Why Speaking English As A Foreign Language May Not Be A Good Thing
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As English as a Foreign Language teachers we teach people all over the world to speak English. There is a huge demand for English because it is an international language and is also the global language of business and science. People from all over the world want to learn English to travel, work and study.
What many people don’t realise, however, is that speaking English as a foreign or second language is not as straightforward as speaking another language, with the result that non-native English speakers are put at a disadvantage when speaking English. This is known as the foreign language effect.
What is the English as a foreign language effect?
Research has shown that there are a number of human behaviours which change according to if we are speaking our first language or a foreign language. This is the foreign language effect. In other words, people behave differently in the same situation depending on if it takes place in their first language or a second or foreign language. When people speak a second or foreign language they are less impulsive, less emotional and less empathetic.
What are the results of the foreign language effect?
While this may not seem like a big deal, it can have consequences on people’s interactions and dealings in English. English learners can react differently to language when they hear it in English than when they do in their own language. As a consequence, for example, they might not find swear words or insulting language offensive, which means they may be more inclined to use such language.
In situations when they interact in English, then, second language speakers are more likely to be emotionally detached and have different moral judgements than they would in their own language or cultural situation. At the same time, English-speakers are probably not aware of these effects and the implications they may have on communication and relationships.
As you can imagine, this can have a huge effect on communication between native and non-native speakers, on personal, social and business levels.
What can we do about the foreign language effect?
There is nothing we can do about the foreign language effect per se. However, we can try to adjust our expectations and behaviours according to its effects. What this means is that English speakers need to be more aware of how speaking English can impact on non-native speakers in terms of their behaviour, while we can make our students aware of the foreign language effect on their own behaviour.
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