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Context and register

The appropriate choice of language, intonation, gesture and body language is vital in everyday communication. Making the wrong decision can lead to a breakdown in effective communication. Read about the problems some people experienced when they came to Britain.
Body language

Learners' experiences
"When I first arrived in England, I went to a shop in London and asked for a loaf of bread. I did this by translating what I would say in my own language, which was, 'Give me this'. The shopkeeper looked shocked and said something in a harsh voice that I didn't understand. I never did get that loaf of bread!"
Ayemin, Myanmar

"I went up to this friendly looking woman at a party and I introduced myself. Then I asked her, 'How much do you earn?'. She didn't answer my question, but it's OK to ask that question in my country."
Rodica Barbu, Romania

Learning Style Check!

So that you can make sure you are talking in an appropriate register, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Where are you - in a bank, a friend's house or at work, i.e a formal or an informal situation?
  • A group situation or a one-to-one discussion?
  • What's the topic of conversation - shopping or famine? - death or the football results?
  • Are you having a social chat or making a presentation at work?
  • Are you talking to your boss, a colleague, a friend or a child?
  • Is your body language copied straight from your culture or does it reflect what you have seen around you.

Learn it! - 3 tips

  • Don't translate straight from your language without knowing the implications of what you are saying, e.g replying 'Of course' in response to a question can imply that you thought the person asking the question was stupid not to have realised this before.
  • Don't use the intonation of other languages, e.g a flat-sounding intonation can make you sound bored, whereas an exaggerated up-and-down intonation can make you sound insincere and too enthusiastic.
  • Body language and actions which are acceptable in your country are not necessarily so in the country you're visiting notice, for example, how close people stand to each other, and whether they look each other directly in the face.
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