Saturday, July 27, 2013

ELM (part 1) - English, Literature, and Musings

For most of my adult life, I had worked in a technical field.  And I was fortunate to team with men and women from all parts of the world.   In such an environment, the art of communicating well  - whether work, home, play - is a good thing.  

And communicating in English  - especially those who learned English as a Second Language (ESL) - that encompasses many things ...

The grammar thing ...

For one of my jobs, I had tested software.  Much of that entailed reading reports, most written by software engineers, who had documented problems and explained their resolutions in the current software releases.  We were to design the tests and execute them to verify the fixes to the satisfaction of the Quality Assurance team.

That was how it was supposed to work.  In reality, before we could design the test, I had to get these problem reports, written in English, translated into English.   

I considered myself an intelligent person (born in the USA), but reading these reports - it might as well have been written in Mongolian.  Frankly, many times, I did not know what they were babbling about.  And though they would never admit it, engineers (even native speakers of the language) often don't know how to write ... at least write very well.

Then this equation hit me ...

poor English skills = loss of productivity = lost profits

(But that is fodder for another story.)

For the non-native speakers, we had cut them some slack.  And the foreign nationals and immigrants I have known are remarkable people.  They had a mastery of more than one language, which many of us natives (myself included) don't have.  And English is considered among the top 10 hardest languages to learn - Top 10 Languages that are Hardest and Most Difficult to Learn | OMG Top Tens List

But  ESL speakers faced more issues other than mastery of English grammar, such as ...

The cultural thing ...

I recall one of my co-workers, a very intelligent woman, who immigrated from Vietnam.  She confessed that when us natives were bantering about - in particular about things common in American culture (old movies, vintage TV shows, iconic characters), she did not know what we were talking about and felt left out.  I was glad she spoke up and we tried to explain what we were talking about so she would feel included.

And even if those ESL speakers who have a proper grasp of English grammar and the vocabulary, there is ...

The idiom thing ...

American idioms can be daunting for non-native speakers. 

One example was while I was working with an engineer from Eastern Europe.  We were communicating with remote personnel via a radio net  to coordinate a test.  The man's voice on the speaker said though the crackling static  - 

"You are breaking up."

My co-worker looked at me, most astonished.  She asked, 

"What does he mean 'we are breaking up?'"

Certainly, Scotty was not beaming us up to the Enterprise (another cultural reference).

Grammar, Literature, Idioms.  

This inspired me to start of another series - English, Literature, and  Musings ... ELM for short.  

First up, 

The English Language Thing ...

Below is a summary of the history of the English language in ten short lessons, in ten minutes:

And in closing, it's been said -

"Language is the dress of thought."

And Lord willing, we will continue these thoughts in future posts ...


Articles on literature:

Best First Lines of Novels |

The Best 100 Opening Lines From Books - Life - Stylist Magazine

The 10 best closing lines of books – in pictures | Books | The Observer

50 Best Literary Insults - Entertainment - ShortList Magazine

The 50 Best Literary Put-Downs - Books - Stylist Magazine


Photo from:

Wikipedia -  Shakespeare

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