Why is the English I already learnt, different to the English I need for my job?

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

Today I answer a question, well more of a frustration. Many people working in an English speaking country want to know - Why is the English that I’ve already learnt that I’ve spent so long already learning different from the English I need for my job? Very often people would say to me when they arrived in Australia I thought I already learnt English!

Obviously this depends on where you learnt English and how you learn it. in a classroom or 1:1 with a teacher? Or Are you learning at the same time as working?

Why is it so different?

1. Cultural differences make even English between English speaking countries different. We also don’t just speak with words, we speak with the ways we act and every English speaking country has their own set of expressions, cultural nuances and accents.

You could be working in a country where English is the official language or an international office where English is the Lingua Franca.

2. Learning vocabulary or the ‘design lingo’ or the 'technical jargon' is very specific to architects and landscape architects, interior designers and urban planners. We also have a tendency to use very descriptive or colourful words because we are trying to sell a design concept. You already have this knowledge in your native tongue but now you need to use this in a fast-paced environment with deadlines! You also need to know things like formality and informality, how to call a client or engineer on the phone, how to acting in a way that is culturally appropriate, how to giving and take on feedback.

3. You might be living and working in a place completely different from where you grew up. You cultural norms and understandings are completely different from the country you're now working in. This can best be explained by talking about the difference between high context and low context countries.

Erin Meyer does a great job of explaining this difference in this video:

High context cultures, generally speaking, people:

Assume a lot of shared context because they have similar cultural references and a larger body of shared context

Trust can be based on being good to your word so

Good quality communication is more implicit (suggested and not directly expressed because some things don't need to be explicitly said).

In comparison low context cultures such as the UK, Canada, The USA, Netherlands, Germany (who all vary in terms of their level of low context)

Assume a low level of shared context.

We repeat things we say because we are focussing on making sure things are said simply and clearly

Good quality communication is explicit (we say everything we mean and we mean what we say).

Have you come across these differences in your working life now that you're working in an English speaking country?

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