When the English we communicate is far more than the English we USE

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So often we get confused with the idea that English is about words….well its actually about much more, and I’m not talking about the grammar, idioms or sentence structure, I’m talking about what message you are passing to someone when you speak.

This is one of those situations where you could say that one sentence could speak a thousand words. There is so much more that goes into a sentence than simply saying these words, it is all about these key things:

  • The intention of the speaker
  • The understanding of the complexity of the English language usage
  • The level of desire to be understood
  • The body language that goes with the English spoken
  • The level of understanding the speaker has about the topic they are talking about
  • Who the person is talking to
  • The feeling the person wants to send in the message
  • The feelings of the feelings that the person wants to convey through the message
  • The facts passed from one person to another

All these points above are related to what is really going on in the simple sentence.

If we take the simple sentence of:           Hi, how are you?

The amount of information embedded behind this is huge. Let’s use the criteria above and see just some of the messages that may be passed with this simple 4 word question:

  • The intention of the speaker
    • To greet the person for the first time
    • To greet the person for the second of more times
    • To be polite in that greeting
    • To greet someone who may have been unwell before and is now recovering
  • The understanding of the complexity of the English language usage
    • This simple question is not really a question it is an official greeting that on the deepest most sincere level, does not require a long reply of all the winter ailments the person has (unless of course the intention is to see if the person has improved in their health from before)
  • The level of desire to be understood
    • The person is desiring to make themselves heard and present, but is not necessarily expecting a long answer
  • The body language that goes with the English spoken
    • A smile or a frown could change the whole meaning of this sentence
      • A smile is a simple greeting
      • A frown may indicate that the speaker already knows that there is a problem and would like to know if it has been solved
    • The level of understanding the speaker has about the topic they are talking about
      • This ‘level of understanding’ goes back to the point of whether the speaker knew the person before and any history attached to that
    • Who the person is talking to
      • Often if the speaker is new to English they will want to greet all people no matter who with this phrase
      • If the speaker knows that those who are listening to him has a limited level of English or a range of problems already they may use this phrase to break the ice or simply be polite. They will select this phrase based on what they see in the person in front of them
    • The feeling the person wants to send in the message
      • The speaker may want to make sure that the person feels comfortable with the greeting or the sincere question, whichever is their intention
    • The feelings of the feelings that the person wants to convey through the message
      • The speaker may want to talk to the person in front of the or they may not, so they use the simple phrase to cover all ‘pleasantries’ so that no one will be offended even though they don’t want to be there
    • The facts passed from one person to another
      • Usually the question above is not related to any factual answers.
      • Sometimes the question is based on a history of information, but is a simple way to enter the conversation without divulging any old or new information

 

So, as you can see, there is a wealth of information involved in even the simplest of greetings. This is where we could say that the English we use is greater than the words we use. To understand this as an ESL learner is to realise that to communicate in any length has its complexity, and once you get a few words/phrases/sentences up your sleeve, it’s amazing how much you can actually say.

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4 thoughts on “When the English we communicate is far more than the English we USE

  1. Pingback: #ielts #learnenglish – Joseph McTaggart, English Teacher & Voice Coach

  2. This relates back to when I had private tutors in Chinese. I choose the topics I wanted to learn the words for, and they helped me make my own program. Within the matrix of your formula above, I making those choices based the feelings about myself I wanted to convey, and by my choice of topics I was incidentally making a choice about the types of people I wanted to talk with because they would share those interests.

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