Social Question

DaphneT's avatar

When chatting to a person who doesn't have the same native language, should you write in clear, formal language or is it useful to use colloquialisms?

Asked by DaphneT (5659 points ) July 14th, 2012

The person I’m chatting with is about 18, so his grasp of the English language is good, but it’s not his native language. I don’t have any grasp of his language, so I feel that translating a colloquialism may be beneficial to him sometimes and at other times, not so beneficial. However, I have no way to judge that, and I don’t want to insult him. If you’ve experienced this, do you have any suggestions?

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22 Answers

the100thmonkey's avatar

What’s his purpose in chatting with you?

Personally, I’d be as natural as possible with him, and explain any terms he doesn’t understand.

stardust's avatar

I’d use both colloquial language and formal, depending on the situation. It’s best to keep it as natural as possible when learning a language.

JLeslie's avatar

I would lean towards the more formal. If he has studied the language in any formal setting like a classroom, he is more likely to be familiar with words that are the “real” and traditional words and phrases used in the language. Once someone is fluent, then more slang and colloquialism can be thrown in, because it can be understood through context. That is unless he will be living in an area or communicating in a specific dialect where he will need to understand that form of the language.

gailcalled's avatar

I would use formal language, and I would pay particular attention to my spelling of words in my native tongue (colloquialism).

filmfann's avatar

I wouldn’t use colloquialisms. It just points out how badly you speak their language.
I tried to encourage a friend, who had an exchange student living with him, to tell them how it was normal to compliment others on their fitness and attractiveness by saying “Nice butt!”.

jerv's avatar

Very few people use formal language. Unless this person plans to become a lawyer or an English teacher, I would speak as a native speaker does. Otherwise, you are not speaking the same language that most of us English-speaking people do.

JLeslie's avatar

I wonder if people are defining formal differently? To me formal is standard English without slang and using good grammar.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie How many people really do that though?,Y’all be trippin’ if you think the average person does that in normal, everyday conversation.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv I grew up around standard English with very little slang. Among my peers as a youngster we might have used some slang, but not regularly in my household.

Some words are tricky as they evolve, but that is different than slang, and it is pretty easy to use words better understood.

Here in the south I hear more slang terms and use of colloquialism, but not when I lived up north.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie I grew up up North, but mostly around military vets, bikers, tradesmen, computer geeks, gamers, and others who had their own vernacular.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv I see. But, even when talking about regular every day things? Or, when they were talking about a particular topic related to their interests? I grew up in DC and we rattle off government agency acronyms like there is no tomorrow, most people don’t know the shorthand, but it only comes up if we are talking about government agencies.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie Flatlanders use the letter R in both written and spoken form; I inherited my family’s Boston accent. Day-to-day things include cords of wood, coy-dogs, and types of weather I haven’t seen outside of New England. I expect blank looks when discussing FANUC G-codes, but I get more than a few even when talking outside of work/hobbies. I can turn off the geek-speak (and often do since most people don’t know a partition table from a kitchen table), and I rarely use militarese except with vets (usually Navy, as each branch had their own dialect), but even talking about things like traffic can cause confusion.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv I wasn’t thinking in terms of accent, the OP asked about writing style. I am not even sure if accent is part of the definition of colloquial? I guess maybe it is?

There is always some regional influences in how people speak, structure their sentences, vocabulary used, etc., I agree with that. Whether someone realizes it is regional and not a widely understood expression or word usage probably has to do with education level a lot of the time, not always. Honestly, considering most people watch TV, and most of TV is standard English, I don’t see how people can be completely clueless.

funkdaddy's avatar

I don’t know if there’s a quicker and more natural way to learn about a culture then to study how people actually communicate. It’s a lot of fun trying to explain “spill the beans” or “too big for your britches” to someone.

It’s equally fun learning about the quirks of other languages and cultures. The stumbles along the way on both sides are some of the best stories and fondest memories of those friends.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie Accent really doesn’t affect written communications (I write/type the letter R just fine) but word choice is affected.

As for “standard” English, wazzat? See, I IM with my 13-year-old cousin, work with Mexicans and half a dozen different types of Asians, and live upstairs from an old Carolinian. I’m dealing with at least a dozen different forms of English without even watching a screen.

@funkdaddy One of my personal favorites is a Middle-Eastern gesture that translates to, “You have five fathers”. And those Romanians know more about insulting mothers than anybody else I can think of.

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv My husband is Mexican, my grandfather came here from Latvia, I have/had friends and have worked with people from Panama, Venezuela, Russia, Italy, Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Ecuador, Greece, I could keep going. I grew up outside of NYC and DC, it’s basically the United Nations, and people generally spoke English well and what I would call standard, especially if they were raised in America from birth or childhood. Sure every so often they made a mistake or two, but overwhelmingly their English was very good. Those people certainly were not regularly using wazzat. I think it’s best to learn a language in it’s more formal form, and then as the person gets fluent add in the other stuff. Because formal is the common language of the country, not the dialects.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie In that case, English is (at least) a million different languages. Not dialects, but actual languages. Like Christianity, each one considers themselves to be The One True English. So, which one is “standard” again? Please tell me it isn’t Cockney!

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv Hahahaha. I mean standard for whichever country the speaker is in. Cockney doesn’t rise to that level even in the con tries it is spoken. We do have rules for English still, grammar books, we still teach it in school from text books to get people on the same general page of what is standard.

The more educated the less difference in language from region to region typically. The CEO of Pfizer I am sure is not saying “yous guys,” even if he does live in Jersey.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie Yet some people insist on spelling “color” with a u…

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv Again, I am talking about common standard English within a country. I don’t feel American spelling is superior or more standard to British or vice versa.

jerv's avatar

@JLeslie No, but many of the people I’ve talked to that have English as a second language are confused by Americans because they learned UK English. Without knowing which English they learned… well, it falls back to defining “standard”. ABC or BBC? Is it a flat, or an apartment? Line, or queue?

JLeslie's avatar

@jerv In Europe and some parts of Asia they learn UK, in Latin America they learn American, for obvious reasons. Same with Spanish, in America we learn Latin America Spanish, which still varies a little country to country.

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