Losing face in English

I woke up this morning thinking about the debate on this blog on Westerwelle. It seems to me that this is an interesting case of a person losing face in public because he is being forced to speak English. BTW, I think the discussion has showed that both sides lost face: Westerwelle was most obviously on the spot. But as in most issues of saving face, the person who puts the other one on the spot is also implicated in a communicative situation gone wrong.

Do any of you have stories or insights to share about the issue of a foreign speaker losing face in English, or because of English?

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Anne

Teaching English for business communication skills, writing online for learners, translating, sailing whenever I can, from Washington, D.C.

8 thoughts on “Losing face in English”

  1. Hi Anne,
    I can imagine there’s no shortge of those around.
    A German person went into a newsagent’s in my local town in Ireland –
    “Do you have a German newspaper”, (with poor intonation, I take it)

    “No, I’m sorry we don’t have/sell/ do (they say isn’t it?) German newspapers”,

    “why not”?, and with that stomped out the door.

    A neighbour of mine who was on the spot asked me how I could live
    with such people and their manners. I just said, well, actually Germans can be really nice and mostly it’s their intonation or a lack of it (and maybe their direct manner) which screws up their English.

  2. Tja, Anne,

    Well, the German speakers’ intonation can sound pretty flat –
    when their voice goes down at the end of a question sentence –
    “Do you have a German newspaper”? or perhaps,
    “I want (will) a German newspaper” (ich möchte – in German, just fine)
    For the English speaker’s ear of course, it lacks melody and tends to sound charmless and blunt to the point of aggressive.

    I was in Paris with some Germans recently and one day one of them said to me: “du stehst aber ungünstig da” ( I hadn’t noticed I was blocking his path, slightly)
    I was shocked and angry. Other Germans don’t find anything wrong with this when I describe the episode and they tend to sometimes transport the same language directly into English.

    Sorry, for going on, just wanted to expand in reply to your request.
    Jxx :))

  3. Hi Anne,

    I used the Westerwelle clip in 5 lessons this week to get my studes to talk about and debate this. I followed it up with a SW3 comedy sketch (I can send it separately).

    I haven’t any stories about situations like this, but I can tell you that the “Fränglish mit Lothar” comedy series on Bayern3 with football-trainer Lothar Matthäus teaching English is a hoot and is gathering a lot of fans. My classes love it! http://blog.br-online.de/fruehaufdreher/index.php?/archives/844-Loddar-Fans!-ALLE-FRAENGLISCH-Folgen-zum-nachhoeren!.html

    Best wishes, Steph

  4. Hi Anne,

    It was a risky lesson because it was hard to be objective about the topic. One pupil told me that she believed it was law that reporters had to use the local language if they addressed speakers at press conferences, so the BBC reporter lost a Brownie point for that. Before we saw the clip, we practised talking about professions and how someone in that profession “should/ought to be”: teacher, model, politician, minister for foreign affairs… they knew exactly where I was headed! Most pupils were just plain embarrassed by Westerwelle’s behaviour. The youngest I showed it to (16) thought Westerwelle had done the right thing. The main focus was on his perceived lack of confidence, his arrogance, lack of diplomacy and failure to be quick-witted in his reply. All thought that his reference to having a chat over a cup of tea to be quite tasteless.

    I would love to know what has been said to him by his peers about his performance before the press.

    See you! Steph

  5. @Chris: Done. Sorry. I thought the story was good, actually. Why don’t you just rerun it in another episode? 😉

    @Steph: Very interesting, so you got a bit of a mixed response, eh?
    Not sure who his peers would be, they’re all politicians, so can’t expect fair analysis there, right?
    Stern ran a nice article on Westerwelle, saying he lacks “Power” – another good German word 😉 http://www.stern.de/panorama/wissenstests/business-english-schlagen-sie-den-westerwelle-1511768-standard.html

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