Join Tatiana Kolovou for an in-depth discussion in this video American English tricks and traps, part of Communication Tips Weekly.
- Having lived in the United States for 30 years as a non-native speaker, I have myriads of stories of mispronouncing, misinterpreting, and misquoting the English language. Where do I begin? From the meeting where I confidently tried to change the subjects by saying, "We cannot pound a dead dog." The saying is, "beat a dead horse." Or the time when I described traffic to be at a wedlock, which is gridlock. Oh, even worse the time when a high-level military official asked me if we had tea party activity, referring to a political party, on our college campus.
and I confidently told him that we didn't have organized tea parties but there was a Starbucks in the second floor of the student union. The English language is tricky and takes time to master. I have a few suggestions for you if you've started your journey of language mastering. First, be curious. None of the common idioms used in the day-to-day workplace talk make sense unless you know their origin. "Nipping something in the bud" originally refers to gardening.
"Hitting something out of the park" was first used in baseball. Ask your close confidants and friends about the meaning of a saying you don't understand. And make note of that. Only use the ones you're comfortable with. And avoid memorizing idioms that you do not understand. Secondly, avoid direct translations. "The pot calling the kettle black" has the same meaning in my language as "the donkey calling the rooster a bighead." You can understand now, why I'm cautious to use my native idioms to make a great professional impression.
Stick to the English versions of idioms. And use the ones you clearly understand and you can remember. Use your resources. There are tons of websites and books that can help you learn the origins of idioms and the meanings of common expressions. Seek them out. If you're outside of the United States, and you want to sound as fluid and authentic as possible, watch English speaking movies and television shows with subtitles in your native language.
Then, graduate to subtitles in English. Those are usually used for people with auditory disabilities. Finally, follow those same shows without any subtitles at all. The instant loop of words, expressions, nonverbals with translation feedback is a great way to jump-start your language skills. Finally, study the short idioms. In everyday workplace conversation, I find that shorter idioms are the ones that can be the most confusing.
"Put up," "put off," "put in," and "put down" all mean very different things. Study these short idioms closely if you plan to use them. And don't get carried away. Or is it carried along? I don't know. Idioms and phrases used in day-to-day language are tricky, if you pretend that they do not exist. Get help from your colleagues, practice, and make up a list of ones you feel most comfortable using. With time, you will find that your list will expand, and your comfort level will increase.
- Understanding introversion and extroversion
- Persuading people
- Negotiating your needs
- Making small talk
- Saying no
- And more…
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