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As English is the second most popular language in the world, (first is Chinese) how intelligent are you in dealing with those whose first language isn't English? Please consider the following questions:

What would you say is the best way to interact/communicate in a forum or other public setting with someone whose first language isn't English, especially so if they can't fully express themselves in English?

Or, if your first language isn't English, what efforts in interaction/communication in a forum or other public setting do you appreciate?

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Last Post by BigPaw
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I try to understand any person I'm communicating with, figure out their native language and country of origin, level of education, perhaps even religious and political beliefs.

Only then can I offend them as efficiently as possible. :D

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how intelligent are you in dealing with those whose first language isn't English?

I have a bit of experience with that (both here and in real life), and English isn't my first language. I was lucky enough to be raised bilingual (French and Swedish), and later learned English (and use it almost exclusively every day now), and travelled around a bit and learned German (functional), Spanish (basic), Finnish (very basic), and a few things in other peripheral languages. And btw, as a result of that, I can also do accents pretty well (and suppress my own native accent easily). But one thing I can't suppress very well is my obnoxious tendency to use long and complicated sentences with lots of fancy words (that comes from French, my most native language). So, I've been around plenty on both sides of this issue, and I think I've learned to deal with that quite well.

The first thing is that it takes a bit of imagination / perspicacity to be able to interpolate, extrapolate, read-between-the-lines, and make word associations. Knowing different languages helps a lot for that because you can understand certain uses / meaning of words that would seem otherwise very odd in English but that are found in other languages (i.e., people translating literally from their native language with odd results in English). Same goes for sentence structures (e.g., speaking English with sentence structures borrowed from some other language (the speaker's native language). The same goes, of course, the other way around, as one can easily misunderstand correct English when that's not one's native language.

The second important thing is to assume that what the person is saying (or wants to say) is smart even when what they actually said is odd / stupid. In other words, if you are not sure what the person meant to say, assume the smartest thing (or at least, what sounds smarter to you), and if you get it wrong, you won't be offending the person by putting stupid words in their mouth. For example, if someone says "does this car have circles for wheels?", it is safer to assume that the person meant to say "does this car have wheel caps on its wheels?" as opposed to "does this car have round wheels?", because assuming the latter might give the impression that you think this person is stupid enough to think wheels could be of another shape besides round, and if he did actually mean that, answering the question on wheel caps will answer that question too (and he'll be releaved to have dodged what could have been a rather embarrassing moment). This is the kind of thing I end up doing often on this forum and with some foreign colleagues, and it usually pays off.

Another trick (especially on this forum) is to give alternative words for some key concepts, in the hopes that one of them will be understood correctly. I usually like to use precise vocabulary as much as possible (a professional deformation from being an engineer), so I have to make a bit of an effort to find a few (simpler) alternative words to mean one thing, which often leads to more approximate vocabulary, but that's better than using fancy / technical / precise words that only native English speakers and/or technically-savvy people would understand, and thus, missing the whole point of trying to explain something to someone who is neither.

And of course, in real life, you speak slower, you try to avoid cultural references that might not work internationally, you avoid local expressions, or slang words (even in informal settings). As a non-native speaker, one of the most important thing is to not be afraid to say stupid things, it is better to speak plenty, make mistakes (even embarrassing ones) and own up to the fact that your skills in that language are poor (and have a laugh about it), than to not speak at all, and thus, never improve nor make friends (or professional relations / discussions).

In other words, both parties (the natives and non-natives) have to do their part to meet somewhere in the middle.

As for cultural differences, in my opinion, it's easier to just ignore that completely, and just be yourself. My culture (among other things) made me the way I am, your culture made you the way you are, but at this point, we are just two individuals, who's personalities are compatible or not, willing to tolerate some things and maybe not other things, let it be. As long as it is left at that, it usually works great, in my experience. For example, I have nothing but contempt for religious zealots and I find people who self-proclame as "devoit <insert religion>" to be ridiculous, I never had to hide that or even try to muster some fake "respect" for the piety of a person, and that did stop me from having very close friends being devoit muslims, because as individuals they didn't care much about my positions and I had plenty of other reasons to appreciate and respect them as individuals. In other words, cultural / religious differences only factor in if you factor them into the equation, and I say, just don't.

And that was yet another long dissertation à la Voltaire.

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@BigPaw

What would you say is the best way to interact/communicate in a forum or other public setting with someone whose first language isn't English, especially so if they can't fully express themselves in English?

I think it's going to be hard to know on a forum whether a new members or existing members speak or understand English well. I be honest with you it would be easier meeting a person face to face or speak on the phone to really know whether that person can speak and understand English well. I do get frustrated sometimes on the Daniweb, I think I need to be more patience and try to understand other members on Daniweb that don't understand English speaking or writing well. It's pretty hard.

Or, if your first language isn't English, what efforts in interaction/communication in a forum or other public setting do you appreciate?

If my first language wasn't English. I will try to understand that person background and where their from. Linguistics is very hard to master. Chinese is the most difficult to learn meaning writing those characters and speaking it correctly.

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i have chinese blood but i'm not aware that it is the most popular language.. i always thought it was english..
and even with that i'm still having a hard time understand chinese, too bad blood doesn't teach you how to speak.

Linguistics is very hard to master.

yes learning linguistics will require patience and determination, and the best way to practice is finding someone to talk (which is not easy as well -____-)

Linguistics is very hard to master. Chinese is the most difficult to learn meaning writing those characters and speaking it correctly.

in my experience writing Chinese characters takes more time than english because of their details but good thing they have this "shortcuts"

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I think you understand someone's language by their hand motions, facial expressions, their temper, and the amount of times you pull out a translator and tell them to hold on so you can say a phrase that will get corrected by the one listening to you.

I didn't realize that chinese was the most spoken language? I thought it was english because a lot of people that speak chinese also speak english...

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With a measure of experience and opinion, in a face to face scenario thoughtful facial expressions and hand gestures are paramount. Nothing puts people at ease sooner than a friendly smile and extended hand, as well as other gestures that show we are interested and making an effort.

Mike_2000, I've copied and pasted your entire comment into a Word document and will keep that as really good guidance. Also, this comment you made applies brilliantly in a forum setting just as well as anywhere:

The second important thing is to assume that what the person is saying (or wants to say) is smart even when what they actually said is odd / stupid. In other words, if you are not sure what the person meant to say, assume the smartest thing (or at least, what sounds smarter to you), and if you get it wrong, you won't be offending the person by putting stupid words in their mouth

I can't count how many blunders and near-miss offending I've done when trying to communicate and interact with the good people I've met who are from other countries. But I think they already know what English people (from England) are like, and are pleasantly tolerant of me. :-D

Now I understand even better why these forums have such a successful international following.

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