a well-known neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) presupposition. Regardless of your intent in communication, the response indicates what you communicated to the other person. This is because the other person has their own set of presuppositions, beliefs, level of intelligence, understanding of the language, etcetera. But when the other person says something back to you, the very same process applies.
Never more so than in the Middle East. Here, particularly in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, if the conversation is in English, then the dialogue could easily be in the talker’s third or fourth language. For some, their spoken English may be great but their listening English may not be, or be the reverse. Others, such as sales assistants, know how to engage to make the sale, and maybe that’s it.
You will be able to hear conversations where every other word will be English and the rest may be in some combination of Hindi, Tagalog and Lebanese Arabic. Particularly annoying if you are at a hotel check-in and the assistant calls to get advice and you have no idea what was said.
This is where all the other NLP positions about conversation come in. Particularly about active listening. You were given two ears and one mouth: use them in that order. Be mindful: that is, fully engage in the conversation. Demonstrate comprehension by paraphrasing, listening to the words, but also to the intonation and to the body language to gain a better understanding of what information was being transmitted. And always use the simplest words – no long words and certainly no colloquialisms. Sometimes in this culture you cannot see the other person’s face; or they may be in a different room and connected by microphones.
Never assume the person you are talking to is stupid; they could be better qualified than you and potentially have a better grasp of proper English than you have, even if you are a native speaker. They can also appear to be extremely rude but are just scared of speaking English.
It’s a great privilege to be among all these cultures but remember the following:
• Listen carefully
• Speak slowly and use simple words – so you can say it only once. But no need to shout!
• Don’t use expressions
• Don’t assume because someone is Caucasian they know English
• Don’t assume because someone is not Caucasian they don’t know English
• Check for comprehension – both ways!
Finally a lesson learnt for me. I was in a Lebanese Restaurant having great difficulty making myself understood and using my pigeon Arabic with the waiter. In exasperation I spoke extremely slowly (possibly shouting as us English do) to the washing-up man behind the counter. He replied in perfect English, and solved all my problems!SHOW MORE